The Freesurfing Conundrum

Working surfing from home.

IMG_9221Noa Deane, free as an eagle. Photo: Andrew Shield

When I left the editor position at SURFING Magazine to become an editor-at-large, I left late nights at the office. I left cancel-my-subscription emails. I left invoice processing, budgets, password changes and a lot of other bullshit I do not miss. I now work half the time and can write from my garage or the beach or a coffee shop. I make my own schedule. I take midmorning naps. I surf whenever I want. People tell me I’m “living the dream.”

People aren’t wrong. The perks of flexibility are obvious. But I’m also kinda bored. After four years of deadline-fueled, hyper-productive work surrounded by like-minded individuals focused on a common goal, it’s easy to feel understimulated and aimless. It will only take me a few hours to write this post, and the waves are flat right now.

At first, I didn’t talk much about this because my “working from home” problems seemed very much like whining. But as I opened up to people in similar situations, my sentiments were echoed: too isolating, too little direction, too much time to think. And since it’s my job to relate everything in my life to surfing, and because I have too much time to think, I realized that this is the same “struggle” that professional surfers face.

Competition is the office job of the professional surf world. Yeah, your office is constantly moving, but your schedule is set. You have coworkers. Everyone is striving toward well-defined goals — win the heat, win the contest, qualify for the CT, become champion of the world. Your success is determined by a number that sits next to your name on a website. Winning is well defined.

Freesurfers “work from home” and on paper they are living the dream. They get to chase great waves around the world while people make pictures and videos of their awesomeness. But how do you know if you’re doing it right? A pat on the back from your team manager? Photos in a magazine? Do people still buy magazines? Meanwhile, the value of Vimeo views, social media clout and a part in the next Kai Neville movie changes before the ink dries on your contract.

Plus, humans work best with immediate reinforcement. A contest guy gets the real-time feedback of making it through a heat, while a freesurfer that put all of his energy filming for Cluster didn’t know if he succeeded for two years. Even then, how telling is the applause-o-meter at a drunken industry premiere? In the mean time, he’s sitting at home waiting for the next swell and mindfucking himself wondering, “Am I doing a good job?”

Which is probably why we see so few people truly commit to the freesurf career path. Because to be a successful at it you need to either be self-motivated (see: Alex Gray, Dane Gudauskas), creative and come up with your own side projects (see: Dane Reynolds, Dion Agius) or very self-confident and comfortable with down time (see: Nate Tyler). Those are tough qualities to cultivate. Much easier to enroll in the QS and have your career path handed to you in your hiring packet.

The takeaway? Hmm. Couple options. One: Successful freesurfers deserve more credit than they get. Two: Some potential insight into why guys like Luke Davis, Mason Ho and Timmy Reyes are slogging it on the QS. Three: An explanation for why I’m actually paying to use a coworking space in an effort to recreate the office environment I left over a year ago. It’s nice to be around people, and I’m getting more done, but my midmorning naps sure have taken a hit. —Taylor Paul