Can You Live Far From Waves And Be Truly Happy?
Q: Can you be a surfer and live far from waves? Two writers share their opinion.
YES says Joshua Burguete-Kirkman, contributing writer, currently living in Sweden
“Waves - I don’t really miss them if I’m honest. These days, people ask me how I can live without being in the surf so often and riding a bodyboard frequently. Do I shut myself off from all media so I dampen the ‘urge’? Do I seek out other ‘surfy’ types to bond with and share the stoke through tall stories of 50-year storms and the like? The truth is no. In fact, I love watching a bodyboard clip from the top guys. It’s quite well-known that visualization is a great form of preparation in sports, and I know that it is the YouTube videos and Instagram clips that actually help me prepare for events like the one I am on this bumpy plane ride to.
But I also do get my fix, when the conditions arrive in Sweden of course. I have made some friends who surf and did seek them out, but this was as much to do with feeling at home in a foreign land than trying to stay connected to the waves. Because they are so rare, you have to learn to live without them and be content.
Maybe it’s because of my self-imposed exile all those years ago, but I really can go long periods without missing the boog. I have a life outside of surfing that I enjoy. I work for a company that has a strong environmental mission, which provides me with a platform to try and make a difference. I have opportunities to create and innovate, which are all qualities I valued as a young and aspiring professional bodyboarder too.
Having distance between bodyboarding or wave-riding in general has been an overwhelming positive in my life if I’m honest, and I recommend it. Sure, I long for it from time to time, but like any relationship that is strong and enduring, that longing is what keeps me wanting more. It is a cliché, but absence does make the heart grow fonder.
There’s another benefit of creating distance and having other things going on in your life than bodyboarding or surfing. It makes you a more well-rounded individual with a diversity of interests and even passions. This is something that I think is poorly lacking in the surfing world, generally speaking.
Many professionals in both bodyboarding and surfing lack depth. Many have a narrow interest in only their industry and what it can provide for them and know or understand very little at all about the rest of the world outside. If they aren’t being paid to ride waves, they are writing about them, selling products to enjoy them, or judging them. This is understandable, but I often feel like they miss out on a much richer life experience by being so narrowly focused.
I always had other interests, and at the height of my ‘professional career’ in bodyboarding I resented the sport for taking my time away from these other interests in my life. Interests like music, which was probably equal to bodyboarding as a passion of mine when I was younger, and education, were all sidelined so I could pursue competitive glory. The end result was holding on to an idea of myself more than an actual passion, while the other things in my life withered like fruit on a thirsty vine.
When I finally walked away from bodyboarding at the age of 23 my life was immediately better for it you could say. New horizons opened up beyond beaches and judging towers. I traveled without an agenda and saw places that bodyboarding would have never taken me. Deep red Adriatic sunsets in Croatia; Oily-calm seas in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean; Eating Venetian black risotto and drinking up recitals of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons in Piazza San Marco. I also went to university and actually turned up to classes. This was a remarkable feat following years of dabbling in university only to drop it to chase waves or show up on time for a heat at Shark Island. I learned a language, French, which took me to La Rochelle for a year of exchange where I met my wife.
One thing that is challenging about being so detached from waves of consequence is that I am exceptionally ill-prepared on some levels to contest waves like Arica, Fronton and Nazare. In this case, I am turing up to one of the most dangerous waves on the planet with only 3 hours of bodyboarding practice in 4 months and a maximum of maybe 6 hours in the water in total (on a surfboard). Am I insane? Am I asking for trouble? I dunno? But there is something deep inside me that is satisfied when I feel the adrenaline pump through my veins and the fear churns in the pit of my stomach.
The only preparation I have for riding waves is to stay as fit as possible through cross-training and make sure my diet is in order (which I am hopeless at). To prepare my muscles for the arduous strain of kicking with flippers on I train in the local swimming pool with a kickboard and actual feel great when I notice a sea ulcer forming on my toe! I mean, I never thought I could feel like a sea ulcer was an accomplishment to be proud of.
Today, I live in Sweden, I work for a pretty rad company in Finland whose mission is to save natural resources through environmental business and help solve some of the big ecological challenges of our time. I make time for the APB Tour and do the comps that I can, as long as my work is okay with it (they are, for now) and when the wind blows the right direction and I can find a ride, I do venture to a few surf spots here in the south of Sweden to catch a few and experience a bit of ice-therapy. It isn’t at all pretty in the water (the land is quite nice when dusted with snow) but the few rides I get provide me with enough to sustain until the next session.
Even if I lived in a coastal location with better waves I am not even sure if I would go back to prioritizing surfing so much? I have friends who actually hurt when they miss waves. I really believe that the pain they feel is real. I don’t have that pain.
Had I remained a salt-drenched wave chaser and never left the sport I reckon people would say that they lived vicariously through me, but my reality would be kind of lame.
Which do you prefer to look at? A rainforest, overflowing with a diversity of plants and animal life; or a mono-crop of wheat, planted in predictable rows?
I know which one I prefer.
Living away from the waves has done me a world of good for me and I reckon some breathing space from your boogie would do you the world of good too.”
NO says John Agnew, editor, currently living in The Netherlands
“Last year, my girlfriend and I packed up our cushy lives in Australia and moved to The Netherlands – a country famous for its loose drug laws, straight-natured locals and bicycles. An equally cushy life awaited, to be sure, but with one stark difference. Despite its 450-odd kilometres of coastline, the place is almost entirely void of waves, with the exception of maybe half-a-dozen freak swells a year that churn up fun, waist-high waves but are almost always accompanied by roaring Baltic winds, freezing ocean temps and insane tides that can turn a half-rideable lineup into a motionless pond in the blink of an eye.
It wasn’t an issue, at first. We arrived towards the end of summer, drinking in the low-cost travel, the actual cheap booze, and being pigeonholed by locals as a fun, easy-going Aussies purely based on accent. Then summer wound down, the rains came and the hardy Dutch – with years of shit weather preparation under their belts – battened the hatches and holed up for the colder months. Play time was over.
It took only a month of “normal” life and zero waves till I felt like my head was going to explode. I’d wised up to the fact that, back home, surfing wasn’t just a thing I did because I liked it – it was therapy. About a month in, we hired a car and drove an hour to the coast. It was ankle high, howling onshore and wasn’t so much pissing down as it was hurling shards of glass from the sky. Even getting the car door open against the the wind was a daring feat. But I pulled on my wetsuit, grabbed my fins and jumped in. I was accompanied by a few clueless longboarders and a couple of surprisingly decent locals, and together we battled the shithouse conditions until I couldn’t take the cold any longer. What felt like a few hours was really about 45 minutes. It felt so damn good to be back in the water, but is this what surfing in my new home town was going to be like from now on?
About a month after that we took a trip to the wave-blessed shores of Portugal. For the first time in a long time I felt like a frothing grom again, waking up before sunrise to go check the waves, surfing three times a day, glues to the charts in between and doing little else. It was fun for me, and hellishly boring for my girlfriend who fast realised that if you’re not a surfer, there’s sweet F-A to do in Peniche.
These wave stints continued, but it never really felt the same. The winter was long, hard and almost completely devoid of waves. Countless surf mag subscriptions, hours spent watching old bodyboard flicks and staying on top of swells back home did little to scratch the itch. Someone suggested I try to find a physical substitute. I tried hiking. Swimming. Running. Working out. Even the well-trod expat route of organised meet-ups with equally wave-starved surfers (because nothing says fun like forced friendship). The only thing that came close was meditation, but it lacks a certain getting-slapped-around-by-mother-nature appeal.
There is a really tight-knit community of surfers here and they’re open and friendly and somehow sun-bleached despite the lack of actual sun. But for the most part, I’d find myself spending more time sitting around and trading surf stories when in their company than actual surfing. I would do erratic things, too. Once I burnt a hole through my pocket nabbing last-minute tickets to the Canaries, only to be skunked with a flat spell on arrival and surfing one-foot chum for three days. It was worth it, I think.
I don't think it's fair to characterise people who crave waves on the regular as short-sighted or narrow-minded. It's too singular. You can enjoy waves and, in tandem, be completing a degree or love to run marathons, and those things can bring you happiness or ground you in different ways to catching waves. They're not all one and the same feeling in my view.
One year in and I haven't found a worthy substitute for surfing. I honestly don’t think one exists. It has become easier to handle, though; and it has been humbling to witness the pure joy of Dutch surfers who stoke out at the sight of a ripple, and to be in a place where it’s simply not so easy to go surfing. You have to get creative. The grass is always greener, but in this case if you’re sitting pretty in a suburb a stone’s throw from waves, it’s true and I hate you. To quote Billy Madison, 'For the love of god, cherish it. Ya gotta cherish it. Ya do'. I guess what I'm saying is, life isn't completely shitty without surfing. But maybe just a little more shitty."