Thursday, October 21, 2010

Article in Dominion Post 'Weekend' section

A Day Spent Searching For Groundswell With Paul Hersey

By Kester Brown

I can’t decide whether being addicted to surfing is a blessing or a curse. It’s hard to describe the sensation of riding a moving wall of water, one that has risen up out of the ocean, plucked you from its surface and propelled you along at breakneck speed. It’s a simple pleasure—the sweet rush of being picked up by the swell, the feeling of your board beneath your feet carving along the glassy blue surface of the ocean. When everything comes together, the feeling is incomparable. But it doesn’t come easy. You have to contend with ill-fitting tight rubber suits, freezing cold water, dangerous rips, the fear of sharks, near-drownings and worst of all, getting out of bed at an ungodly hour in the morning (the best waves are always at dawn, is this a ploy from the surfing gods to punish surfers for their indulgent hedonism?). All that for a cheap thrill … or is it?

One person who has spent a lot of time pondering the merits of surfing is Paul Hersey, author of the recently released book Searching For Groundswell. Paul spent a year on the road researching his book, surfing many of the breaks around New Zealand, meeting the locals and employing a fair amount of critique to what he thinks it means to be a surfer today.
Searching For Groundswell offers a perspective on where New Zealand surf culture is heading, how the sport has evolved into the mainstream and what that means for issues surrounding surfing such as localism and environmental concerns.

Paul lives in South Brighton, Christchurch, just across the road from a beach that, while it does occasionally produce waves, is claimed by many surfers to be the worst break in New Zealand. So when he called me on a calm, sunny afternoon to say that it was one of those rare days when the surf was pumping, I grabbed my board and headed over.

When I arrived at Paul’s house, he was already in the water, and his wife Shelley was suited up and on her way out the door, ready to run across the road and join him.
As Shelley and I paddled out to sea, duck diving under the whitewater of the shorebreak, we saw Paul take off and pull his board under the curling lip of a nice head high wave. When the surf is good, like it was that day, the excitement is almost unbearable. Grown men and women turn into giggling messes. Paul has a naturally large grin, and he likes to show it off regularly. When I paddled over to him and sat up on my board for a breather, his grin was out in full force, attempting to nudge the ears off the back of his head.

‘What took you so long?’ he asked, ‘This is what it’s all about! Blue skies, nice waves and … aaeeeowww!! Here comes another set!’
Paul has been surfing most of his life, and is obviously comfortable in the ocean. But me, I’m still learning how to read the currents, still trying to tune in to the finer elements of the art of surf board riding.
‘Paddle paddle paddle! Go right … RIIIIGHT!!’ Paul had left the best wave of the set for me. His enthusiasm for surfing is infectious enough, but he wanted to make sure everyone was in on the good time he was having.

I took his advice, paddling as hard as I could, I angled my board to the right so that if I made the take-off, I could outrun the breaking lip as it peeled along the wave. I was too slow though and the surge of the swell lifted me so that I was on top of the wave. It was not where I wanted to be, I should have been further down the face where it was less steep and the water was smoother, but I was committed, it was either make the drop or go ‘over the falls’ into the fury of the whitewater. I leaned back, planted my feet on the board and free-fell down the face. Miraculously, I judged the timing of the drop just right and my weight came evenly onto my board as I leaned into a bottom turn, carving through the water and setting myself up for the ride. When you’ve made it onto the clean face of a wave and you’re looking down the line ahead, with a wall of water at your back, you can really feel the energy of what’s driving you along. You feel very much alive.
The best moments in surfing require no thought, your mind and body function purely on intuition. For most surfers, I suspect, it’s those moments that define their motivation to chase waves.

When I asked Paul where his idea to write a book about surfing came from, he talked about the intimate relationship that he has developed with the landscape of surfing, both in terms of the physical environment and as a cultural identity. Paul pointed out that as a body of people surfers have, potentially, a very powerful voice, and it’s up to them to protect what they see as valuable. During his year long surf trip, Paul gained interesting insights into both the influence that corporate surf culture is having on the sport, and how grassroots organisations, such as local boardriders clubs, have the power to direct the energies of surfings strongest resource—its people.

But the lasting impression I have from reading Searching For Groundswell is the same as the one I was left with after spending a day in the waves with Paul—surfing is just about the most fun thing you can do, and as he points out in the opening quote in his book, ‘The best surfer on any given day is the one having the most fun’.

1 comment:

  1. Nice article. Not sure who's cranking on the rock if both you guys are out on the water all day.