Surfing Illusions: “I Coulda Been A Contender”
Smoke And Mirrors Exposed!Read more
This is one of the great lines in movie history. It was spoken by Marlon Brando, back when he was pretty much the coolest human being in the world. Brando was playing a broken down ex-boxer turned dockworker named Terry Malloy, in a movie called “On The Waterfront”. The line rips at you in its sheer humanity, the sense of a lost opportunity that might have changed Terry’s life. If only his manager hadn’t brought him along too fast! He coulda had class. If only, if only.
Terry is tormented by the Illusion of the Other. This is a potent and crippling Illusion. It lurks in every human heart, waiting for an opportunity to cast the shadow-shape of a life you wished you might have lived, and in the process, make your actual real life into a kind of hell.
It gets into your head as a surfer through its close relative, You Shoulda Been Here Yesterday. YSBHY is one of surfing’s founding Illusions; not a one of us has not suffered its sting at some point, thanks to a nasty fucken little friend of ours, or Instagram or whatever.
But you can shrug YSBHY off pretty quick. Post a pic from the next swell. Dismiss your friend as the swine he or she is. Just face the truth! It’s easy. You weren’t here yesterday. But you’re here NOW. And you can be here next time, easy as paying attention to your Coastalwatch Plus Membership. Problem solved.
Broken dreams, shadow lives, they don’t shrug off so easy. Surfing is littered with ‘em. Guys who won a round of the Aussie titles in 1974 but were beaten by MP. Guys who were feared as juniors and who nearly beat Tom Curren in a round one heat in 1986 after making it through the trials. Guys who beat Occy but the judges ripped them off. Guys who actually won big contests, who were hailed, ruined, and back home by 25 being fed drugs by washed up hangers on. Guys who dominated some well-known surf spot, got a surf company contract for 20 minutes, and couldn’t take the QS travel schedule.
I guess the danger of the shadow-life Illusion is that to the sufferer, it can grow to look more and more real. You think you were something you never were. In your mind, that “coulda been” becomes “maybe was”, then becomes “yep, definitely fucken was”, then becomes a series of tiresome tales you tell yourself and everyone else who’ll listen. Until they won’t.
And then you are actually in Hell.
You can break this Illusion. But it takes something big: a moment of real courage, a willingness to trust yourself, not the shadow. The fact is, you were never a contender. Some things happened in your life and some things didn’t. You were beaten by MP or by Tom Curren or by Occy. You won a contest once and then you didn’t win any more. So what? What about the things you actually did? What’s the surf like today? What’s it gonna be like tomorrow? Do I have any wax? Thanks mate, see ya out there.