TOUGH LOVE

posted by / Magazine / April 23, 2003

Harvey Whippleknob is more hardcore than you.

One Saturday every month, he sneaks out during Lois’ afternoon bridge game and makes the hour drive to Trestles. Tucking an 8-foot funboard under his arm, old man Whippleknob waddles down the trail in a dated 5/4/3, consciously watching his feet the entire way in order to duck the oncoming stares and pointed snickers behind. Upon reaching the beach, the 38-year-old pudgeball puts on his neoprene Isotoners and — clucking his tongue at the surf industry’s dirty mind — opens a fresh, pink puck, waxing his board entirely the wrong way before making his awkward, leg-flailing paddle out far away from the two main peaks. And, after just an hour of waiting marked by the occasional failed drop or faceplant, he rushes back to begin the whole soggy, somewhat embarrassing trip home just to hear the old lady lash him one last time for this midlife crisis crap he picked up three years ago when he should be doing something useful — like cleaning the gutters.

Most of us wouldn’t call Harvey a true surfer. More likely, we’d call him a “kook” or “poseur.” But Socrates once said that between the man who is inherently good, and the one who must try to be good, it’s the latter who is most noble since he makes the conscious effort to be that way. Substitute the phrase “hardcore” for “good,” and you’ll see our point. And if it still sounds like a bunch of Greek, listen to surfing philosopher Jeff Clark who, upon being asked his definition of diehard, replied by raising another question: “How much adversity are you willing to go through to ride a wave?”

Before you answer, consider for a moment the amount of trouble surfing’s more noteworthy breeds encounter — if any.

After all, do the super-talented pros ever struggle — specialists who can hang up their boards for a whole month and still rule a lineup on skill alone? How about the average kid who grew up on the beach, ingrained in the culture, the speak, the nuances, and then looks down at every latter-day landlubber who comes behind him — the waterman’s equivalent of a rich teenager gloating in the Mercedes Daddy paid for? And what does the stereotypical hardcore local have to worry about as he drives to some guarded spot where his grumpy seniority guarantees a sea lion’s share of set waves? Does he fret over whether his white board is its whitest? His black wetsuit its blackest?

And therein lies the cause of poor Whippleknob’s suffering: surfers equate “hardcore” with “respect.” And since most of us define the sport in our own image, we choose heroes who are something like us, just a little more dedicated. The coldwater crew emulates anyone who does it in lower temps or less rubber. Big-wave warriors salute the ballsier guy’s heavier bombs. The wife-and-kid posse crows over the number of dawn patrols old Joe packs in each week while keeping the family intact. And by worshipping such hand-selected surfing saints, a little holy water splashes on ourselves — no matter how modestly might say, “Not me, bro, but that guy’s gnarly.”

Basically, if there were a formula for what’s hardcore, for most surfers it would be: “ourselves plus something extra.” And who among us is willing to look in the mirror and see Harvey staring back? A guy who lives miles away from the beach, who faces more crashing plates than waves — a surfer who can’t even f—king surf?!

Nobody.

Meanwhile, guys like Harvey take clean-up sets of shit on the head every session. And they still keep paddling out. The question is: would you? Matt Walker

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