Under The Influence: Alex Gray

According to Alex Gray, kids shouldn’t go to college. At least, not right away. And while some parents may frown upon this advice, Alex’s own story suggests there might be some wisdom in his unconventional guidance. The day after graduating high school he took a surf trip to England and has been traveling nine months out of the year ever since. Chasing life experiences. Charging the world’s scariest waves. And while he’s never made a Dean’s List or been the life of a Sigma Chi frat party, he’s 27 years into the school of life, and has no plans to graduate anytime soon. —Mike Misselwitz

ALEX: I tell every kid to avoid going straight to college out of high school. When you’re 18 years old you’re still a kid, you don’t know who you are or what you want yet. The best way to figure things out is to get out into the world. Travel. Get out of your comfort zone. The world is the school of life, and traveling will change your whole perspective.

From age 12 to 22, I traveled with a jersey on. I thought it was the best thing ever. And then, thanks to my sponsors, I got to start traveling without the jersey, and I was like, “Yes, this is it. This is what I want to do.” But that’s not to say a guy on the world tour is any less stoked. As a freesurfer I get to live my dream, but the competitive surfers are living their dreams, too. We’re traveling for different reasons, but we still love surfing.

I get a lot of the exposure for surfing big, scary waves, but I love going on trips to surf fun waves too. I love traveling with guys like Dusty Payne or Mitch Coleborn to rip small surf just as much as I love trips with Shane Dorian and Dave Wassel to a crazy slab. I think surfers should be well-rounded. A good surfer should think, “Yeah, that looks fun!” no matter what.

When your whole life is centered around chasing storms, there’s a lot of sacrifice. You have to drop everything you’re doing at the last minute, and you end up missing family functions, holidays, birthdays…it’s hard to be in a relationship, stuff like that. But surf-travel is the greatest thing in the world and it’s all I want to do with my life right now. I’m hooked.

Living in the moment is the greatest thing ever. When you jump on a plane last-minute and find yourself at a perfect wave in some wild place with your best friends, that’s when all of a sudden the worries stop. My problem is, I do that so much. Like, those trips where everyone else is going, “I don’t know, maybe I shouldn’t go, it might not be that good…” I’ll just say, “Screw it, I’ll go!”, because I’d rather check it from the water. And with that attitude, sometimes I lose. But what did I really lose? Some money, I guess, but I still had a hell of a time. To score amazing surf on last-minute, tactical strike-missions to far flung places around the world, I’ll go broke in pursuit of that.