When my dad first stood me on the classic foam top Swell surfboard on Polzeath Beach sometime in the early nineties, he probably had no idea that it would become a lifelong obsession and career. Surfing would determine my college choice, major, and every future vacation.
I suspect a lot of us are in that same boat; where a parent, uncle or respected elder introduced us to surfing, particularly those that grew up when (or where) surfing wasn’t the primary sport. In some areas of England surfing is still reduced to a comic sport to those unfamiliar. Recently a news crew chased down a lone surfer on my home town beach after a large storm to question his choices. Watching the news footage of my old stomping ground with fun looking shoulder to head high surf in the background didn’t exactly seem news worthy.
With no local surf scene, this was a hobby introduced by the coincidence of time and location. My dad was the first surfer in our family, and we continue to be the only two. Coming of age through the 60’s and 70’s, witnessing the arrival of mainstream surfing to Europe, and an Australian invasion on North Devon and Cornwall; he began surfing on vacations. Devon based shapers like
Once able to drive, my parents would find themselves a little further south in mainland France and Spain; camping and surfing their summers away sporting mullets, short shorts, and Hot Tuna tanks, all in a lime green Citroen Deux Chevaux named ‘Rex’.
Outside those brief vacations, our home coast in England’s northeast offered few long period swells mainly through the winter. My dad and his small group of devoted surfer friends’ made the frosty paddle out in scuba wetsuits whilst dreaming of further trips to the Basque country.
Our family holidays mirrored those early France trips, and later with more financial stability we found ourselves further afield; Australia, Hawaii, and California – family holidays with one thing in mind. During my first ten years of surfing I can’t remember a session without my dad sat there with me. Having no local surf scene to look up to as a kid, it was my dad who inspired me to continue surfing, with relentlessly encouragement he would ferry my friends and I up and down the coast like a soccer mom.
We owe Miki Dora and Nat Young for how surfing has changed, Matt Warshaw or Bird and his Surf Shed for protecting and documenting our history, but perhaps we owe as much to the everyday surfer for keeping the sport on the beaches, through the good and the bad. The 90’s altered surfings future when performance surfboards measured 6’2″ x 17 1/4″ x 2″, suiting only the elite level. Without my dad or your aunty shredding an old longboard or that Steve Lis fish tucked under the deck, then what would surfing look like today? Their would have been no retro revolution.
I might not be an elite level surfer, and neither is my dad, but how many of us are? Most of us are everyday surfers who, thanks to the legacy of those before us, get to experience that oh so special feeling time and time again.