Once we’re hooked, surfing becomes more than just a sport; it becomes part of who we are. ‘Surfing As Life’ is Chris Salmon’s entry into Write to Surf – our surf journo competition with some epic prizes by Billabong up for grabs (see below for details).
SURFING AS LIFE – by: Chris Salmon
I started surfing in the early 90s. It was a great time in my life. I was young and carefree, a student living in Durban. It was the age of grunge, of Nirvana, Pearl Jam and the Pixies. The Station, the Rift, 330. Steak, egg and strips at The Med. Drinking cheap quarts at student bars most nights of the week. Beat up cars and crazy as it now seems, still listening to music from tape decks. Cellphones were non-existent then and the internet was new. The first democratic elections and South Africa emerging from long years of apartheid.
What influenced me the most though, was not the city itself but what was in front of it: the warm blue Indian Ocean. Surfing slowly became not just a sport for me but an essential part of my life. It suddenly mattered to me which way the wind was blowing. Rainy days were no longer boring but days of bliss in clean swell. It was a whole new world with its own language and rules.
Most of all, surfing was more than just riding waves. Getting up early on those humid summer mornings before the easterly comes through, chucking your gear and board into the car. Driving through the quiet dark suburbs to pick up your hungover mates with their beer breath and Johnny’s roti farts, stories of who scored the previous night. Listening to Baron Stander’s surf report, checking out various spots, enjoying the music.
Surfing was also walking along the pier through the salty sticky air, past the fishermen with their baitfish and weed. Jumping off into the welcoming ocean in the darkness, ducking that first set and feeling the water slide back over you. Silhouetted surfers waiting for waves. Long days at the beach playing footie in-between surfs. Pulling pranks on each other. People getting zipped-up into their board bags and thrown off piers onto the sand. Baggies being pulled down from behind, preferably when trying to come right. Windscreens getting covered in surf wax.
Southwest busters in the afternoon, transforming onshore chop into smooth grey lines and the parking lot into a frenzy of activity. Heavy raindrops on the still grey water. Sitting on my board looking at the sky above, watching the clouds drift past. Watching big sets glide through glass. Taking off and bottom turning, feeling the board accelerate as you weave up and down the face. The fluid feeling of a smooth turn, hearing the spray off the back. Complete strangers whistling on crowded days when you get a bomb. The weightlessness of a floater and the sheer euphoria of getting properly barrelled.
Surfing is also the connection with nature. The moods and colours of the ocean. The noise of a cleanup set breaking like an explosion, throwing up sand and water. Ducking waves and looking back at the foam. A dolphin’s fin, fish jumping, gulls drifting soundlessly past on outstretched wings. Dodgy surfs when the sardines are running and the nets have been taken out. The gut feeling that a shark is around.
Surfing also has its bad days. That sick feeling of taking off too late and going over with the lip. The initial impact when you get thrown around like a rag doll. Getting bounced off the bottom. Fin cuts. Snapping your favourite board. Crowds hustling, snaking, dropping in. Getting washed over rocks and cut up. Laughing when it happens to someone else, especially your friends.
My student years came and went but surfing was the one constant thread in my life. Grunge turned to punk, punk to indie. I went overseas and ended up staying eight years, first under the low grey skies of London and then the endless pubs and friendliness of Dublin. I travelled and saw some of the world. Surfs were few and far between, a gone but not forgotten part of my life. When I returned I was straight back into it as if I had never left, and I couldn’t believe that I had left it for that long.
Surfing has changed a lot in some ways, but at its heart it remains the same. Localism was heavier in the nineties, and there was more of a pecking order. The vibe is more chilled these days despite the waves being far more crowded. There are different boards for almost any conditions. Retros, mini-mals, mongrels, tricksters, quads. There are surf reports, cams, swell charts. A lot more women surf, and some of them rip. There are new generations of groms, new generations of students laughing in the parking lot. There are more South Africans on the world tours, doing us proud. The surf industry is big money these days, with all the accompanying good and bad things that come with it.
What has not changed is the friendliness of surfers generally, and the enthusiasm of the local Durban surfing community. There is a blunt, unpretentious humour about this city that I love, despite our problems. I also learnt overseas just how lucky we are. Constant swell, unlimited points and beach breaks, warm water, a great climate and relatively uncrowded line-ups, these are things that a lot of surfers across the world can only dream about.
The other day I watched my five year-old son diving around in the shore break with a big ass grin on his face, and wondered if he will find the same connection that I have. We live in an increasing whirlwind of media, technology and too much choice, when I believe that as human beings we are happiest with simple pleasures. Ultimately that is what surfing is, a simple pleasure. A chance to spend time doing something that you enjoy, just for the hell of it. And what could be better than that?
Send your stories to email@example.com. One submission will be selected every six weeks to appear in Zigzag magazine. The selected submission will also receive a hamper from Billabong. Zigzag retains the right to use any work submitted for the Zag Surf Journo competition on zigzag.co.za as outlined in the rules and terms of the competition. Zigzag reserves the right not to award a published winner in the magazine every six weeks, depending on the quality of entries. Zigzag is not obligated to run any and all entries submitted, either online or in print. Zigzag retains the right to edit all work submitted for brevity and / or clarity.
For the next three issues the Billabong prize hamper includes: 1 x Billabong Wetsuit; 1 x Billabong Boardies; 1 x Billabong Cap; 1 x Von Zipper Sunnies; 1 x Set of Kinetic Racing (KR) fins. After which the hamper will get a shake-up with new product of equal value for the following three issues.