“I hurtle on too long through the pounding submarine mist. End over end in my caul of bubbles until the turbulence is gone and I’m hanging limp in a faint green light while all heat ebbs from my chest and life begins to leach out of me”
-Tim Winton, Breath
I grew up in the ocean. Saltwater is the smell of my childhood. The sea was the view from our kitchen window, our whole family on the water. We broke the skin of the sea in the mornings, frozen-fingered in the grey-skied winter, the water piercingly cold. Our summer dinners were eaten sat on the sand, our noses red and peeling.
In every childhood memory, the ocean is there.
We learnt, as kids, the tides, the waves, how to make our bodies stiff as a board and catch the white water into shore.
We learnt how to hold our breath when we went under, we learnt what to do in a strong current, how to respect the sea. Yet at twenty-five years old, even as I throw my surfboard into the ocean every morning, even as I plan to live the rest of my life right by her side… I am, more than I’d like to admit, still terrified of her sometimes.
Weak, I’ve been called. Scared. Pussy. Don’t have the cajones or ovarios.
Not a real surfer, that’s in there too, all said in different degrees of seriousness, but the one that does get under my skin. Especially when a swell hits and my surf community ispsyched out of their minds, and I can just feel the fear mounting in my throat as I watch waves the size of trucks rolling in from the horizon. Sometimes, in these times, I can do nothing but sit on the sand and watch. This sense of being illegitimate, a flake, a poser.
But I realised it all comes down to a sense of legitimacy. It is normal to seek the validation of your community or peers in order to feel legitimate. But the only person who can really give it to you is yourself. This is a recurring problem with women and sense too, this overwhelming sense of ‘maybe I don’t belong out here.’
I have noticed when it comes to surf, what constitutes a ‘real surfer’ can be a very narrow mould. And that mould is; fearless, always ‘on’, loves big waves. And if you don’t fit that mould, it can be hard to find a sense of belonging.
Here’s the thing. If you think about sex, everyone’s relationship with sex is as different as a fingerprint. Everyone has their own different quirks, values, tastes, desires. Some want to make love slowly, gently, with the soft morning sun spilling in through their window, while they’re slowly waking up. Others want to feel the hot zing of adrenaline in their veins as their partner ties them upside down from the ceiling fan or whatever.
Some want to travel around the world and have a lay in every country, others want to deepen their connection with one person over a lifetime. Some want to have sex a lot, some want to have sex a little.
People use sex for a million different reasons; as a way toconnect, to reconnect, to disconnect, to switch off, to switch on, to forget about the outside world, to feel alive, to sleep.
Surf is exactly the same. Some use it to test their limits, to see what they’re made of, to feel alive, to feel the rush, to feel powerful against the elements.
For some, surf is those few hours of the week, that saving grace that breaks up the monotony of the work week, and getting rolled around underwater in a surprise closeout set is the only thing that hits the spot. For others, it is the time to readjust their nervous system, to get into that meditative state. It is only there, sitting astride that board, feeling the sea rise and fall beneath their board, the belly of the beast breathing in and out, that some people can recalibrate and get that deep breath back in their belly.
Some want to chase waves across the entire globe. Others want to stay in their home break until they know one specific surf spot inside out.
So. If you are questioning wether you are a ‘real surfer,’ let me ask you one question.
Do you like to surf?
Congratulations, you’re a surfer.
feature image photographer: Sarah Lee // @hisarahlee