It's been easy to lose your bearings the past couple of years. Mike Coots' iconic photo series of Kainehe Hunt sums up surfing through strange times.

THE WAY TO FREE

By Sean Doherty

We live in precedented times. 

Almost two years into the time of corona and we’re still here. The days have dragged on and the years flown by. It feels like every second day now is bin day and I could drive to my local reef, blindfolded. There might be light at the end of the tunnel, but man, this thing is really starting to send us a little crackers. People are losing their bearings and it’s a struggle to work out which way is forward. There’s some bad craziness taking hold. All local reef and no Indo boat trip makes Jack a dull boy. 

To be honest, when we got locked down hard here in Vicco last year, part of me couldn’t have been happier. Corona was hardly the Black Plague and I was lucky to have steady work and two pointbreaks, three reefs and a beachie within a five-minute drive. I’d just spent a decade running pretty hot. I don’t think I’d been in one spot for more than a fortnight, and suddenly I was at a loose end with nowhere else to be, just Winkipop at six-thirty every morning, greeting the same blokes in the lineup every morning with the same tight-lipped nod. We surfed ourselves silly. This wasn’t going to last, so we were enjoying it while we could. I was already counting down the days to the next pandemic.

There’s been a lot of talk about freedom, and here’s the paradox. In the most locked-down country in the world, there’s been plenty of freedom if you’ve known where to look. Surfers have cut and run
to the fringes. The Cactus and Gnaraloo campgrounds have been full for two winters in a row. Even the crew locked down in the cities have managed to escape up or down the coast. Sure, if anyone sneezed in Queensland or Western Australia the borders went up, but the resourceful have used that to their advantage and scored. Kirra broke one morning as good as it gets with just a dozen guys for a couple of hours. Crew have thrown their lives into a van and took off with no real plan, but thousands of miles of coastline to roll around and check out. Surfers escaped. Border runs. Coast runs. Town runs. 

At times it’s felt like surfing back in the ‘80s. Cars have replaced planes and old tribalisms have reared their heads. Cars weren’t just bringing blow-ins, they were bringing the virus. Paranoia simmered. Strange cars got vibed pulling up at the beach. Interstate plates were asking for trouble. But at the same time, you had a vast new kook armada take to the waves for the first time, clogging it with a fruit salad of surfboards, before being promptly washed away by the first winter swell. Strange days. 

While the world has gone mad, for most of us surfing has been a bubble. A quick doomscroll of the news from around the world has confirmed just how lucky we’ve been. If you put the phone down and look around, daily life has largely been indistinguishable from daily life before, with the exception of not being able to jump a flight whenever you like. It’s been that rarest of apocalyptic events where you can still go surfing every day… just not in Bali.

People meanwhile have been completely free to believe whatever they like about what’s really happening around them. People have spent a lot of time in their own heads and some have spent a lot of that time down rabbit holes. The truth, somewhere between the Great Plague and the Great Reset, will be seen in time as something a bit less conspiratorial. I’m probably more bat soup than Wuhan lab, but either way it’s not keeping me up at night. I just want this thing over. 

To that end, I happily got vaxed the other day. Got the shot. No worries. Got the second shot a week later… and dropped, a phantom pain circling my body for two days like a bad bluebottle sting. On the second morning I felt on the verge of magnetism. 

Beyond the fringe takes, the whole episode has provided cover for a supercharging of the world’s usual bullshit. The rich got richer. The poor got poorer. The natural world continued to be plundered and the climate got hotter. Old white dudes started banging the drums of war and young people gave up on the idea of ever owning a house. As we close this chapter out, the future looks less certain. Sadly, I don’t think this is going to be the biggest thing we’ll face in our lives.

I’m sure you’ve seen the meme. The guy scratching his way over the first wave of the clean-up set, only for the second wave to be twice the size. The first wave was 2020. The second, 2021. We’re scrambling over that now, hoping there’s not a third or a fourth.

But hey, until the next apocalypse, at least we’re surfing. 

SW