At what cost do we choose to surf? At what cost do we choose to go out into the water instead of navigating our other responsibilities?
I have never had a tough time making up my mind. Over the years my indecision has gotten worse, but it is only about one thing - "Should I go out?" I live on Folly and obviously love to surf. I know the knee jerk reaction is that I should always go out, but what if you have a date planned later with friends or someone special? What if you know you need to relieve your parents from watching your kids? What if you know your wife made dinner and is waiting for you? What if you are so sunburnt that your nose has a giant scab on the tip? What if that job you wanted is going to call back between 3 and 5, and you know it's going off in the water, and with this tide it’s only going to be good for a little bit . . .
This thought started with my boyfriend not cleaning up before we had guests over. I was so angry that he had been home all day and the house was still a mess. All he could say back was that there was surf! What was he supposed to do, come in while it was barreling out there?? Was I not a surfer anymore?? Was I just nuts???
In that moment I was more scared of the judgment from my mother who had already come to terms with my living in sin with my boyfriend but who’s head would explode if the apartment was dirty too. Something about cleanliness is next to godliness and I had already let one down. This was a little couple's quarrel about something that didn't matter, but that thought has bothered me since. How could I get so irritated that someone chose surfing over washing the sink full of dishes before my parents came over?
Waves are inconsistent here on the East Coast, and so when there are waves, there is a real feeling of urgency to get there. Every surfer knows the, “It was better yesterday” or “You just missed it” conversation. Surfing has given me a real bad case of F.O.M.O. (Fear of Missing Out). What has falling in love with surfing cost or will cost in the long run? I asked around for answers.
Relationships and surfing. I don’t think I could ever be with someone who didn’t surf. You could say I have a type. Unless your significant other surfs, this can be a hard bridge to get across. I can list a couple divorces off the top of my head that were from surfing. “If you want a divorce become a shaper,” a local told me with a picture of his surfboard bearing his divorce details like a gravestone. There are no phones in the water. The waves won’t turn off for you to run home to your boo. Sometimes it can feel like your relationships have a hold button that the ocean does not.
One friend says, “I had a girlfriend once that always thought I was cheating because of the rash my wetsuit left on my neck.” It’s a funny thought to think of the ocean as the other woman. There is a lot of solo time between you and your board. One local said he ran to go surf, and his girlfriend was screaming at him, “That board isn’t the one who keeps you warm at night!” That relationship did not last. One buddy I used to work with was a notorious board hoarder. He said once that he has to store his boards in a particular order so that his wife didn’t notice a new one, or she would flip her lid. Granted, at one point I’m not sure he wasn’t hiding them in the walls there were so many.
Sometimes the rift between relationships and surfing is felt between couples who both surf. “I feel like it’s uneven sometimes when I have to stay on the beach to watch our son while he gets more wave time,” says one mama who surfs with her husband. One surfer girl said that it took her a long time to even surf with her boyfriend because he was so aggro in the water, and she was so embarrassed. Surfing can definitely drive you closer or rub a rash in a relationship. One lifelong surfer said, “It’s not what it cost but what it gave me. I knew it was over with the second wife when I was loaded up to go surf, and she said hang on I have to go put make-up on, which took her half an hour.” He has since married the real love of his life that travels with him in a van to live part of the year at another surf spot up north.
Work and surfing. My Uncle lives near Malibu, and when he wanted work done on his house, he would always ask if the workers surfed before he decided anything. I have never known a surfer to be sheepish of their habit, and if they said yes, he would hang up. He never hired surfers because if there were waves, they wouldn’t show up for work. A local legend owns a business doing repairs and painting. He said, “My clients know that if I’m not there, I’ll be there when the surf drops. It’s all a matter of communication. I remember 30 - 40 years ago the shops on Folly would all close for surf. Every shop but McKevlin’s. Mr. Mac was always there. Boys might not show up for work, but he was there.”
Another surfer said, “One of my biggest costs was going to the College of Charleston instead of Clemson. I wanted to stay in Charleston to surf instead of getting an engineering degree. I didn’t take that little time away from the coast that would have been much more beneficial.”
It’s no secret that Folly and Charleston in general have a bad case of Peter Pan syndrome. I have a real fear of having a job that I can’t get off for a surf trip. What good is working if you can’t do a little living too? Surfing gave way to an industry that currently supports this here website. D.J. McKevlin figured out how to make it work, and for that we all thank him.
Health and Surfing. We are all scared of skin cancer from being out in the sun for hours. My tummy has so many freckles that when I am pregnant, my belly will look like a robin’s egg. Sunburn, peeling, freckles, and wrinkles come with the territory, but what about the more unique injuries? One surfer recalls, “A friend of a friend was in Indonesia, and she wiped out in shore break hitting her face on the sand. The sand took off the front cartilage of her nose to the point that she had to have plastic surgery to reconstruct her nose. That’s rough. That’s losing what your face looks like.” Another friend almost cut off her calf while surfing from her longboard fin and has the scar to prove it. One local surfer head-butted a submerged tree while duck diving after a hurricane. He was not seriously hurt, but it just proves you really don’t always know what is in that water.
I know of friends that have been bitten by sharks, fallen into shallow water hitting their neck and almost been paralyzed, have scales starting to grow over their eyes from surfing in bright sunlight, have bone growing too close up their ears from surfing in cold water, been stung by Man-O-war jellyfish, and have had major cancerous chunks taken out. Surfing comes with risks just like any sport.
Unlike other sports, however, you can surf with dolphins or turtles, wipe out in forgiving water not concrete, get sun-kissed skin and natural highlights, stay limber and mobile easily into older age, literally walk on water and the all-natural “Surfers High”.
It is an individual journey for each surfer. For most everyone I know, there is one resounding answer, “It’s not so much what it has cost me as much as it’s what it has given me.” One surfer said, “Forced to live in an overpriced, overpopulated, up and coming, coastal real estate for the sake of surf followed by the yearly minor skin cancer removal and the cost of a yearly parking pass . . . but hey . . . less pain and trouble than motorcycles.” A local shaper said, “I mean, the most I can say that it has cost me is a little anxiety that I need to be surfing. Surfing has given me a wonderful sense of wanderlust and let me see and experience parts of the world I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. I mean my girlfriend and now wife used to get mad about me missing things to go surf. Now she understands and supports it. One time I guess I did break my leg, but I just surfed in a cast. So yeah, the benefits have always outweighed the cost.”
I thought he said that just perfectly. In the end the rewards outweigh the cost again and again and again.
- Megan Coker