Image by Ed Sloane

WHY THE SURF IS NEVER SIX FOOT

Another surfing illusion debunked by Nick Carroll

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Time never stops. Maybe it does for some other life form in the Universe, but never for us. Contrary to certain woo-ey esoterica, we are not beings of light, and therefore we do not travel at light speed on even a temporary basis. Like all matter generally, we are stuck in the aspic of space-time, where things unfold from moment to moment.

This means we live our lives within a matrix of constant change. It’s the one thing we can absolutely count on. A thing happens then it doesn’t. The sun rises then it sets. The wind blows one way, then the other.

We know this in our bones. Yet we persist in trying to create the Grand Illusion: that of permanence. Things CAN be fixed, we tell ourselves. We CAN contain the world. This surfboard DOES weigh 2.64 kilograms, it IS 28.23 litres in volume, it IS five feet eleven inches in length. Well, it says so on the stringer.

Then someone pulls up in the carpark and asks, “How big’s the surf?” And we say: “It’s six foot!”

Is it?

When is it six foot?

Is it six foot as an individual swell approaches the reef or sandbar? Is it six foot as the swell is slowed by friction with the bottom contour and is pushed up, forming a discernible wave face? Is it six foot at the moment just before the lip begins to pitch past the line of the wave face, or is it six foot at the moment the lip strikes the wave base?

Is it six foot measured and contained from the flat point ahead of the wave base to the vertical height of the wave … at what point? Is it six foot of foam line after the wave has fully broken and is rolling toward the beach?

Is the next wave in the set also six foot at any of these many points in its brief coastal existence? Or just the one wave ahead of it? Or behind it?

The truth is, many many waves may be six foot. But only for a moment. Before that moment they may be bigger than that, or smaller. Waves shift and warp and bend, and taper, and eventually break. They are not conscious beings; they are never the same. They exist perfectly in a universe of constant change.

We’re the conscious beings. Sometimes, as we ride a wave, it feels as if time does stop. The rest of the time, we watch, befuddled by our brains. It’s four foot! It’s six foot! It’s four to six foot! There’s six foot sets! No, says the guy next to you, it’s eight foot!

No it’s not. Meanwhile, the wave rises, peaks, breaks and rolls, perfectly in motion through space-time, without a thought for us or itself or anything at all.

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Nick Carroll