The surf journalist. The surf. Journalist. Is there anything in this world more absurd? Any two words that belong together less than “surf” and “journalist?” I think no except possibly “surf” and “historian” which is to take nothing away from either surf or journalist.
Surf is fun, so fun, but what makes it fun so fun is the fact that it is absolutely devoid of meaning, an an utterly shallow pursuit made up of a series of utterly shallow dos and don’ts. The amount of sub-contextual notes and cues, the number of dos and don’ts is frankly staggering. Knee-buckling. Don’t walk down the beach with your leash attached to your leg. Don’t hype a hurricane swell. Don’t paddle out with more than two friends. Don’t claim a turn. Don’t exaggerate wave height. Do wildly under sell wave height. Don’t wear a neoprene surf hat. Don’t wear anything except a black wetsuit in the water. Don’t ever wear a spring suit. Ever. Don’t talk in the lineup. Don’t rub sand in your wax before paddling out. Sometimes rub sand in your wax before paddling out. Don’t surf with a buckled back knee because then everyone will think you are trying to copy professional surfer Craig Anderson and nothing could be more transparently try-hard in the moment than trying to copy professional surfer Craig Anderson. Don’t try hard. Etc. ad infinitum.
There are more unwritten rules than there are Hindu gods and the sum of these subtleties, utterly devoid of any value, make up the surfer. It is why he is so oppressively shallow because his mind is stuttering over things like this, over where to put his hands in the lineup, how to greet a surfer friend in the grocery store (shaka or no?), if he should basecoat before waxing in 70 degree water, etc. ad infinitum for the better part of each day.
And it is the surf journalist who takes it all one step further by contextualizing this utter vapidity. By committing it all to phrase, sentence, paragraph, story. Can you imagine that? Can you imagine writing about it? Can you imagine writing about how a grown man wears his surf trunks? Asking grown men about how they wear their surf trunks? Asking a professional surfer anything at all?
Asking a professional surfer thinks about… anything? At all? Thinking about what a professional surfer is thinking about even?
Well, I’ve been doing for the better part of my adult life and can tell you that it is… it is… it is absurd!
Oh I’m not smarter or deeper or more meaningful than the professional surfer or any other surfer. I’m saying I’m dumber and more shallow if that is even possible. All surf journalists are.
I once dreamed of throwing off this empty yoke. Of finishing with surf and taking up only journalism and meaning something again. I went to Ukraine right after Kiev’s population burned the city center to the ground in protest of a government linked too closely to Russia. An angry mist hung in the air and angry Ukrainians manned make-shift bunkers, waiting to fight to the death for what they believed. It meant something. It meant life or death. It was important.
I chatted with Bernie Sander’s chief of staff as that movement was cranking to full volume last year. He spoke of the dreams, hopes, perils of America’s youth. He spoke of what could be done, politically, to create a bright future or at least a future the kids could be proud of. He spoke of fear, terror, health care, free university education, music, art, literature and it was important.
I interviewed with General David Petraeus on stage at a hedge fund conference in front of millionaires and billionaires waiting to invest trillions. He was once a general and once the director of the CIA and had a widely reported affair with a reporter. A journalist! And we went back and forth about China and Saudi Arabia and Osama bin Laden and ISIS and gas prices and security. The weight of the investing world hinged on our conversation. Whole markets ready to rise or fall. It was important.
And then I came back to surfing. To surfing journalism. I left Ukraine, I didn’t even write up the Bernie story and I laughed with David Petraeus Why? To be honest I don’t really know. But what is knowledge? I gots none! I feel there is some magic in this absurd.
French Algerian author Albert Camus wrote so much about it. He was not a surf journalist but wrote the absurd is man’s great fight. That none of this means anything but it is our greatest struggle to make sense of it.
He wrote about pushing stones up hills that continue to roll down and we continue to push them back up. He wrote about the emptiness. The terrible feeling that nothing is actually important. He wrote, “At any street corner the feeling of absurdity can strike any man in the face.”
But do you know what he also wrote?
“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”
Now that’s what I’m talking about. Surf journalism. The invincible summer.
Ha! —Chas Smith
Get What Youth Issue 17 here.