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Watch “How to Learn How to Surf” A film by Tom Sachs

01.13.20 – TAGS: , , ,

Wait, what? Who’s Tom Sachs and why is he teaching surf lessons?

Here’s the deal, Tom Sachs is a very accomplished sculptor/artist dude from NY who coincidently has been also trying to learn to surf for like the last 20 years. And no, he isn’t teaching anyone to surf. How to Learn How to Surf is Tom’s documentation of his personal quest to achieve a predetermined level of surfing ability, of which he has solely deemed as respectable. There’s a bit of self-deprecation included but also a bit of sadness in the reality that what Mr. Sachs is looking for may never be attained. As if it only takes more repetition, some quality instruction, or something of which someone can quietly whisper in your ear. Sorry, Tom, it ain’t that easy.

With a few of his friends he calls the “10 Bullets Team,” Tom and the gang travel to Indo to learn from Balinese legend Rizal Tanjung, Newport court jester Pat “Punker” Towersey, and a few others, in and around the beautiful beaches of Rizal’s eco-resort, Desa Limasan. All the required gear is included and the waves are perfect for learning. But what this film really represents is not simply learning how to surf but how to learn to surf a bit later on in life than the born lucky beach adjacent grom might have.

This “learn to surf” deal is a very common activity of late especially with the adult surf learner group who have in turn created a huge flood of surf schools on literally every beach that has a bit of sand and a few mellow rollers. The Wavestorm lashed to the roof of a boomer BMW being the new indicator of coolness, with the Rasta colorway being the choice one. Well, the Ten Bullets team came fully prepared and with a double dose of persistent enthusiasm, out they went.

While What Youth supports all efforts to enjoy the ocean, unfortunately there is a growing problem in the end result of this new urge to surf. Simply, line-ups now include many more surfers who never really learned how to surf properly. Oh, we know, “get off our high horse” with our bullshit thinking that we can dictate who surfs and who doesn’t but that isn’t the point of this rant. It’s simply the acknowledgment that to properly learn to surf, as Tom so desperately desires, it requires so much more than just how to paddle out, how to chose a wave, how to jump to one’s feet, etc. Learning to surf is much different than becoming a surfer.

Becoming a surfer is best done as a slow evolution which usually begins as a young child. Ask any advanced ability surfer and almost to a person their journey included a start as a very young kid in the shorey on a kickboard, raft, or foamie, and then increasingly moved out into the line-up with age, strength, courage, and the acquisition of more advanced craft (Ironically, this film also briefly features Rizal’s 8-year old son, Sinar, who it would appear is learning in just this fashion). It may seem insignificant but that early learning process of understanding waves and how the ocean moves is a vitally important step, and unfortunately, in most instances, the surf school approach at middle-age completely misses it. Yes, they might be able to push you into a few waves and maybe you even get to your feet a few times but just standing on a surfboard might makes you a wave rider, it doesn’t however, make you a surfer.

Because surfing isn’t just a thing to do, it’s a way of life that becomes incorporated into everything you do.

Which is exactly what Tom seems way too focused on. He and the crew are so singularly focused on simply riding a wave while standing atop a large foam plank, they are missing the whole point: That our individual abilities are secondary to the lifestyle we live as surfers. This little secret we hold is much more about experiences, not how long you stood up. Travel, new friends, sharing a fire after surfing an uncrowded wave off the beaten path, etc., these are the things you will remember as a surfer, regardless of ability.

The point being that if you’re hanging with a good crew, respecting others in the line-up, supporting the local shop, creating a schedule that gets you in the water as much as possible, and so on, then you’re already doing it.

Hey Tom, maybe you’re already a surfer?

What Youth

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