My boyfriend Ryan is not a pro surfer. He’s a mechanical engineer, designing helicopters for Robinson Helicopter Company in Torrance, CA. He does surf of course, but since he spends 40+ hours a week locked down behind a computer screen, he doesn’t get in the water as much as he would like. At our local beach he is known as the “surf camel”. Like the desert animal of his namesake, he stores up water time in excess of 6 hours per session if the waves are halfway decent, which gets him through the week-long droughts. Often the first guy in the water on a Saturday morning, I’ll paddle out to join him around seven, surf an hour or two, jog home for a shower and breakfast, head out again around ten, surf another session, return home for a rinse and a snack, then skate back down to the beach around noon to find him still in the water. If I were not a surfer myself, I think it would drive me mad.
Ryan, pulling in at Uluwatu
Ryan actually claims to “hate pro surfers and everything connected to them”. You might find that strange considering the fact that he’s been dating me for the past four years. When presented with the accusation of hypocrisy he wryly replies that he is “fighting the power from the inside”. He shapes his own surfboards in the shaping room he constructed in our garage, and while he happily wears Body Glove wetsuits and Sector 9 t-shirts, steals my fins and leashes, he refuses to purchase any product from a surf company. He complains about the daily onslaught of over-amped surf team members from at least seven high schools that make a mess of what would be an otherwise calm morning line-up and prevent him from enjoying a peaceful pre-work surf. He constantly grumbles about the hyped swell forecasts on surfline.com, and boycotts all surf camps. All of the above are staple elements of my life as a pro surfer however, while I haven’t been converted completely, I certainly have been swayed.
On a trip to Barra last year he showed up with one buddy to find solid 4ft waves completely overtaken by no less than 20 under 20-year-olds accompanied by multiple cameras and coaches all battling each other for set waves on which they would take off, attempt a massive aerial maneuver, more often than not, not make it, then rush back to the inside position to steal priority for the next set wave. All of this madness was facilitated and approved of by industry big wigs for the sake of filming a team video. “At what point does a company have the right to take over a surf spot and ruin something for everyone,” he wonders to me angrily, “I’m never giving them a penny!” Don’t even get him started on the exploitation of the spot by the Rip Curl Search event. I can’t stand to hear that rant again. Having traveled for contests and been one of the sponsored surfers caught up in madness for the sake of “getting the shot”, I see both sides.
Posing in Bali. Photo: Mike Balzer
Caangu bikini photo shoot. Photo: Mike Balzer
On a trip several years ago to a further North region of mainland Mexico, he had driven more than 24 hours to reach a remote point break and set up camp on the beach only to have his life threatened and then be relentlessly burned by a surf camp guide who showed up with a boatload of lazy guests who somehow felt more entitled to the waves because they had paid their thousand bucks for a week at the camp. “Are the days when you could drive a little further and camp on the beach to be rewarded with fun uncrowded waves over?” he wondered to me repeatedly.
Over ten years prior, Ryan had “discovered” another similar point further to the North when after taking a chance down an unmarked dirt road just before sunset, their truck got stuck in the mud. They spent that night bogged in the middle of the road and awoke to a perfectly reeling wave with only two other guys camped nearby. They all traded waves happily and swore each other to secrecy. He didn’t tell anyone about the location of the wave, didn’t even take me there until we had been together more than two years, then while checking the surf at home one day was handed a flyer for a new surf camp opening at his “secret” spot by a loud-mouthed local from our area, who had also papered the entire parking lot at Lowers on a South swell Saturday, not to mention the lots at Huntington, Newport, and El Porto.
Ryan, studying the info to decide where the best surf will be
I’ve surfed on as well as coached for surf teams, participated in photo shoots, and stayed at surf camps. I plan to do all three again in the future, but Ryan’s perspective has caused me to re-evaluate my own. As selfish as it is, being a pro surfer certainly has perks, and I still don’t plan to relinquish them in the immediate future. Little by little, I even feel like I’m convincing him. In June, I went to Bali for the first time with team Body Glove for a photo shoot. We paddled out as a group and took over the lineup at Keramas more than once. There were a few non-endorsed surfers out in the water who were immediately frustrated by the aggression of my pro surfing companions and I felt guilty about it. Still I was there to do a job and while I made sure to show them respect and wait my turn, I wasn’t about to give any handouts.
Keramas. Photo: Greg Browning
Despite the crowd, I had a great time in Bali. I called home often to tell my poor 8-5 desk jockey about the great waves and interesting culture, and suggest that next time he come along. Surprisingly, he agreed and less than 2 months later, he took a leave of absence from his computer and boarded a plane with me bound for Bali.
Checking out Singapore during a layover
We spent an amazing two weeks just cruising together. We surfed when the waves were good, and when they weren’t instead of forcing a session for the sake of contest preparation or photos, as I would have on my usual trips, we just kicked back and took in the environment. We made our plan for the day that morning or at the earliest the night before, and moved on a whim rather than a requirement.
Sequence shot from the inside “racetrack” section at Uluwatu
Hanging with monkeys at the Uluwatu temple
Admiring the sunset at Dreamland
Relaxing on Lembongan Island
Completely surfed-out and exhausted!
The next stop was a boat trip to the Maldives.
This time the trip wasn’t purely pleasure. He was being smuggled aboard a photo trip with an eclectic group of professional surfers for a photo trip.
The legendary David Pu’u, always at work.
There was a tandem team, a male and female longboarder, a male and two more female shortboarders, a model/mermaid, a photographer, and me. I figured he would certainly fit in somewhere.
Unaccustomed to the burdens of decision-making and getting into the lineup with such a large group, it took him a few days to figure out a strategy. Still I think he handled it quite well, albeit not without some grumbling.
Ryan, hanging out with the crew
By the end of the three-week trip I think we understood each other quite a bit better. He finally had an opportunity to see first hand what a trip as a pro surfer is like, and I certainly appreciated the unplanned and unencumbered adventure travel of his ideal. A complete role reversal even occurred over a game of Scrabble.
I had packed a travel Scrabble game and we played at least three games almost every night. Ryan is incredibly smart and while I’m used to wearing that hat among my pro surfing friends, playing any strategy game with him is frustrating. In more than what must have been 100 games, I beat him only once. The victory was enough to bring a tear or two to my eyes and I thought I was finally on to something. It was however short lived and not repeated.
Ever since we first started surfing together, he has always thought my ending floater on a closeout is a waste of time. He chastises me for trying to fit too many turns on a wave and coming out the “doggy-door” of a tube rather than just enjoying a longer view that might not result in a “come-out”. When he questions me about those actions, I cite the WQS judging criteria and explain that properly finishing the wave earns more points. Of course he will then remind me that I’m not wearing a jersey. I can’t help it, it’s just how I’ve been trained. When we play scrabble however, we take opposite approaches. I like coming up with interesting words that might not necessarily earn as many points as a shorter word that would count as a “triple letter” or “double word” score. So, while I’m looking for fun, he’s killing me on points. I guess we really are the same, just not at the same time. I’m not entirely satisfied with admitting that he is the undisputed champion of Scrabble (and Chess) but if it helps him understand my surfing, I suppose it’s worthwhile.