23 August, 2012 23 August, 2012

The Landlocked Bends

Moving away from the coast is a sacrifice that people make every year. Many a surfer has wound up crunching numbers in Gauteng or answering phones at a tele-sales office in London. The reasons vary: a shortage of work in coastal cities, or a big career that requires someone to move to a landlocked city. Some folks can make serious dough for a spell of work in a country with no waves (see oil mining in Saudi Arabia) and a few suckers move inland for love*. It all boils down to individual situations and personal choice. The stuff that life is made of.

Making the decision to leave the coast is difficult enough, but once you’re on the plane or in the car you can feel the distance between yourself and your ocean growing – and thats when the real shit starts happening…

Mind Games
Things may seem okay at first. You might even toy with the idea of reinventing yourself as a regular person who plays squash twice a week and enjoys hiking over weekends. You’ll pick up a few collared t-shirts and a pair of chinos to wear on Casual Fridays.

But the lie won’t survive for too long. A storm is brewing. Looking out your window and knowing how many steps it’ll take you to get back to the beach will make you feel crazy after a while.

Sure, the excitement of a new place is enough to get you through the first month without a panic attack. Hell, you can take up squash or hiking and push it for three months. If it’s snowboarding you can probably go for six or eight. But sooner or later the snow will melt, and so will your soul. At the back of your mind, right where you keep your fear of sharks and memories of any oedipal dreams you’ve ever had, you know you’ll snap if you don’t get to the beach soon.

It’ll start with something small. You’ll catch yourself mind-surfing the curb outside your office window or you’ll get barreled under a shrub at someone’s house. “Nothing,” is what you’ll say when people ask what you’re doing.

You can banish thoughts of the sea during the day, but they’ll come back at you late at night in dreams. Dreams of dredging tubes will haunt you in the small hours of the night, like liquid boogeymen with eyes that see through you. Before you know what’s happening, you are watching the Muizenberg webcam for two hours every morning before work

Things will get worse. One of the saddest, most pitiful sights you’ll ever see is a surfer who hasn’t been near the coast for a year. He or she will be the poor soul paddling a windsurfing board around a lake or a river, going as fast as they can, hoping it will feel a bit like taking off. Or they’ll be sitting on a board in a swimming pool, begging their friends to do a bombdrop so they can duckdive something that feels like a wave. It’s tragic. And the worst part is that this behaviour is the tip of an iceberg.

Getting To THAT Point
Being in a relationship or married to a surfer living away from the coast is hard work. We become unreasonable and vile, the way a crackhead starts behaving when the sweats take hold. Nothing is fun, worthwhile or enjoyable. Your spouse could offer you a moonlit picnic with champagne and oysters, and you’ll look at her like she’s just asked you to smell the toilet after taking a dump. “Are you mad? How can you suggest such a terrible thing! You foul beast!” You’ll cry and wail and react badly for no reason at all. You’ll smash your squash racquet after missing a drop shot and cut holes in your hiking boots to avoid another weekend in stupid, ugly nature.

You’ll treat you co-workers like enemies, replying to emails in single syllables and taking up two parking spaces in the morning, just to spite someone. You’ll avoid people and spit poison at your loved ones. It won’t be you talking – it’ll be the Bends.

The Cure
It may take your partner some time to realise what’s necessary (especially if you’re too far gone by that stage) to bring you back, but once they figure it out the solution is clear.

As obvious as the surfer in the swimming pool is, the surfer at the beach for the first time in months stands out as clearly. If you’ve been this person, you’ll understand the desperation coursing through your veins on the way there. You’ll red-line the rental car through traffic like there’s two pregnant women in the back. Bugger the surf report, the tides, wind or swell charts – you just want to get to the beach and make sure the sea is still there. Suiting up in the car park is a spectacle. You’re so excited you almost put your suit on back to front and zip your nipple off. The waves can be a foot, breaking in brown water near a rushing sewer pipe, and it’ll feel like you’re about to score six foot Trestles with nobody out. It’ll be heaven.

It’s after getting back to the beach once that you gain perspective. Quality of life matters, and you don’t want to be a person living with the Bends forever. It might take a few weeks, months or years to make the move back, but it’ll happen. Ultimately, there’s one thing everyone who moves away from the sea has in common: they all come back. And the ones who don’t wish they could.

* This accounts for at least 60% of all failed marriages where a surfer is involved.


  1. patflan
    23 August, 2012 at 12:44 pm · Reply

    This is a true story. Got into a sweat reading it. I spent the worst 8 year of my life living in Gotham City. I’d be stoked to have a business meeting on the East Rand because I could see a few seagulls (now land gulls) that live there. Coming back to DBN for weekends and holidays always resulted in deep depression on the way (home) to Gauteng. The worst thing of all is that you try to relate your surf stories to people that have grown up in JHB and you get this blank look. I’ve been back in DBN for 6 years and still celebrate every day back on the coast.

  2. Bruce01
    23 August, 2012 at 2:26 pm · Reply

    I am a Durbanite who has surfed all my life. I then moved to the Fiji Islands and had some of the best waves of my life. From Fiji I moved to Innsbruck in Austria where I thought I could survive with the snow! As in your story, the snow melts! One year later I am leaving Innsbruck. Going to live in Malta – not the best place for surfing but at least it has some waves. For me its not just the waves, its the Ocean. Mountains cannot replace the pull of the sea.

  3. Gero Leatherfoot Lilleike
    23 August, 2012 at 2:59 pm · Reply

    I too was in the clutches of that place we call Jozi, for 28 years in fact. As a surfer it’s the worst place to be, it eats away at you, every day, every hour, every second, really terrible. But we always have choices. Today, Jozi is far away and as I type this message, I look out over Muizenberg and watch a nice wave peeling towards the shore, but I’m not on it, unfortunately, but I will be, soon. To all the land-locked surfers out there, my heart goes out to you, I’ll catch one just for you. Enjoy.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *