Thursday, February 16, 2017

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Surfing, identity, depression and me....

Like most, I started surfing because it looked fun and cool.  The whole lifestyle was inviting, the secret language, the adventure, the travel, the boards, the waves, the clothes, everything looked so appealing.  As I dipped my toe into the lifestyle at 15 years old, I wanted more and more.   

I grew up by the sea.  It became my identity as a teenager; it was something that forged lifelong friendships.  Every weekend of my youth was spent driving in a van packed full of friends.  We would trek for two hours, every Friday down to the far west reaches of Cornwall, England.  We would pile out of a van, high as a kite, put on 5mm of rubber suits, hood, gloves, boots and mitts.  Then we would paddle out into a gray ocean with an even grayer sky.  A 6ft day can feel like a 10ft day off the dull,  rocky shores of South west England, if we were lucky enough to have an offshore wind, it would blow north east from Siberia straight to your bones.  When you come out from a session like that, you feel like you’ve completed a mission behind enemy lines with your battalion of stoner buddies. It bonds you.

Since then my whole life has been shaped around surfing without me realizing.  All the major changes in my life were indirectly linked to the sport of surfing.  I’ve spent the last 10 years living 6000 miles away from home because of surfing, my mood is influenced by surfing and my business is now shaped by surfing. 

My surfing life began about 15 years ago in England where I was born and raised.  I’m 31 now and living in Orange County, California.  The past few years of my life were pretty testing, as well as the loss of a career, I lost my home, there was a divorce, an awful depression, there was also tension with my family, cancer, another terrible relationship and the task of facing oneself, realizing my choices led me to where I was and changing all the negatives inside of me that I didn’t even know were there.  



Queue the inevitable self exploration journey.  Who am I? What makes me happy?  I tried to identify all of the negative I had in me, the pain, the anger and I worked through it.  I did everything anyone recommended. I read Buddhist teachings, I read supposed books of meaning like Siddhartha and The Old Man and the Sea, psychology books, self help books, attachment science, I took therapy, and I took pills. I had every opinion and theory about life thrown at me.  It all helped and I learned a lot.  What I learned in the end was that for me, simple is fine.  I don’t need the big house, the car, the career and all the possessions.  I do need the ocean, though.

I learned that most humans need identity.   Psychologist Abraham Maslow defined a hierarchy of needs that included health, shelter, safety, esteem and belonging.  Belonging is an interesting thought, as far advanced as we are as we humans; our primal instincts still dominate much of our thoughts.  We are very tribal, we still choose our tribes, be it political or ideological. Just like the cave men believed, we  still believe that there is still safety in numbers.

One of the best theories I read of what causes depression is when you hold up an image or an identity of your life that isn’t you.  It can feel right, many get trapped in it.  A job you hate, no passions and losing contact with friends.  We all look back on those great days, the passion we had back then for whatever it was the made you feel alive.  Then 15 years later, you have the life that looks great but deep down there are strange feelings that your compass is off course.  I had those feelings, although, I suppressed them effortlessly.  Surfing became a treat every now and then instead of a passion, career became my focus, the house, the car etc… There’s nothing wrong with a career and doing things that way as long as you don’t forget who you are and what makes you, you.  I did forget, and then I became depressed.  Jeff Foster writes about depression…

 “Perhaps our depression is not a sickness (though I will never argue with anyone who wants to defend that view) but a call to break out, to let go, to lose the old structures and stories we have been holding up about ourselves and the world and rest deeply in the truth of who we really are. Conventional wisdom would have you turn away from melancholy rather than face it. Well-meaning friends and family and self-help gurus may want to fix you, to get you ‘back to normal’, to make you more ‘positive’, whatever that means. What if the ‘normal’ no longer fits? What if you need to shed your half-shed skin, not climb back into it? What if sadness, and pain, and fear, and all of the waves in life’s ocean, just want to move in you, to finally express themselves creatively and not be pushed away?”


As surfers, we are extremely lucky to have something so pure and exhilarating that it becomes easy to gain a passion for it.  First and foremost surfing is a sport, it’s technical and physical.  You need to train and learn and practice. Then it becomes the famed lifestyle, that it turns gives you a passion for life, for the environment, for travel, for the people, the natural world and a love of life.

Although you become part of a tribe, surfing is a selfish pastime, but that’s ok.  We can paddle out with our friends but in the end it’s you gliding along that green face with your hand in the wall.  Only you, in a moment that wave will expire and cease to exist forever and it was just you.  Call me a hippy, but that’s something pretty special.  The selfish act of wave riding makes us better.  It fulfills us; it gives us identity, confidence.   I feel like my true self when I am surfing and that in turn makes me whole and happy.  We all have heard the cliché that surfing makes you forget your worries; you can go in the ocean with troubles and come out refreshed and clear.  Perhaps there is also some other primal psychology at play being so close to the earth and nature.  One can get a similar feeling walking in a wood or hiking a mountain.

 Now it’s February, 2017, I have finally finished watching John John Florence and his buddies travel the world and perform moves I can barely attempt in my dreams.  A View from a Blue Moon, one of the most expensive and flashy surfing movies ever made was worth the wait. It was more like a BBC nature documentary than the surf movies I was used to back in the day.  It’s the first full length surf movie I watched in years.  I used to buy a new surf DVD weekly when I was younger, these days I just watch the endless amounts of 3 minute edits coming out daily on the internet like everyone else.

The movie got me thinking about surfing and travel, adventure and perfect waves.  I should go!  I should go surf those perfect waves.  I should go to South Africa, Indo, Hawaii etc.  Only problem is, I’m a pretty average surfer.  What can an average surfer do on a perfect wave?  Do I even belong there?  Only one way to find out.


Time to put my money where my mouth is and start living the life I think I want. So I guess this is the start of my travel blog.  The adventures of an average surfer. It is time to open up my map, close my eyes, point and see where I end up.