Monday, 31 March 2014

Still Stoked

Recently I have come to accept that I am not as young as I was and when I stop to think about it, I am very comfortable with that.

I am describing this break through moment in the context of surfing, but I suppose I can also apply the experience to other aspects of my life too.  For an awful long time I was completely at odds with the world of modern surfing.  I felt that it went against pretty much everything that I held dear and associated with the surf lifestyle, the commercialism, the involvement of big corporate business and the 'look at me' generation Y traits as displayed by many of the top pros, as well as by the local guys from the beaches where I surf became tiresome.  In short, I came to dislike the whole scene.  I know that at the age of 41 I am not supposed to fit into the same age bracket as the younger generation, but I had never considered that the age gap would become as apparent as it did.  After all, we are all surfers and age is just a concept, and I certainly don't feel any different to how I did when I was much younger.  And yet, I couldn't help but feel annoyed at so many things within surfing, how it had changed so much, sold out, the lack of respect that these days...and that is when it dawned on me, I had become an old(er) guy!

So instead of trying to make sense of the aspects of modern surfing that I simply found irritating, to put it mildly, I began to explore the alternatives.  Having done so for quite some time now, I am happy to say that there are some really good things going on, locally and in a more global context.  Plus, there is absolutely nothing wrong with looking to the past for inspiration, learning about the heritage of surfing and surf culture has been an enlightening experience.  One of the most significant factors which led to my surfing renaissance, was to look away from the mainstream, the professional goings on and the more commercial elements of surfing and to seek out the things that I could really relate to and really enjoy. Likewise, I have opted to head for the lesser surfed breaks, whenever possible, or to take a longboard out on the smaller days, thus avoiding the hoards and having a great time as a result. In changing my approach, I quickly discovered a whole new world of surfing, which brought the stoke back in a big way.

I still love surfing, but there was a time when I was so disillusioned with it all that I could have simply walked away.  Thankfully, my acceptance of the fact that I am not a grom, and haven't been for a year or two, was instrumental in me discovering a different view point from where I could seek exactly what I wanted from surfing.  All in all, being in ones forties is not as bad as I had first thought, for me it was all about making a subtle but significant change to my perspective.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Given to Fly.

For many years mainstream surfing has become focussed with what goes on above the lip, rather than on the wave itself.  Whether looking through a magazine, or surfing locally, the surfing, or should I say the younger surfing crowd have gone crazy for the aerial, or air as it is now better known as.

Now, let me first say that I am not against aerials, not at all, in fact in the late 80’s, during the Wave Warriors era when Matt Archbald and Christian Fletcher were pioneering them, I genuinely thrilled by the new school surfing that they represented.  Things went a little quite on this front after the initial flurry of interest, partly because in a competitive sense they were still frowned upon and scored accordingly, and in the local context, it was that they were just so darned hard to do!

Rusty surfboards did a movie called 'Just Surfing', which I saw when it came out in '91.  This featured a free surfing section with a blistering sound track provided by the Smashing Pumpkins and some amazing aerial antics to boot.  These were not the blast offs as perfected by Christian Fletcher and Archy, but more technical, flicky moves that were more a kin to skating, or even snowboarding of the time.  I think it was Shane Williams, but I might be wrong and a quick Google yielded no results, but anyway, I was so inspired by what I saw.  The airs were done in small shore break waves, where the guy was propelling forward of the lip, rather than above it, and managing to turn over 180 degrees before landing in the flats. Cool stuff.

Fast forward a few years to the mid-nineties, and they remerged in a big way.  For by now people were doing them right in front of me, or over me as was often the case.  I recall surfing at Rest Bay, Porthcawl in the autumn of 96, the waves were good and the local rippers were out in force.  They were good, really good, and to this day I remember one of the guys launching to a ridiculous height as I was paddling out, I looked back to see him land it too, solidly and sure footed.  I can’t remember the name of the guy, but I was impressed.  In fact I was so stoked that I think the hairs on the back of my neck stood up.

But then it all went a bit silly after that, the magazines were full of seemingly massive airs, but the illusion was sullied when it became apparent that many of the featured moves were being made possible by jet ski tow ins in to relatively small waves.  Worse than that was what was happening at a local level, here guys were making the air their one and only move.  For me there are few things worse, in surfing, than see someone miss so much potential for moves on a perfect wave, tick taking along it before attempting something that would be construed as an air.  Had they actually left the wave, while still being attached to their board with at least one foot, it might be described as an air, but since invariably neither of these factors were apparent, I would say not.  Back when I was a grom these were called flying kick outs, yet they were now being called ‘airs’.  Hmmn, I'm not so sure.

Anyway, these days there are many people who have got good at them, and while I still find it a little grating when guys make it their only focus, I cannot help but be stoked to see a good one, when pulled off with style and technical merit.  That said, they still look pretty lame when seen static in photos, for without seeing the entire wave, or at least the full sequence of the air in question, there is no way of telling whether it was landed, and more often than not, they translate as being a bit clumsy.  And above all else, they have to be done well and executed with not only style, but with conviction for them to work for me.

Mind you, I still can’t do them and have long since given up trying, so who am I to judge!



Photo: Larry Flame

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Driving Nostalgia

I have a real fascination with all objects that are old, this applies to most things, for I am not that bothered by the advance of technology, or the notion of modernity.  I prefer the aesthetic qualities of items that have been designed with flair, built well and engineered to last.  This is in stark contrast with the items of today, for these are intended to have limited appeal, and are built in a manner that is flimsy at best.  So as to fuel the consumer driven economy, rather than to remain in use for any real length of time.

I know that much of my view is based on nostalgia, but I am absolutely certain that things were just held with more value, back when the life cycle of products was longer.  This theory can be applied to most things, but here I am talking about cars specifically.

There have been very few cars that have been designed in a manner that I would describe as being anywhere close to iconic, not for many years.  Yes there has been the New Beetle, the Mini and more recently the Fiat 500, all of which are great representations of the original cars that they are based upon, in terms of their aesthetics, but there hasn’t been anything wholly new for an awful long time.  Even the Porsche 911 shares many of the same lines as the original.  Each carnation has utilised new materials, has increased the use of technology and is built to be quicker and more efficient than that which went before it, but the physical design is fundamentally the same.

It has to be said that the vast majority of modern cars appear to have used the exact same formula when it comes to design.  For example, the new Mercedes-Benz A Class looks much the same as an Astra, or a Hyundai and in fact any other current generation of hatchback, it certainly does not share any of the heritage of the iconic Mercedes of previous years. It has the three pointed star, but that is where any link to the past ends.  This is the case across the board, and is clearly demonstrated by Volkswagens, or VW’s as they are now. The new Golf, Polo and to a degree even the Beetle is lost in a car park, for there is very little that distinguishes them from other cars.  The badge is there, but the personality is long gone.

This is why I prefer old cars, for I feel that in the not too distant past they had much more personality and the designs were wholly different across the board, from budget models, to high end marques, the cars were at least distinguishable. I like to think that in the past, buying decisions were made more upon design and the notion of quality, rather than on the economics of better fuel economy and perceived brand kudos.

I live in hope of seeing a design revolution, a renaissance that sees manufacturers break the mold in terms of design, so that everyday cars share some of the appeal that they once had.  Although I am not hopeful that this will happen any time soon, if at all, for cars, as with most things are designed to have mass appeal and therefore sell to the general population.  Anything that is radically different risks being a niche car at best, and no big manufacturer is going to risk that.  So I am going to have to accept that this is just the way it is.  This makes me appreciate the cars of the past even more.



Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Everyday Classics

I have a long standing love of old cars, these tend to be German and Swedish in origin, and are models that were produced in the 70's and 80's.  This is my main focus, but I also have a veering towards French, Italian and some Japanease models from the same era, as well as American models from as far back as the 40's. In short, I am in to older cars.

With the exception of the Porsche 911, which in my opinion is a true design icon, I am not a massive fan of sports cars or high end marques that reek of yuppiedom.  My favourites tend to be everyday cars that were once common place, with the emphasis on small hatchbacks, and the Mark one Golf being my all time number one choice.

It has been a long standing wish of mine to own a truly original, box fresh example of a latter day classic of my own.  But while I have got as far as to look at a couple of affordable ones that I have come across, something always puts me off, so to date I have never fulfilled my wish, not yet at least.  At least part of my reluctance to take on an older car can be attributed to having my fingers burned in the past with a Mercedes-Benz W124, that I thought was a good find, but in reality was far from that.  With hindsight I maybe should have persevered with it, but not being mechanically minded made me fear every odd sound that came from it, and as for the body, well, that turned out to be a little on the rotten side, to say the least.  So while I thought it looked great, I think my heart took over my head and my judgment was affected somewhat. All in all owning this car was a wholly worrying experience, one that has put me off buying anything that is more senior in years ever since.

I think I would rather wait and find an example that does not need work, but does not cost a fortune either. In the meantime I am happy to appreciate examples that other people own, as long as they are completely stock, un tricked and certainly not lowered, as seems to be the trend at the moment.  An import from an American dry state would be good, but I would hate to have something that has survived for all of these years, only to see it rot in front of my very eyes as a result of it being re homed in a damp, salty atmosphere.

Thankfully the internet is a constant source of inspiration, and every now and then I see one of my favourites on the road.  So the dream is kept alive until such a time that I am ready to take on an older car, or at least until I see something that calls out to me, and all of my common sense goes absent!

My W124. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Mountains of Inspiration

Last Friday I attended the Banff Film Festival when the UK tour came to town, and for the second year I was truly inspired by the films that I saw.  The selection of films was on a par with those that were shown last year.  And again I came away in total awe of this group of people who are not only masters of their chosen pursuit; they choose to live their lives in a way that enables them to focus 100% on doing what they love.

This really struck a chord with me and reminded me to not lose sight of the lifestyle that I am looking to attain.  I have nothing but admiration for anyone who chooses a different path in the pursuit of a fulfilling life; I know that doing so takes an incredible amount of commitment.  The people as featured in the films of the night clearly have the characteristics and self-belief to follow their dreams of doing what they love, without letting life’s obstacles get in the way, which I find so encouraging.  Furthermore the evening of films provided an antidote to the disillusionment that I have been feeling towards the thing that I hold dear, namely surfing.  For I get the impression that there is a large number of people who are afforded an amazing lifestyle through being a surfer, for example.  Yet they seem to lack the soul and spirit of adventure that the people within these films clearly have an abundance of.

As an aside, I have to say that professional surfing leaves me cold, and always has done if I am to be honest.  I am not a competitive person by any means, so I just can’t relate to it.  I know that plenty of people do, so I am not knocking it, I will just say that it just lacks the levels of authenticity that I am looking for, and leave it there.  I find my inspiration in a different place.

Anyway, getting back on course, I love that there are people who commit so much to pursuing that special thing that they are absolutely driven by.  Those who are not in the lime light, nor do they seem to be seeking it, are not chasing fame, wealth and huge sponsorship deals.  But rather, they do what they do for the love of it, for the sheer enjoyment and satisfaction that they get from it.  It heartens me to think that there are people out there who dedicate such huge amounts of time, energy and effort in to the thing that they hold dear.  Whether that is surfing, skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, or climbing, the passion that these guys have is truly inspiring.

For me a great deal of my admiration is born from the notion that they also just ‘get it’.  Appreciating not only the excitement of riding waves, ascending mountains, descending mountains, but also the absolute beauty of these elements and how lucky they are, to be a part of it all.  In my experience there are too many people who either fail to notice the natural environment that is around them, or at least seem to take it for granted.  Amazingly this is also true for many of the people who partake in the pursuits that take place in natural realms such as the ocean.   This is completely at odds with my own viewpoint, for one of the biggest draws for me when it comes to surfing is the beauty that the ocean and the beach environment offer.

These films manage to capture all of these things so perfectly, the people who are portrayed within them are not only an inspiration, but they also serve as a really good reminder as to why I do what I do and that I should never, ever lose sight of that.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

The Wonder Years: Part One.

While many would look at the trends and fashions of the nineteen eighties with a sneer, dismissing it as the decade that taste forgot, I would say that such derogatory terms are unfounded.  That is, if you happen to have discovered surfing and skateboarding at this time, as I did.

The prevailing cultural references from the decade are those that which reflect the mainstream popular culture of the time. Yes they existed, but they do not define the era for me.  I began surfing in the Summer of 1986, and I would say that this coincided nicely with the emergence of the modern surf and skate industries.  A time when many of the brands that I know and love today really came into their own.  Yes, it is true that the very same industries can be regarded as being responsible for selling out both of these cultures to the masses, this was the beginning of that.  But to an impressionable 14 year old, the fact that the brands that were held in such high regard were so readily available was by no means a bad thing.  With hindsight and a few more years of world experience behind me, I can see that we were being given the big sell by the surf and skate industries.  But at that time I could not get enough of it, these things were the fuel that I needed to keep the stoke alive while I was on dry land.

The magazines, particularly the US based Surfer and Surfing titles were my main source of inspiration.  For they not only depicted the waves and modern surfing that I craved, they also featured the stuff that I could buy.  Principally it was the boards and wetsuits that really got me excited, but these were expensive, so I could only dream of owning these.  But the surfwear, now that was more accessible. As an adult, I am no fan of advertising, or consumerism, but somehow the surf industry adverts of that time didn't seem as though they were the output of a corporate machine, in fact many didn't even look like adverts at all.  They repeatedly struck a chord with me and lured me to the local surf shop in search of 'that' t-shirt featuring 'this' print that I liked as a result of me having seen it in a surf mag.  Talk about being targeted!  This might sound a little shallow and superficial, but I can assure you that was not the case and I was by no means partaking in passive consumption.  For by choosing the right brands and items I could construct my own identity which in turn meant that I could be every deliberate in how I presented myself to the world.  This allowed me to establish my sense of individuality when I was not actually in the water, that didn't involve me wearing my wetsuit to school.  Which I probably would have done in order to shout out who I was, luckily for me, I was able to put on said t-shirt instead! Having this sense of 'belonging' was all important to me throughout my grom years.  Something that I will write about in more detail at a later time.

My brands of choice were mainly from the surf world, however, at a very young age I discovered that many of the skate related brands gave me what I was looking for in terms of style. At this time, there was not much in the way of a cross over between the two worlds, but I did my best to pick and choose items and brands that represented the two, while being careful not to over step the mark and risk loosing any sense of authenticity that I had.  In fact rule #1 was that thou shalt not mix surf and skate in the same out fit, that was a big no-no!

I could write and write about this period of time, but for every cultural cliché that is referenced, there are countless great things that represent something that was very special in my growing up.  The sense of being a part of a cultural group is one of these.



A taste of Summer.

Last week I wrote about how much I have grown to dislike surfing in the cold months of Winter.  Well, it seemed that no sooner had I hit publish, the weather shifted, in that the sun came out, and dare I say it, the first signs of Spring emerged.  Someone on a much higher plain must have taken pity on me!

This changes everything.  Already I can feel the pangs of stoke that I get each year at this time, signifying the start of several months of surfing in comfort, although comfort is a relative term, but when compared to cold water surfing, it is wholly appropriate.

I have already begun the ritual taking stock of my surfing equipment, the main boards have been checked over, and everything is in place for the day that I make my annual come back, the day that I remerge into the surfing world!  I find this feeling heartening, for it reaffirms my stoke, which admittedly lies almost dormant for a little while each year.  But as of now, just looking at my boards brings it all back.  The anticipation of sessions in the sun, not to mention long bike rides, carving on skateboards and generally soaking up each and every moment gives me a genuine feeling of excitement, in the same ay that it always does. 

I know it is still very early, in fact we could still be subjected to a spell of freezing conditions, in fact, I would say that this is kind of inevitable.  But this weather has served as a little reminder that fair weather is ahead. I only hope that the waves and sunshine are delivered in ample amounts in the coming months. My fingers are crossed!


Thursday, 6 March 2014

The tide is turning

It is difficult to determine exactly when the back lash against the traditional surf brand began, but I would say that it took place in the first half of the last decade.

These days the traditional brands are regarded with a degree of distain by a significant number of surfers, particularly those in the older demographical groups.  This being despite these companies having made small inroads by making a return to the styles and designs that were esteemed previously.  I think a key reason for this is that many of the brands took there eye off the core market when they went main stream in the nineties.  Those who had worn the labels with an unwavering loyalty for many years were suddenly shunned in favour of the promise of increased profits that selling to the masses offered.  Because all but a few of these companies were no longer run by surfers for surfers, instead they had become huge corporations, where the share holders called the shots, they were arguably out of touch with their core market.  I wonder just how many of the chiefs knew exactly what was going on in the market? I mean I am sure that profits were up and stayed that way for a while, but going down the fashion route was never going to end well.  Sooner or later trends would change, the market would move on, and when this did inevitably happen, many of the traditional surf brands were left high and dry. The fact is that many of them hadn't been in the water for years.

While all of this was going on, a small new breed of companies emerged to fill the gap that the traditional companies had left.  Patagonia for example did an incredible job of moving in to the territory that had been neglected for years.  They addressed the core market of board riders, and produced the type of clothes that the market craved.  I say this because for a long time surf wear became street wear, echoing the mainstream fashions and trends of the time, skulls, paint splashes and weird cuts are all well and good when you are a teen ager, but as a grown adult male, not so much.  Yes they did maintain a 'classic' line, but this was either very difficult to come by, certainly in the UK at least, or was somehow just off the mark.  There are other companies too, in the UK for example, Howies and Finisterre both appeared at a time when the traditional brands were all at sea. Again, their designs were very much about quality, durability and projected the type of image that had been absent for quite some time.

Fast forward to 2014, and I can see that things are beginning to shift again, albeit slowly.  The traditional surf/boarding related labels have obviously taken stock of where they are at, and have really made an effort to gain the support and loyalty of the market that had been neglected for quite a few years.  There are some great designs coming through again, which are clearly being aimed at the older market. Reissues of old prints, the use of logos from previous decades and the over all style of these ranges is testament to that.  This is great news, but the sad truth is that many of the genuine surf shops that stocked these brands have either closed entirely, or shifted their emphasis towards a different market.

Despite everything, I have remained loyal and true to the likes of Quiksilver, Rip Curl, O'Neill etc throughout.  Although I think a major contributing factor in this is the fact that I am fortunate to travel to the US on a fairly regular basis and have therefore been able to get a hold of lines that were never available in the UK.  But I am quietly stoked that there are some great designs coming through, and that while the brands are wholly different to how they were many years ago in terms of their size and structure, they clearly have people on board who are able to gauge the state of the market.  In that they are producing some of the best lines that I have seen in years.  They really do seem to have taken note of what is happening, and are aiming their ranges at the surfer once more.  I just hope that this market is in a forgiving mood and embraces these companies into the future.

Toes On The Nose

As I grow older I find that I am drawn to the more historical elements of surfing culture more and more.  By this I mean the early nineteen sixties in particular.  I am referring to the era that can be defined as being very Southern Californian in essence, featuring the styles and feeling of this time, both in and out of the water.  The colours, designs and general aesthetic of the period is particularly appealing to me. For I love the hibiscus prints, as well as the graphics that featured on the boards when bright colours, clean designs and vibrant graphics were the characteristics of the day. 

At the risk of sounding slightly clichéd, the aloha spirit seemed to be very prevalent, and the surfing scene was built upon the notion of riding waves for the fun of it, above all else.  Based on my understanding, which I think is an accurate, albeit slightly romanticized view point that has been gained from reading many books and magazine articles of the time. Surfing in the early 1960's was a lot more authentic than it became in latter years, for this was a time that was yet to see mass consumerism where (sub)cultures were taken from their rightful owners, re modeled, packaged and then sold to the masses as a lifestyle accessory. Riding waves was (and for me still is) something that is natural, free and serves as a means of escaping the daily trials and tribulations that life presents.  Those who did it and lived the beach life at this time were so lucky to be able to do this in relatively small numbers.

This was before the surf culture explosion that literally saw millions heading for the water.  It also predated the hippy scene, Vietnam and the whole Summer of Love movement. That arguably had something of a negative effect on the culture, and undoubtedly changed it for the worse, due to the introduction of drugs and the politicization of the culture, which took away a lot of the afore mentioned aloha spirit, not to mention innocence that had prevailed.  Replacing it with a more hardened, less friendly vibe that has remained apparent within the surfing world for many years.

I own several books filled with fantastic photographs of the time, principally the works of Leroy Granis, Ron Stoner, who managed to capture the essence of the scene beautifully.  I never tire of looking at these shots, in fact I use them as a source of inspiration, in that I try to shape my surfing experience through my own interpretation of the imagery.

I am sure that I am not alone in this, I would like to think that the re issues of the boards and clothes etc, that feature the graphics and logos from fifty or so years ago are not simply consumed by people who have no idea about their cultural significance.  I love the fact that these things are available, for it not only gives me pangs of excitement when I see the likes of a Hobie, Bing, Velzy, or a holy grail Greg Noll board, or t shirt design for that matter, it also heartens me to think that there is still a vibrant surf scene that remains very much rooted in the past. A scene that has heaps of soul, is born out of a rich heritage which provides a really refreshing alternative to the corporate, aerial obsessed, throw away version of surfing that has emerged in recent years.  In fact I would go as far as to say that the stoke that discovering of the historical elements of surf culture gave me, was more than partially responsible for my falling in love with surfing all over again.

The Ranch. Photo: Ron Stoner/Surfing Magazine

Skip Frye, The Ranch. Photo: Ron Stoner/Surfing Magazine


Skip Frye, styling. Photo: Stoner.


New boards, from a different time.