SURF’S UP

Our guide to rid­ing the wild surf in Dubai and across the globe. Be care­ful with this highly ad­dic­tive hobby.

Sharp Magazine Middle East (English) - - Contents - When Sports Ob­ses­sion Goes Wrong

Surf­ing, the Poly­ne­sian Sport of Kings, be­gan as the priv­i­lege of royalty long be­fore it was taken up by the sun­burned wan­der­ers who now typ­ify the sport. Imag­ine the sight of Hawaii’s royal fam­ily, glid­ing across the wa­ter on ex­otic hard­wood surf­boards in the age be­fore big ho­tels and wad­dling tourists. Al­ways in the shadow of royalty, Hawai­ian com­mon­ers could dis­tin­guish them­selves by their abil­ity to ride waves, but the royals laid claim to the best breaks and the finest boards.

Yurf­ing, the Poly­ne­sian Sport of Kings, be­gan as the priv­i­lege of royalty long be­fore it was taken up by the sun­burned wan­der­ers who now typ­ify the sport. Imag­ine the sight of Hawaii’s royal fam­ily, glid­ing across the wa­ter on ex­otic hard­wood surf­boards in the age be­fore big ho­tels and wad­dling tourists. Al­ways in the shadow of royalty, Hawai­ian com­mon­ers could dis­tin­guish them­selves by their abil­ity to ride waves, but the royals laid claim to the best breaks and the finest boards.

You can see this pat­tern evolve as we jump ahead hun­dreds of years in time to wit­ness the in­tim­i­da­tion of famed Aus­tralian surfers Ian Cairn’s and Wayne ‘Rab­bit’ Bart­hole­mew at the hands of a vig­i­lante surf gang, as doc­u­mented in the re­cent film, “Break­ing Down The Door.” The film de­picts how the sin­gu­lar and ag­gres­sive styles that de­fined th­ese two Aussie greats in the wa­ter be­came the very thing that drove lo­cal Hawai­ian to surfers threaten them phys­i­cally. The es­sen­tial crime of th­ese two leg­endary wave rid­ers was a mouthy brand of pride, and a healthy dis­dain for surf­ing tra­di­tion­al­ism.

Surf­ing is some­thing that you do es­sen­tially alone, but while in the pres­ence of oth­ers. It’s a com­pet­i­tive sport, given to fierce ter­ri­to­rial be­hav­iors, but also the ba­sis of a shared iden­tity and of­ten mu­tual en­cour­age­ment. While the sport con­tin­ues to grow ev­ery year at a break­neck pace, it seems that no mat­ter how enor­mous the global surf com­mu­nity be­comes, it will still be made up of surf sep­a­ratists, each chas­ing a ride so tran­scen­dent that it can scarcely be re­told.

I learned to surf in the chilly waters of a small North­ern Cal­i­for­nia beach town called Boli­nas. I was born there and al­ways felt a pro­pri­etary tug to­wards this par­tic­u­larly re­cal­ci­trant vil­lage. It was a place known for re­mov­ing it’s own road signs to keep the tourists out. My father bought me my first board at age 12, and we were soon fix­tures in the frigid wash, our com­pany sel­dom ex­ceed­ing one or two other surfers. That was twenty years ago and to­day a week­end swell can usher as many as fifty, mostly novice, wave rid­ers into the cold green wa­ter.

Aside from my Dad, my chief surf part­ner of that era was a school friend named Nat Swin­er­ton. Nat would grow up to be per­haps the best surfer I’ve ever known per­son­ally. His fluid ma­neu­vers, dead-eyed wave se­lec­tion, and over­all fear­less­ness out­paced the surf­ing skills of ev­ery­one I knew. But it wasn’t al­ways so, we’d started out equally novice and Nat hadn’t pulled ahead un­til we grew a bit older. Like many be­fore him, his skill level grew

com­men­su­rately with his ob­ses­sion. While we con­tin­ued to surf to­gether most weeks, Nat be­gan to surf ev­ery day. He surfed by him­self, in good con­di­tions and poor, he was a stoic fix­ture in the wa­ter at a time when very few surfers fre­quented our home beach. I think it’s only fair to con­sider Nat’s ded­i­ca­tion in light of his be­hav­ior later. Look­ing back at his dogged soli­tude, out in the wa­ter each day re­gard­less of the wave qual­ity, I can see now how his sense of en­ti­tle­ment grew, how he came to view the waves as his own.the peak of my own surf­ing life must surely have been the ten days that I spent with Nat, Dad, and my Un­cle Andy on a small is­land in Mag­dalena Bay, off Mex­ico’s Baja Penin­sula. We’d flown in on a small pas­sen­ger plane from San Diego, mak­ing one stop on main land Mex­ico to clear cus­toms. “You’re my per­sonal friends and no money has changed hands” shouted the pi­lot over the roar of the twin en­gine plane just prior to land­ing. He was part owner in the surf camp and wished to avoid shar­ing any rev­enues with the Mexican gov­ern­ment.

Af­ter land­ing a sec­ond time at a small airstrip, we were ush­ered into a squat cin­der block ho­tel where we were to spend the night. Nat and I made a cir­cuit of the small town’s net­work of dirt streets be­fore or­der­ing fish ta­cos from a small taque­ria ad­join­ing a ca­sita. We sat on stumps at the side of the road and watched as a neon green pickup truck rode it’s raised sus­pen­sion and enor­mous treads around the town square over and over again. A pretty young woman we’d spot­ted ear­lier at the ho­tel stood with a wide stance in the bed of the truck glar­ing down some vague chal­lenge each time she passed by.

The next morn­ing we loaded our things into a series of trucks and rus­tic fish­ing boats and were trans­ported to camp across dusty sand spits and in­ter­ven­ing bod­ies of wa­ter. Surf camp was sit­u­ated on a small un­pop­u­lated is­land out in Mag Bay, and was com­prised of not much more than a scat­ter­ing of tents and a cen­tral out­door kitchen shel­tered from the sun by a raised tar­pau­lin. We were hosted by our ex­cel­lent cook Steve, who was brother and busi­ness part­ner to our ear­lier pi­lot. Steve had the en­vi­able job of look­ing af­ter guests, fix­ing three sim­ple meals a day, and surf­ing when­ever chores per­mit­ted.

As our fi­nal fish­ing boat slowed into the ragged waters near shore we clam­bered down from the ves­sel and stood waist deep in the bay pass­ing our per­sonal gear and sev­eral weeks worth of camp sup­plies over­head in bucket brigade fash­ion. Ab­sent from this was Nat, who had re­trieved his own surf­board and run ahead, scram­bling up the cliff to check the surf. Nat didn’t re­turn un­til the last of our cargo had been hauled up the cliff and into camp.

Af­ter we’d set­tled in and con­sumed a quick meal of black beans and rice with corn tor­tillas, Nat was the first to pull on his wet suit and pad­dle out. The rest of us set about wash­ing up and then made our way down to the shore. As I worked

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