I always thought I had a chance. Thought that one day it would all just click. Like learning French. If I kept surfing every day, morning, noon and night. If I kept my boards stickered and my wax clean. If I paddled out when the waves were too small, and not small enough, and everywhere in between. Tried airs; studied Taj; hit the NSSA, the VQS, the WSA, and every other surf comp acronym on the California coast — then I’d be on my way.
Surf, eat, sleep: With that trusty routine, I was destined for surf stardom. All my friends were. And we would travel the globe like a much radder Jackson 5, bred on vintage Taylor Steele, acting out hilarious skits and riding the world’s funnest waves together. Laughing. Why else was I waking up at 6 a.m. before school, freezing my ass off, pretending to like big waves and contests? It was all to live the dream, of course, and so like a good little grom I kept at it — all through middle and high school, hoping that one day my phone would ring. That my golden ticket would materialize. “Why, yes, I’ll travel the world on your dime, and wear your clothes, and spend your money.” Bonjour, mademoiselle!
Needless to say, that golden ticket never came. But I think I’m OK with that. See, we ask a lot from today’s superstars — you know, the ones pushing 16. Kids like Kolohe Andino and Evan Geiselman have circled the globe by freshman year. They have girls wanting to know ‘em before they’ve discovered that that’s a good thing. They’ve yet to stomp the gas pedal of a Chevrolet, but they could probably buy the dealership. Sounds great — but they face obligations, too. Pressure. Scrutiny. Elders forcing them to “Paddle out!” and “Charge!” and “Get the shot!” They are stars as well as children. They are pushed, pulled, bought and sold. And that’s scary at 15, no matter how fat your savings account.
“Everyone always says I’ll burn out,” Kolohe told me one day while hovering over Peter Taras’ computer screen, as we checked the results of their dawn patrol shoot at Salt Creek. “But I’m still psyched to surf, so that’s all that matters.”
And that’s the big question we ask ourselves in Matt Walker’s essay “Killing the Dream” (pg. 74). Once surfing takes on the role of a job, are we still as stoked?
I know that growing up, one of the major factors that made my friends and me so enthusiastic about surfing — aside from getting girls — was the chance to make it big. The opportunity to do nothing but surf for the rest of our lives. But of course, reality hits us all sooner or later — in my case, it was in a state school parking lot surrounded by fast food wrappers and English lit anthologies — and it’s then that we must make a career decision. At some point, hard as it is to swallow, the “dream” must be abandoned, and we have to face a frightening prospect: surfing for 60 more years with no chance of ever going pro. We must learn to love things apart from just surfing: We learn to read, to write, to pound nails. To paint and cure cancer. And as we grow, so does our relationship to the sport we live and die for. We start to enjoy aspects of surfing that we used to ignore: new waves, different boards. “Nature.” And we end up just fine.
I’m lucky enough that this new, “real” life still includes surfing before, during and after work, any and every chance I get. My turns matter less and a lens will never be aimed my way (at least not on purpose) — but for some damn reason, when I’m flying down the line, it still feels good to punt a high one and pretend for a moment that somebody cares. — Travis Ferré