Why Surfers Never Retire

Surfing is something you either get or don’t get – I suppose just like you either love Marmite or hate it or you believe a solution to the Palestinian v Israeli problem, will actually be found in our lifetime… or not. I am not saying there aren’t millions of people out there who have tried it and failed, or who are still among the sub 10 seconds to wipe-out amateurs that don’t get it, or want to get it. No I am simply suggesting that there is just something about a surfers relationship with the ocean that unexpectedly clicks into place one day, which once established feels so much a natural part of who you are, who you really are, that it is almost inconceivable that the day will ever come when you will lose it all together.
Wipe Out
Essentially it’s a sense, an acquired sub-sense; but to try and explain it, would be to try and describe exactly what the combination of balance, speed, courage and buzz all felt like when you rode your first bike, or to try and explain to the un initiated, the amorphous pleasure an orgasm can give. Indeed, just like some footballers will tell you that scoring an important goal can actually feel better than sex – if you catch the right wave, that special wave you somehow knew would always come, and perform the perfect entry and ride it out to a smooth exit, just in time – there are really few pleasures in this world that can top that.

So what happens when for whatever reason: injury, age or the simple loss of opportunity you are forced to stop for good? It’s a question many friends and some of my surfier Twitter friends have asked, ever since I revealed in an earlier post how my own surfing days ended abruptly just over a year ago. I won’t be so dramatic as to describe it as if losing a limb or even a child, as one ex pro (who shall remain nameless) once put it in an interview, but it is still a tangible feeling, a true sense of loss, almost like a bereavement all the same.

When you get your kicks riding the energy carried in millions of tons of unpredictable water until it crashes upon rocks and sand, some injuries become a fact of life. About six years ago a knee injury kept me off a board for couple of years or so. Although I always knew it was simply a matter of time before I had the confidence to get back in the game. Unfortunately when I did, I foolishly took my surgeons advice to exercise caution, as I would always have a weakness, with a pinch of salt. So I had all but forgotten his warning, when the catastrophic failure of my anterior excruciate ligament, while riding an 8 metre wave, finished me off in Panama last year.

Although generally called the Silverbacks some locals prefer to call the huge wave, which breaks onto an Island off Bocas Del Toro, the Gorilla because every encounter shakes bones, empties lungs and tests the resilience of your surfboards leash to the limit during every, body smashing wipe-out, which can hold you under for a long, long time especially if you lose the use of a leg! Anyway, after a flight to Panama City and some keyhole surgery, the busy surgeon struggled to comprehend what it was about the word Never that I didn’t understand, after he recommended I never Surf or Ski again – never for the rest of this year or never for a couple of years like last time? “No” he said, “if you don’t want to risk worse injury, that could leave you with a pronounced limp or even the need for a stick – you must accept that you can Never surf again.”
My Surf Pic
While I have gradually accepted it, the feeling of loss can still catch you when you least expect it and hits you like a wave of grief. For a while last year I clung to the idea that I could simply switch legs and lead with my weakened right. I once met someone in New Zealand, a surf technique magician, who I know could have helped me do it. But… unlike the handful of ambidextrous big wave surfers I know, like Todd Smith or the veteran Jeff Clark, whenever I tried switching my dominant leg before the accident, it always felt as difficult as if trying to write with your wrong hand. Besides that, now both age and injury have left me uninsurable for any serious Masters competition, it all does seem like a lot of work (and possibly risk) just to switch over to the Veterans category; so I will let that one ride for now.

But I know in my heart that I will be out there again, one day – in my own time and at my own pace – because ultimately it has never been about winning or losing – it all comes down to that intangible sense, which will always pull you towards the roar of the surf – because the only truth that ever matters, when you are out there alone, waiting, listening and feeling for the right swell just beyond the break, is your own very personal relationship with the ocean.


2 thoughts on “Why Surfers Never Retire

  1. You may never compete again but you will always have a relationship with the sea. Enjoy.

  2. I wish I could say it gets easier Anthony but it does not. I’d give it all away for just one more season at my best.

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