An Ode To The Unsettled
Leave your bags packed, one foot out the door, and never stop chasing
Those who value stability, who fear transience, uncertainty, change, have erected a powerful system of stigmas and taboos against rootlessness, that disruptive, anti-social force, so that we mostly conform, we pretend to be motivated by loyalties and solidarities we do not really feel…But the truth leaks out in our dreams; alone in our beds…we soar, we fly, we flee. –Salman Rushdie
Does it keep you up at night?
That incessant little voice? That mischievous old friend? Let’s go, it whispers. So you entertain the thought. About that right peeling around a palm-lined point in a hazy jungle somewhere in the distance. About the life you yearn for that you know is not “normal.” About the chase. Good. That voice should keep you up at night. Listen to its hopes and fantasies and vagrant-dreams. This voice guides the seekers, the artists, the wanderers, the youth with vision.
The voice has a point.
Follow your gut or mull it over till it makes sense and decide that it’s finally, utterly, inexplicably time to leave. Even if you’re not totally convinced, tell the voice: Let’s go.
Young men and women: You are an emulsion of life and dream. A vibrant mixture driven by the centrifugal force of curiosity and wonderment. Keep them continuously mixing, suspended, spinning. Don’t let the latter of life-and-dream settle to the bottom of the cup. Stir them constantly. Keep the two blurred in fantastic, sentient suspension. Never. Ever. Settle.
How do those shadowy men in backlit Javanese pits get out there, you ask? How do those mother–kers score so hard, you wonder? They live in this suspension. They do not settle for ordinary lives and waves close to home. They never ever settle down. Those men have found a way to float, and while we can’t float forever, our most restless days shouldn’t be wasted on safety and security and sure-shots and cubicles. Be nomadic for a time. Unsettle down.
Souls like you — eager and restless — rise with the dawn and buzz with expectation. That feeling you get when you’ve missed a swell, woken up too late, chosen obligation over the surf — chase that unsettling feeling. Let it guide you toward waves you make sacrifices to reach. Carve it into your bedroom wall: I WILL NOT MISS THE NEXT ONE. Read it, study it, let the message sink into your brain at night through osmosis. The greatest of escape artists obsess.
“The thing about surfing compared to other sports, is that it’s only good when many variables align,” says Marti Paradisis, Tasmanian hell-charger. “It’s both unpredictable and can also only be done in daylight hours…to some extent [laughs]. So to be able to chase swells and be at the right break at the right time, you have to live a lifestyle that enables you enough freedom to be on the pulse when the swells hit. When I was younger, my brain wouldn’t let me miss a swell and not much has changed. Luckily, I’m in a job where I work a lot of night shifts, which frees up my time to chase during the day.”
Pay attention to the weather patterns, to the clouds and wind and currents and tides. Be on a first-name basis with your local meteorologist. Know your boss so well that you don’t have to lie to him about calling in sick when it’s firing. Never settle for the easy, accessible, user-friendly waves. Always wonder if you could be a little deeper, if you could handle a bit more. Trade long walls and slopey burgers for ledges and long periods and lips that go bump in the night. Live in that slightly psychotic neurosis between satisfaction and fear that you’ve blown it. But never be totally satisfied.
Find a friend that enjoys heavy surf more than you do and follow him/her into the waves you’re not entirely sure about. You will sleep well when it’s over, I promise you.
“Living this lifestyle’s resulted in many different jobs. Responsibility-wise — probably not the best move,” says Paradisis. “But it’s what made me happy. I can confidently say I’ve seen and experienced so much more than if I’d chosen a straighter pathway. Nature is the most amazing gift we as humans have been given. So go experience as much of this place as you can. You only live once. Money means nothing if you don’t have memories for your life story.”
Go to school. Or don’t. But if you don’t, learn a trade, work at night, work hard as hell and make sure your boss knows the score. The score being: you are diligent, but also clearly detached from a 9-5 career. Pay great attention to your father if he has a useful skill and absorb his trade like a sponge should school not pan out. Do not go into shaping (for the money), there’s no money.
“I’ve always just gone with my gut feeling on things,” says Craig Anderson, Australian professional freesurfer. “But I’ve been so lucky and it’s a rare career path and opportunity that I have. It’s all about having a plan, no, an idea and just running with that idea. Wasting this opportunity, for me, would be something like buying a million dollar house on the beach and setting it up all rad and not wanting to leave.”
Should you go to college (which I’d recommend completely) study something you can do remotely and/or with WiFi. Writing, designing, teaching, nursing, blogging. Learn everything there is to know about it and figure out a way to do it slightly different than everyone else.
While home, get a night job in the meantime, be it serving, bussing, or valet parking. Both know that there is absolutely nothing worse than seeing your friends score while you are at work and there is nothing better than skipping a day of work (or school) to surf a good swell. This is cold hard science.
Be prepared to be poorer than most of your friends and family. Be prepared to spend hours on the Internet figuring out how to sign up for free-gov’t health-care. Be prepared for very skeptical looks from the in-laws when asked “what you do.” Recognize the secret satisfaction of being happier than your peers who are far more setup than you…but can never leave.
“The majority of the population on this planet has a very straight forward, narrow-minded view on life,” says Paradisis. “There’s a perspective that you should live a ‘certain way.’ The people in charge who control society have developed a system that’s really hard to escape…but you can do your best to live your dream. You still have the ability to choose your own path.”
“There’s good waves all year round somewhere,” says Anderson. “Think about that. It’s so addictive. Personally, I don’t wanna just sit around at home and do nothing.”
Indeed, save every cent for that ticket. If it’s to Indo, don’t just settle for Bali, get on a ferry and go further. Bali, Mexico, South Africa — the planet is haunted by unsettled ones like yourself. Make friends with other unsettlers, feed each others’ restlessness; chase with them. If another swell is coming, change your ticket, stay longer, you can always go home, but you might not always be able to come back. Make friends with a European, or a Brazilian, or a Kiwi. Invite them to stay with you wherever you live; mom will understand. They will host you when it’s your turn.
Learn to cook your own meals. If you’re in college, do a semester (or two) abroad. Learn another language (or two). Women love bilingual men. (And vice versa). Pack lightly. Bring a gift or two for a local family. Give shit away when it becomes too cumbersome (this includes surfboards, too). Karma will bless you in the long run. Open up a couple credit cards with amazing introductory mileage plans and have your parents purchase shit on them and pay you back. That right there is two free tickets to anywhere on earth. Close the cards once you’ve got the miles. Never accrue debt. Debt settles you.
“Surround yourself with good people with similar mindsets that like to travel,” says Anderson. “The world, it’s such a…there’s just so many different places and waves, it’s just never ending. You could spend your whole life exploring. I’m just gonna keep chasing until I can’t do it anymore.”
Don’t lease cars unless you’re 40. In fact, don’t care much about cars unless money is expendable. Don’t worry about owning a home, that’s for settlers, and you are not ready yet. Rent a flat month to month, if you can. Learn how not to miss home. If you miss home, this life isn’t for you. While away, change your plans, change your ticket, go further than you imagined you would, add another week, add another month.
“I honestly travel 80-90 percent of the year, so I don’t really have a home,” says Anderson. “I call Newcastle home, but it’s only because that’s where my family lives and a couple of buddies, but I’ve never really made a super “homely” environment anywhere. So yes, there are sacrifices to the lifestyle. I’ve never had a girlfriend or long-term relationship, but I dunno, I’ve always just been psyched on getting good waves, traveling and exploring.”
At times it will be grueling. They might tell you, “the journey is the destination,” but it’s not. The destination is the destination and the journey can be grueling. Grueling, like you show up to the island after 36-hours of traveling but your boards don’t. After a few trips your friends will create new group texts on which you are forgotten and girlfriends will tire of your absence. But your traveling will manifest a way to make money through it.
Make it crystal f–king clear to her (or him): You are second to the surf. Spell it out on the first date, just get it right out there. They’ll respect your honesty, they’ll tell you they get it…and then subsequently make it their life-goal to change you. Obsessions (when it’s not about them) are wildly attractive. Don’t move in together, not just yet. Moving in makes the leaving that much harder. Don’t wake up next to someone you can’t leave.
“In the relationship aspect: To each his own,” says American pro-surfer-playboy Balaram Stack. “I mean, I see people all the time in steady relationships that still travel the world and are never home. I’m just definitely not one of them [laughs]. I could only imagine how difficult that would be and probably don’t recommend it. It just seems kinda pointless in my eyes to be this young, traveling the world — with all those places and parties — and have to continually worry about someone at home. Live your life before you have to worry about someone else’s.”
Realize that while you are away that same companion will be drawn to someone that is already settled, safer, “a sure-thing,” as they say. Someone half as intrepid as you. Accept that. But know that there are literally billions of other fish in the sea. That there are more than one “The One’s.”
“Being in a relationship is actually simple if you’re on the same page with each other,” corrects Jack Freestone, Australian ‘QS slugger and Alana Blanchard’s male suitor. “We both know what we’re doing and what we want, so that makes things easy. It’s all about understanding each other. We both know we want the most from our own careers and we know we don’t need to rush things or force the matter, whether that’s marriage or anything else. Let things happen and learn to get each other. That’s how you can both live that unsettled life together.”
Find a companion out traveling with the same rootlessness that consumes you. Tell them, devilishly, Come with me. Like a dare. And one of them will. Float with her. Share your similar worldviews and inside jokes and passion for living and unsettle down. Float, suspend, explore, and turn your backs on the settlers together.
Yes, seekers. You are a potent cocktail of youth and intent meant to be shaken and stirred. Resist gravity, gather no moss, do not conform to the institutions they push on you. This is just a thought. This is just a plea.