The Surfing Experience by Joel Owen
For just over the past year, I’ve spent two 4-hour mornings here at the Almond shop. What started over idle conversations and cups of coffee for a few years with Dave, culminated in me folding t-shirts and fielding phone calls for the brand. The impetus for bringing me in was to get the Allee brothers out of the shop, but often our lost time over coffee spills into my hours at “work.” Dave should be elsewhere, but I’m glad when he’s not.
During a recent stand we landed on the topic of “why Almond,” which sparked a deeper conversation on losing sight of the thing we love when it becomes the thing we do. When we build or own a business, find ourselves the main caretaker, day to day minutia often steals passion’s seat and our focus drifts from that initial love to the immediacy of what must be done to keep the lights on. I wish it weren’t the case, but the heart follows and we forget what it was we loved in the first place.
It’s an important process, remembering why we do the things we love.
Or is it remembering why we love the things we do?
So we went back before Almond, for both of us, to surfing. Why do we care about it? Why did Dave choose to build a vocation around creating beautiful surf craft for people? Why do I think about different boards for different waves and different conditions … all … the … time? How can we feel literally transposed to a higher key after even just a little time in the water?
How can we feel literally transposed to a higher key after even just a little time in the water?
In our excitement Dave turned to me with, “you should write a guest post on this!” Without thought I replied, “Sounds great,” but jeez what a lofty topic. No way the length of a blog can do it justice.
Yet here it is. Plenty of ink has been spilled on the idea of why we surf, by much better pens and far better surfers. I’m not a great surfer. But I Love it … Deeply. And maybe that’s what makes me somewhat of an “expert” on the subject. Surfing moves me to a place no other activity comes close and has from the beginning, through the entire learning process. Which says a ton because the learning is brutal, right?
The stoke is so strong it spills into the peripheral areas of surfing as well. From checking forecasts to choosing the right break; from loading the car to coffee before & food after; from watching & re-watching surf films to ducking into our favorite shop to get a fix on flat days; even to the rinsing out of our wetsuits (k, maybe I lost you there). Yet these peripheries are nothing without time in the water. They merely build anticipation for it, a foretaste for the longing. On my worst day when the tide is wrong, or the board, or the wind, or the crowd, or my rhythm, as long as I don’t get into an altercation with someone (that’s either another blog post or as much of a waste of time as the altercation itself), I ALWAYS feel better after surfing, and with few exceptions considerably so. How many times after a surf have you said, “that was way better than it looked”?
And that is what I’m writing about. The part of surfing that makes us feel better no matter how it went. The part of surfing that makes my wife tell me I’m a more enjoyable person after I surf—don’t get me wrong, there are limits to this and she’d take it back if I surfed everyday— That deep, elusive unspoken that draws each of us to the water time and again. Some are more in tune with it; some have yet to stop and considered it. But I contend it’s the thing that’s driving us all, from Kelly to the mid-westerner out on the coast for her first lesson on a soft top during summer break.
That deep, elusive unspoken that draws each of us to the water time and again.
We might experience it as the search for a couple great turns on a wave, or a barrel, or a long, open face stretched out in front of us (sorry fellow “Newporteans”). When we get one of these, we’ve tapped into the essence. Or shoot, maybe it’s simply a high from firing endorphins as the heart rate gets going. A big swell, the set of the day, you’re in position, make the drop, bottom turn, carve to the end to pull out cleanly, and your whole body reverberates with the throbbing of your exhilarated heart. Yeah, you want another one of those! Who doesn’t?
But I say it’s more, all of the above and more. It’s the eternal. The sacred. The thing from the beginning of time people have called God, nature, energy, et al. Whether we look from a lens of giant particle bangs or a hand of creation, when we surf we get a sense of the beyond us. When we submerge our skin in salt water, we’re enveloped by it. When we shuffle our feet back to our towel, car, or house, we buzz from it. The implicit recognition of our limitations juxtaposed with the vastness of ocean water all around us. And it’s no coincidence so many use “spirtual” and “transcendent,” words themselves difficult to define, to describe the experience. Because words like “cool” or “sweet” or even “epic” don’t seem to cut it.
And in my opinion, that’s “why Almond.”
So much going on in this endeavor of ours: the heart race, the mind calm, the tranquility, the frustration, ugh! the jockeying and aggression, the jonesing for more. It’s impossible not to crave once the taste is on your lips.
It’s immediate and tangible and the fullest of life.
And it’s completely inexplicable.
Or is it?
Definitely don’t write a blog post about it, though, because good luck with that.
Dave, a topic with a little more levity next time?