Friday, January 15, 2016

Our Journey...told from a surfing perspective

I divide my time between surfing, climbing, writing, loving life and a few other peripherals. There is no order or balance to it, but each seems to mesh succinctly into the whole. A mix of randomness here, a few lucky choices there, and I find myself in the middle age well along the journey – to what I'm not entirely sure. But that's the way of risk and reward, isn't it? Adventure starts around the same time as uncertainty...the letting go...the first step. It's a journey that we all have to take, and I'd rather take it consciously then be dragged along by an innate acceptance of what might have been.

Adventure and communication
When people ask what I do, I reply that I write for a living. I realise it's a programmed response, as if our work is the most important thing. But when you think about it, it seems a funny thing to say. What do I do? I do many things, some central to my life and others just as a means of getting by. Work may or may not fit into that category. Surely the question to ask is: What do you look forward to doing?
With my work, I appreciate that I get the opportunity to explore and then preach about our environment, about how fragile and essential it is. You'd think this is a no brainer. Everyone nods sagely, saying 'yes, yes' but no one wants to take the step if it hits their pocket. Global warming is real. Water pollution is real. Take ownership. Make a difference.

Good karma breeds good karma
I thank my lucky stars for my life, my wife and the path I am on. And I try to remind myself every day of this. There are many ways to share your 'good fortune', and to my thinking it is the act of sharing that is of most value rather than what is shared.
So many others have it tough, are dealing with things hidden from normal daily interactions. Sometimes I realise the difficult path a friend or acquaintance is on, and it frustrates me that I have been so blind to their suffering. All it can take is a smile or a kind word, being a better listener, and listening for what might not be said. Never be afraid to ask 'are you okay?' or 'can I help?'

The travel perspective
My last overseas trip was a climbing expedition in the heart of the Nepal Himalaya. There's nothing like two months of different food, different sanitation and different attitudes to life to really open your eyes. Meeting people with so much who want more. Meeting people with so little who want to share the last of it with you. I was humbled at the generosity and appalled at the rampant greed. A fellow traveller complained about all the rubbish along the side of the road, as if the locals didn't care about their environment. 'What do you think our environmental footprint is compared to theirs,' I replied. 'We just do a better job of hiding it is all.'

Surfing's challenge
Surfing trips can be the same. During my last trip to Bali a year back, I noticed so many tourists complaining about the increasing pollution along the coastline. Who did they think was to blame for it? The irony of it wore thin after only a few toilet-paper-thin days. Scores of fat, obnoxious tourists, no doubt on cheap package deals, choosing to holiday among the timeless ways of the Balinese and yet complaining every two minutes if they couldn’t get exactly what they wanted when they wanted.
It was my wife Shelley’s second time to Indonesia, and she was abhorred with the way many westerners treated the locals. When a Kuta hawker offered us an elaborately-carved bow and arrow set, Shelley suggested that we test it out on a rather abrasive Australian family sitting further along on the beach. (It should be mentioned that we also met many nice Australians, but none of them wore Bintang singlets)
Nearly a decade had passed since my first trip here, and I was surprised with the increase in prices, tourist numbers and infrastructure. A local taxi driver complained that the Indonesian government was taking nearly all of the tourist dollars back to Jakarta, and that the majority of Balinese were as poor as ever. And then there were the growing number of expats, tearing up rice paddies to build their own chunk of exotic paradise. I wondered if they even cared about the Balinese way of life, or were more interested in shaping it around their own idealism. Overall, my impression was that Bali appeared to be struggling to keep its identity through all the demand.

Feeling the love
I've been chasing waves for over 30 years now. After trying competitions in my younger days – rather unsuccessfully – I settled into seeking out fun and uncrowded line ups, both around the country and overseas. I'm not a big wave charger or an aerial junkie. Just overhead is usually big enough for me, and hollow enough to get covered but not if it means risking serious injury. In other words, I'd consider myself middle of the road in terms of both surfing ability and desire.
And what I love about surfing, aside from the waves of course, is the vibe associated with it...the stoke. This is a great thing, a shared mindset, and something that should probably be appreciated more than it is these days.

To my aging eyes, stoke is sometimes being overtaken by an urge to get more waves, as if accumulation is more important than feeling. And this leads on to the one thing that really sticks in my craw about surfing: over the top localism and the surf rage that goes with it. I can't think of any other activity that has the same level of post pissing, chest thumping, macho posturing as surfing. This is a black mark on us as surfers. And yet it is something so easily fixed. How far does a simple smile go, a nod and a comment: 'Nah, you go mate. I'll wait for the next one.'

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