A WEATHERS EYE
It’s one of the curious things about surfing: we’re one of the few tribes of people that look forward to hurricane season. Aside from us it’s pretty much only the meteorologists and climate science geeks that get tumescent when tropical storms are getting all bolshy and throwing their toys out the pram.
Most folks are, of course, rightly worried when they hear the word. Be it hurricane, typhoon or cyclone, depending where you are in the world. FYI it’s a hurricane in the Atlantic and NE Pacific, a typhoon in the NW Pacific and a cyclone in the South Pacific and Indian Ocean.
The names may differ but one thing binds these cloudy rings of massive power together: the maximum sustained wind speed needs to be over 74 miles per hour to be in the club. Think about that for a second.
Thats how fast you drive down the motorway, assuming, like I do, that your speedo is a bit conservative … And that’s the qualifying speed. If you’ve ever been in a convertible on the motorway and own hair you’ll know it ain’t good.
So it doesn’t take a Korean rocket scientist to work out that winds in excess of 70mph hitting anything on land ain’t pretty. Not to mention the accompanying deluge; as horrifically illustrated recently by Harvey’s liberal dousing of Texas.
These monster storms cause chaos and billions in damage on one hand and give us rubber-suited, selfish, pleasure-seeking weirdos cracking surf on the other. It couldn’t be a more skewed balance of good and bad. While hurricanes making landfall delivers scenes from a Hollywood disaster movie if they stay out to sea then it’s just wonderful pulses of oceanic energy enjoyed thousands of miles away from the eye of the storm.
Some years are rich in named storms, others not so, but this year is on track for a spate of storms. We’re already up to Irma, which has just rung in as the fiercest Atlantic hurricane ever and is poised to smash the Caribbean and Florida. At the time of writing, in early September, there are still a few months left in the Atlantic hurricane season.
It’s easy to play with stats to suit your desired outcome but it’s a simple fact that since 1851 ten of the top fifteen years with the most named storms happened in this millennium.
This year has seen the first major hurricane hit the US since 2005 (the MVP record holding year in most regards), it’s one that also broke rainfall records. It’s also the third consecutive year the season started early. If 2017 can generate anymore than 15 named storms and it’ll make the sought after top 10.
Climate changes. It’s what it does. It has done since our ball of cosmic dust has had a recognisable atmosphere. But you’d have to be a very brave soul to not think that something is up with the weather. The silver lining that bounteous hurricane years are good for us surfers is a cold comfort.
As surfers we are immersed in the wonders of nature more than most. It’s no surprise then that protecting the environment comes naturally to us. When the ocean is your playground you notice pretty swiftly when that playground is covered in turds, broken glass and plastic bottles.
Thanks to the efforts of organisations like Surfers Against Sewage, and grass-roots local campaigns across the land, the days of poop in the line up are near done. The only floaters to be seen are the rad ones you’re hopefully nailing on the end section.
The menace now isn’t so much King Kong’s finger floating through your spot and the associated health risks that came with it (hands up who misses the days of getting gastroenteritis as a reward for just going for a surf?) but a new disease that’s infecting the whole planet.
It’s just your humble squashed zooplankton and algae from millions of years back come back to haunt us. Those little critters got squished by geological processes over the millennia and became lovely goopy oil. If that process didn’t happen the world would be a very different place. But like coal those compressed sources of energy have shaped our civilisation and none more so than the black gold.
Oil is a mother of so many things. The juice that powers your motor. The foam that your board is made from, the resin it’s glassed with, the neoprene in your wetsuit, the leash that keeps your precious safe. All oil products. All hard to recycle effectively. So there’s a hypocrisy in the ‘environmental surfer’ stance. Especially if you travel frequently to surf.
But surfer debris is a side issue compared to the plastic contagion. No matter where you are on the planet in the ocean odds on sooner or later a plastic bottle will drift merrily past. We’re literally burying the planet in plastic crap. Moving away from reusable glass bottles and more simply recycled aluminium cans to make a slightly bigger profit margin is dooming the environment.
Progress isn’t always a good thing.
Your grandparents wicker shopping basket would’ve lasted decades. But some bright spark decided single use plastic bags were more convenient. They ain’t convenient for the planet. Again they’re an issue that’s been battled and near won. They’re not the scourge they were. Bottles and other packaging are. They’re the next battle in the war on plastic.
SAS and others are campaigning for a bottle deposit scheme. It needs our support. As do many other worthy schemes. And you can vote with your pocket. Support companies that sell their goods in sensible, recycled, minimal packaging.
We don’t want to be the last generation that remembers beaches that were made of more sand than plastic…
WHAT DO FRUIT BATS EAT?*
I did a boat trip for a feature in this issue and it was different to the norm as it wasn’t a boat full of sponsored frothers.
Sure there were a few crew with stickers on the beaks of their boards; but Markie and Josh have full-time jobs and being sponsored is a happy bonus for them because they surf good. So with a shaper, a senior lifeguard, an ex-Brit champ/surf coach/property developer, a boat builder, a lawyer, a ladies QS hopeful and a chap who makes his living selling coffee shops the stuff they need to do coffee (who’s part owner of the boat) it was the very definition of ‘mixed bag’.
The surfing level was from pro to just about intermediate. If there’s one thing that’s good for your surfing it’s sharing a trip with guys and gals better than you. We all get stuck in a rut with our surfing and it takes the trained eye of coaches and pros to point where you’re going wrong. Arm, body, feet, head position make a huge difference and someone pointing out how you might try something subtle but new can rock your world. The main takeaway from the trip, apart from the wisdom that hangovers in the tropics when it’s 36C in the shade early morning suck major ass, was that it doesn’t matter what your level as a surfer if you can stand up and trim you can have a blast in the Maldives.
And no matter where you are in your life. A life that frequently gets in the way of surfing as you get older, as work, family and other balls crowds in; a week away in fun waves is a real tonic for the soul. Also, put a bunch of random Brits on a boat and they’ll take the piss relentlessly for a week. Because that’s what we do. We bang on about travel a lot in Carve. That’s because it’s one of the best things you can do. Be it two hours down to the British coast to get your fix or on a catamaran dream trip grazing the equator.
You’ve got one shot at this life. Do your utmost to make it a good one.
*Genuine question asked on the trip in a brainfart moment of post-surf tiredness. Narrowly pipped by ‘why are you called Sharpy’ as the daftest question of the trip.
Surfing is all about the slide
Them French sorts call the sliding sports like surfing, snowboarding and skating the ‘glisse’ sports.
Which is one of those onomatopoeia words. One that makes the noise of what it represents, the imitation of a sound. It’s the sound of water coming off your rail. Of powder whizzing under your skis.
This is surfing distilled to its essence as it has been since the days of wooden olos and alaia boards. A rider propelled at speed. It’s the same thrill of rollercoasters and jumping off stuff. Dicking about with gravity is fun. Goosing the inner ear balance sensors. Acceleration and speed do good things to our grey matter. It releases the happy juice.
Flying down the line of a fine walled up wave is a thrill. From the first fumbling shoreward tootle in the whitewater where you managed to stand up coherently for more than a second in some semblance of non-windmilling control to stylishly hooning down an overhead wall years down the line with a big grin on your face the rush is the same. It’s what keeps us coming back. The need, the craving, the urge for the glisse.
This is where the ‘sport’ of surfing ain’t a sport. If you’re blazing down a shimmering, Indonesian salty canvas at dawn there’s no sport. It’s pure self expression. Turn. Don’t do a turn. No one’s judging. No one’s scoring. If you want to trim the whole way holding your line through the power without swoops, turns or stunts then you’re surfing as much as the next guy loading and unloading his energy with bottom and top turns.
Just going fast is fun. Soul arching is called that for a reason. As soon as you start judging surfing you remove the fun. And surfing is all about fun. Never forget that.
In this issue we talk to a bunch of folk that appreciate the glide more than most: Britain’s current crop of world-class longboarders. To a man they advocate riding whatever board suits the waves on offer. Be it an old-school log, twinny or hand plane. Getting your glisse on whatever the weather is key.
So dive into this issue, enjoy the wisdom and stunning imagery contained within. Get inspired then go get your sliding fix.
why you should surf all year
Are you a fair weather surfer? Winter a bit too wintry for your delicate sensibilities?
At time of writing, mid-spring, in old money late April, the ocean temp out front of Orca Towers is all of 12C. Which is not what you’d call balmy. On the east coast it’s 10C. It’s what you’d call, sans twat cap, ‘Ooh sh@t my head feels like it’s imploding’.
Conversely in Barbados, where I got dragged kicking and screaming for a piece this issue, the wet bit is currently 27C. Now that is pleasurable. Even with the attendant sunburn and urchin risk.
I often wonder how different the surf culture would be in the isles of the Atlantic we call home if the temperature was that notch higher year round. Would we have world champions? Would the European surf industry have clustered here instead of Hossegor? Would it be impossibly busy? Or would we just be a more tan race of weather-obsessed, island dwellers?
There’s no question that putting on some boardshorts, or a bikini, and grabbing your board and jumping in the brine is easier, quicker and cheaper, than our rubber besuited version. But it’s the commitment to the cause that makes us different. Struggling into a winter suit is comical. Dancing out of a spring suit without filling it with sand is a ninth dan surfer skill.
Wetsuits are a double-edged sword: no one looks good in a wetsuit, but conversely they’re a pretty good all-body girdle, so if you’re a bit soft around the edges don’t be put off. They are, in fact, slimming. Hell they even make me look like I’ve got a six-pack.
Forgive the ramble, there’s been a vicious spring flat spell on the left side of the land recently, and I’m coming back off a winter long shoulder injury that’s kept me out the salt. It’s easy to take surfing for granted when everything is going well.
When you definitely can’t do it because:
a) your physio expressly forbids it, unless you really want your shoulder to turn to angry inflamed dust
b) you’re stuck inland
c) there’s been no waves forever
d) life just gets in the way
The frustration is hard to take. Which loops me neatly to the start of this tumble of words. Winter isn’t that much colder than summer. Spring can be just as cold as winter. It’s snowing in Scotland right now just to reinforce my point. You might as well surf all year. It’s better for your surfing, it’s better for you, and any time spent in the brine is a joyous escape from the stresses of being a land-based mammal in the twenty-first century. Take every opportunity you can to be in the sea. Whatever the weather. Trust me. You won’t regret it…