Written by Tom Curren
Published in Surfer Magazine, 1994
Priorities are changing rapidly for the children of today. I know three young surfers, Byron Howarth, Chris Davidson, and Frankie Oberholzer, who can legitimately claim that by not going to school they have learned more than their peers. As surfers, they can legitimately claim that by not competing they have ridden better waves. Ask yourself: what furthers a surfer more, a world amateur title or his best tube ride?
Photo: Ted Grambeau
Recently had the chance to surf and travel with these three children and gain insight into what makes them tick. It's not the surf contests, and it's definitely not the pursuit of “knowledge” in the traditional sense. In many ways, what they seek is simply beyond our ability to appreciate.
After a few days' travel, we pull off at a break the locals claim has never been surfed before. What's more, no one in the village has ever seen white people. It's the same as it ever was. How many places are left in the world like this? We exchange glances with natives still naive enough to be fearful and respectful of outsiders, without the peddling of wares that usually accompanies this sort of meeting.
We considered holding a surf contest with the canoe men as judges. We'd make scorecards for them to hold up. Criteria? Subjective. Wipeouts would no doubt be the big score. We're at two-foot inshore Kaiser bowl pushing into a sand beach. Davo rides the first wave, so he gets to name the spot. Rivalry aside, he ponders a moment and comes up with pitstops- it sticks. It's a pit. Many of the places we've surfed reminded me of other well-known spots, and we start to name them accordingly. So far, we've been to Kaiser’s, Little Drakes and St. Leu.
Motor on to destinations unknown. Malarianoia keeps us high and dry on the ship Saint Larry. We inch past jungle islands safe on a floating sanctuary, rarely venturing ashore to meet the locals. We wonder what we’d find. Would they be fans of Michael Jordan? MTV junkies? Headhunters?
These islands are mainly Christian. How this distant and foreign religion got here is unknown to me. People are different from island to island. The reason for this is not apparent. The islands themself are slowly sinking back into the ocean. Trees on the shoreline without any nourishment finally fall, detaching themselves from the coral to which they cling. Coconut trees crowd and lean out over the water.
Equatorial flora and fauna, everything is growing. This is the sport of the world. Things unseen carry the power of creation and in turn are carried by the wind and sea to a final destination where they thrive or die. Oddest of all is the festering envy that many village people display towards foreigners. Out here, where there is little tourist traffic, this phenomenon is nonexistent. Out here, the few locals we meet are more curious than anything. They simply want to know what we're about.
Travelers will save up for a vacation that would be spent under subhuman conditions and wonder how to manage not having to go back to the human race. Once you've given yourself over to a place like this, you can forget about western ways. Our values are shown to be nihilist and devoid of any use for past or future. We think we're living each moment to the fullest when it's really just hollow entertainment. But we're very good at it of course, all the slickly packaged stimulus. We made great cartoons.
Surfing’s version of a caveman, meanwhile, has dropped from the world and landed here. He sets up camp and waits for months on end to stand in a cave for a 75-yard stretch. Malaria stories are commonplace. But even more deadly and widespread are reported cases of hopelessness when faced when returning to Sydney, Tokyo or LA. Once home, they quickly rustle up enough quid to get back to these reef breaks.
Also remarkable are Euros who just keep on backpacking on some kind of never-ending Europass. They come to take up surfing with their brethren, lolling about in the lineup, oblivious to the potential danger of collision. Ah paradise as it was and never will be again.
A shift in local values towards materialism is accelerated by the many surfers who visit this New World on their own terms with their own toys. Because if there's a group of people with more extravagant needs, I've yet to find them. How will the surfers who come through here remain in the minds of the villagers? Like tourist? Worse? In any case, these people will soon see plenty of us: they live too close to too much great surf. It will be an amazing microcosm: once the hotels and surf camps are established the scene will wander out to the next place on the periphery. And then the book will repeat.
In the local language, the word “surfing” translates to “mind ski”. Does this mean it's all in the mind? Or is it because of the penetrating experience of riding your average wave here? Either way, the term works. Many surfers I know and grew up with chose surfing because everything else was boring. It was a way to escape a meaningless society. In doing so, we found our own internal balance and ultimately neglected the so-called important things and the ability to deal with the outer world. There was no way to change what was going on around us so we found a new place in surfing. It's happening all over the world and not just with surfers. Many young people these days are devoting all of their time and energy to the means of expression, their mind ski as it were because humanity is too absurd to be a part of.
Even here, where thousands and thousands of perfect waves go unwritten each day, sometimes you have to take steps to dodge the crowd. One night, while anchored near a “resort” that all surfers dream of visiting, we went for a midnight session on a quarter moon, illuminated by our boat's searchlight and a beach bonfire. Flashlight surfing just to get a few waves after hours
Soon we drop anchor anew. Dawn revealed a dreamscape right. It was sunset, backdoor, Honolua and Haleiwa put together except longer, hollower, cleaner and no one out. Maybe 12 feet on the sets. Some great empty waves that will stay forever in the minds of everyone on the boat. Images of roundness, of wedges moving along a narrow track of reef down a huge point, gaining thickness and power the farther it went until the last explosion dissipated into a sunset rip that swept down rather than out. Whoever made this wave must've known that it was ideal for surfing, or so it seems. I swear I didn't even want to look at it before paddling out for fear of being paralyzed by the sheer beauty.
Two days later, we steam south to an area that promised to have even better surf. It was hard to imagine anything as good as what we've just had. Our next spot was a long spinning left like Jeffreys Bay in reverse, and we experienced both sides of the coin: epic barrels followed by epic thrashings. The name of the game was connect and collect. One day someone will possibly ride the best wave ever at this place on a 15-foot day. Maybe it's already been done.
Today, no surf, so we spread the word of surfing to the native groms. Everyone was enthusiastic about wave riding. Long boards, paddle boards and body boards were turned over to the locals to see how they'd take the mind ski. Some of the kids found planks and took up the sport on their own.
For ages, the native children here have been playing in the breakers and going to sea with their fathers in dugouts to learn fishing. It makes me wonder what they think of the surfboards they're playing on now. A kind of mind machine for mind skiing.
Created by grown-up kids who still want to play in the ocean, refusing to surrender to a child-like fantasy. Will these children be like us? Will they be drawn away from their own people toward the empty blueness? From inertia to escape velocity - this is the mission of the mind ski generation.
Written by Tom Curren - Circa 1994