Catchin’ a wave

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The surfer’s lifestyle has been painted as the most idyllic life in Australia – camping on beaches, early morning starts, riding waves, living off the land, and generally chilling out. However, since I have started to surf, I have found that it requires intuition, and has its learning curves and complexities. Especially in light of the recent death of Andy Irons, one of the world’s greatest surfers, I find myself arguing that although the lifestyle may appear heavenly, it is far from transparent or simple.

The three-time world surfing champion Andy Irons was found dead last week following an accidental overdose. Controversy still surrounds his death as it is unknown whether he accidentally overdosed on methadone (widely used in australia to treat heroin addiction), or Zolpidem (which he was subscribed to combat a fever that he was fi ghting at the time). Like any person, he admitted that he had been “battling with his demons” over his surfing career. This contradicts the relaxed, carefree stereotype that is commonly associated with the life of a surfer.

As well as battling with the demons onshore, there are also those that are fought with in the water. The sea is a hazardous maze of rip currents, plunging waves, deep waters and sea life. One of the most publicised stories is that of Bethany Hamilton, an American pro-surfer who survived a shark attack at the age of 13, but left her with only one arm. she continues to surf and claims that she has never regretted taking up the sport. Likewise, just last week a friend of mine sliced his head open on the fi n of his board off the coast of Wollongong (New South Wales) after bailing on a powerful wave. It didn’t deter him from surfing and he is already eager to get back out onto the water once his staples have been removed. He says that such injuries help in appreciating the complexity of the marine environment – respect and awareness is key to one’s survival.

I myself have already experienced that this appreciation of the sea is essential. Having only been surfi ng for three months, I have found that it involves much preparation and examination. This involves early morning starts checking weather and wave conditions, and scouting out the appropriate beaches. Although this is time consuming and frustrating at times, it is worth it when you finally get onto the water.

This ritual becomes a daily schedule, which is probably why surfing is perceived as much more than a sport because it can take entire days, even weeks, to search for the best waves.

Thus, the surfer’s lifestyle is eclipsed by the stereotypes that surround it. These swamp its image with laziness, ignorance and other associated attributes. Instead surfing should be recognised as a sport that requires a high amount of patience, knowledge and determination.

The idea that the lifestyle of a surfer is transparent and simple can be confidently rejected from looking at the lives of pro surfers such as Andy Irons and Bethany Hamilton.

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