Words by Amy Mitchell | Image by Cory Scott
We all know how hard it can be squeezing every inch of your winter bod into a thick rubber suit. Especially when it’s raining, and cold, and your suit’s still soaking from your previous session. It can be a daunting task taking to the water under a blanket of heavy clouds and icy winds. The brain freeze that comes with the first duck dive can be the biggest obstacle of all, that piercing burn that distracts you momentarily from the thunderous winter waves. We like to think that this effort and dedication is rewarded with the satisfaction of a thrilling surf, but often this isn’t the case. And then what are we left with? Sore shoulders, wrinkly fingers and a shiver we can’t shake. So why is it that sometimes you catch your last wave in, totally reeling with happiness and adrenalin, and sometimes you’re pushed in on your stomach to be beached on the sand in your misery?
I think the difference between these two things is something called the bug… For years I’ve heard surfers talk about this illusive bug. It comes up in sentences like “gotta get back out there, I’ve got the bug bad at the moment” or “Na I’m just not keen, I gotta get the bug back”. So if it’s the bug that determines how much we enjoy our surfing, how do we get it? And how do we keep it?
I suppose for everyone it’s different. I’m sure for some, just the ocean itself is a big enough pull. For almost everyone else I bet making it out of a big spitting barrel will be infectious enough to keep you gagging for more. The problem comes when the serenity of the ocean isn’t enough to tempt you into the cold, and a barrel is a far off dream more likely to be experienced in your sleep than in your reality. This is the problem my friends and I so often face. And I’ve only just realized the recipe for successful infection is simple.
Laugh at yourself, laugh at the waves. Laugh when you can’t paddle onto the wave and laugh when you’re whipped over the falls. Allow yourself to grin when you feel you’ve done well and chuckle when you fail. Make jokes with your friends in the water instead of staring stone faced at the horizon. Call your mates into waves and give them a huge thumbs up when they’re paddling back out.
I think the thing we often forget is that unless you’re a professional; surfing shouldn’t be taken so seriously. The reason we force ourselves into our icy suits and battle through the brain freeze isn’t because we want to be the best (well it certainly isn’t for me). It’s because of that feeling you get when you’ve got the bug. When you’re so excited about your next surf you’re compulsively checking the surf report. Or when you’re walking up the beach feeling totally alive because you’ve just been partying with the ocean.
Of all my recent surfs my most memorable came on Easter Weekend in Whangamata. It was mushy one foot, the sun wasn’t shining and there weren’t many surfers out. My friends and I paddled out on longboards – just for a bit of fun. I can’t remember the last time I laughed that much during a session. We were so focused on egging eachother onto measley fat waves we forgot about everything else. We forgot about being cold or out of breath. We forgot that we looked totally goofy trying to maneuver our longboards. We forgot that maybe we’d be frowned upon for not making our turtle roll or for ditching our boards. All we were thinking about was having fun.
I’ve drilled this into myself now that this is the attitude I should embrace every surf, even when my board’s a little shorter, the waves a little bigger and the crowd’s a little more intimidating.
I’ve quoted this before but I will do it again. “The best surfer out there is the one having the most fun”. ASP recently shared this quote on instagram and I swear to you it made my day. All it takes is these small reminders to push us back out there and give us back the bug.
So I think I’ve found the answer to my impending question. What keeps us itching to get back into the water? Well I think it’s positivity, smiles and care free fun. It’s a combination of adrenalin, enthusiasm and passion. It is born from good experience and it thrives in genuine happiness. It now seems so simple, the more fun you have out there, the more you want to go and the more fun you will therefore have. It’s the circle of surfing. Perhaps if I can get this right I will be constantly living with the bug. Perhaps then, I will be the happiest surfer out.