Ditch Maths. Go Searching.
I hated maths as a kid. Hated it. I blame my teacher. At an age when surfing consumed my every waking moment she was the Disney witch who delighted in swamping me with more homework than was possible to complete on a nightly basis. If I did my sums right (which clearly, was never), by subtracting the time it took me to get the bus home from school, scoff eight Weet-Bix while watching the Slater section in Momentum 2 three times, ride my pushy to the beach, surf till dark, pushy ride home again, shower and eat dinner, that left roughly two hours to complete the pages of equations, theories and proofs our teacher wanted for the following days class. It was torture, and like any 14-year-old I piss-farted around looking for any kind of distraction to save me from having to do it until Mum’d get the shits and send me off to my room. Once there I’d sit down in a huff, get out my books, protractor and calculator, take a deep sigh and zone in as hard as I could… on a photo of Chris Davidson getting slotted off his dial somewhere on The Search that was pinned to the wall right in front of my chair. Goodbye maths, hello entire evening of mind travelling to the farthest corners of the globe hunting perfect waves to rip harder than Curren (and hello also following day detention). Every single night, while staring at that photo, I promised myself that just like Davo, I too would one day go Searching… and that I’d never do maths again. Ever.
Fast forward 25 years and I’m lying in a tent on the edge of a vast and desolate landscape talking about the meaning of happiness with my roommate Mick Fanning. Mick’s fresh off his epic final farewell at Bells, a near perfect exclamation point on one of the finest competitive surfing careers ever. To somewhat less fanfare, I’ve just resigned my post at Surfing World after a 10-year stint in the editor’s chair. Though I wouldn’t say our lives have been all that similar, (Mick doesn’t have any home-made tattoos from a party at Justin Crawford’s house for one thing, and I can’t do more than three push-ups without needing CPR), we’re both at a point of transition. For Mick, the routine and structures he created during his comp life post hammy-being-torn-off-bone delivered fortunes and success. He made a science of mastering the most random and uncontrollable force on Earth, and I’m not talking about Eugene. But now Mick’s relationship with the ocean is less about management and more about feel and as a consequence he’s never been more relaxed or more in tune with what he loves about surfing – with what makes him truly happy.
I don’t have three world titles, the last trophy I won was Best Wipeout at the Brunswick Heads Riverfest, but my relationship with surfing has been through similar changes. For the best part of the past 20 years I drove away from the beach and into the city to make surf mags for a living while the rest of my mates actually went surfing. It was strange contradiction to come to terms with, that working on a surf mag could somehow equate to less time in the water. When the office moved to Avalon there was some reprieve but the monthly deadlines coupled with the growing pressure of internet publishing added new demands on time that made sitting at computer all day and all night not so much the way I wanted to spend my rapidly disappearing years anymore. So I quit. And now I find myself here, in a tent with Mick Fanning wondering whether he likes to be the big or little spoon should the temperature drop another couple of degrees. What’s really blowing my mind though is that I haven’t felt more spiritually connected to my 14-year-old self in years. Routines, commitments, money, media and all the other creators of relentless head noise in the adult mind, they all go out the window when you get out of your comfort zone and take a dive into the unknown. We’ve been out here for four days and surfed overhead offshore barrels from sun up until sundown. We’ve done plenty of talking but also spent plenty of time alone. Earlier today I spent an hour sitting on a rock just staring out to sea. Thoughts came and went without creating so much as a ripple of worry. It was the mindless bliss of grommethood. What a wonderful space to revisit, especially without the maths homework. – Vaughan Blakey