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Thoughts on Surf Culture

I love surfing, but not surf culture. That is to say that surfing brings me profound joy. It’s a fun, meditative act that makes me feel grounded, happy, and chemically balances something in me. The nature of professionals and practitioners of the sport, however, leans toward the toxic. Chas Smith writes very well on the subject in his book Welcome to Paradise, Now go to Hell. People get choked out, beat up, run over, and yelled at all in the name of catching a wave. For me this sort of toxic behavior mars an otherwise beautiful and serene experience. Surfers are also dumb. I do hate sweeping generalizations, but if you’ve ever watched professional surfers talk, it’s embarrassing. There seems to be a pervasive force of dumb, inconsiderate, violent behavior permeating all of surf culture. And, of course, drugs.

The sport is more than the sum of its leaders, though. It’s a deeply personal experience and I love it very much. Becoming a waterman has forced me into the greatest shape of my life. And in fact, three days ago I saved a fellow surfer from a vicious rip-current that threatened his life. He was yelling for help and flailing his arms, the current taking him deeper out to sea—he had reached a point where he was so tired and so frightened, that he called for help. I took this very seriously and paddled immediately in the direction of the shouting. The funny thing was, there was another surfer closer to him—three of us total on a very large break in storm inspired conditions. It was treacherous, expert only type weather. But the other surfer paddled in, either saving his own skin or just not giving a fuck.

When I reached the guy, it was clear he wasn’t American. He had tobacco-stained teeth and was so tired I had to tow him in by allowing him to hold on to my foot. When I turned around though, I realized we were a couple hundred yards out now, and I wasn’t sure if I could paddle us both all the way in. But I did. I paddled around the rip current and pushed the tired surfer into the shore where he thanked me vigorously and walked with me to my car. The other surfer was long gone and for the most part, the beachgoers seemed unfazed. With the loud crashing of the ocean and the indifference of the only other surfer out there, the guy could have been carried away and never seen again. I’m still not sure what this all means for me, but I’m just glad I decided to go out that day. I love surfing and adventure though, and I love literature. Kelp Journal is an homage to these things.

I’m extremely grateful for all of our wonderful contributors to this issue. We have some of the most talented writers and photographers in the world in this issue. Take your time, live in the moment, and ride the slack and swell of Kelp Journal.


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