Shredding the Gnar- a surfers journey
Occasionally it is important to reflect upon the adventures we have taken and the experiences we have gone through. In my quest for the ultimate ride, I learned some lessons along the way. Never give up or settle for mediocracy. In my dreams I can see that perfect wave lining up against a beautiful horizon, calling my name. It is a slow warm water roller with a head high tube section. I find a moment of clarity. It is the wave of a lifetime.
I grew up surfing the coast of California, which provided a bevy of nice waves to the young surfers who hunger for surf. I was on a surfboard before I could drive and would call my dad from the old payphone at Steamers Lane to come pick me up after a surf session. I used to stuff two dimes in my wetsuit to make that call. I loved to surf Seal Rock, Slots, Middle Peak, and Indicators. All firing surf spots at The Lane in Santa Cruz, CA. I idolized The Condor, Rat Boy, Skin Dog, Barney, and I surfed an old Flea Virostko model surfboard. The glory days of surfing on the West Side in the 90’s were at their peek, and the right hand set waves were glassy and smooth.
In 2000 my eyes opened as I traveled to Costa Rica for 6 months to learn Spanish and surf the coast. Pura Vida, and few great places to surf were all I needed to live it up. Ripping the lip, cutbacks, floaters, and a little dip through the chandelier would be a good day of surfing for me. One of the largest waves I’ve ever rode was a break called Mal Pais (Bad Country). I put all the weight on my back foot, held my breath, and slid down the massive face. It was all about the drop in. Life is much simpler down there. If you are generally interested in the native people of the regions you visit, you will make a lot of new friends for life.
My last surf trip involved a drive from Santa Cruz California to Guatemala. Most of the time was spent on mainland Mexico at places such as Rio Nexpa, La Ticla, and Puerto Escondido. The Narcos and Banditos in Michoacán luckily befriended me and allowed me to surf some perfect river mouth breaks. Fortunately the random guy in the middle of the street with a shovel in Oaxaca was not able to stop me from passing by. The danger in Mexico is kinda like fun danger, just enough to keep you on your toes. If you get past the fact that there is trouble anywhere you go, you may just find that perfect wave.
While searching for the perfect ride, I hit a wall at Steamers Lane. It was literally the wall of a wave. It pounded me so hard it ripped my hoodie off. My uncle told me that once he hit the Wall of Life. There are three things you can do when you hit the Wall of Life: you can give up, you can continue on the path you are on an likely become a functioning alcoholic, or you can continue to hit the wall until you make it over. If you are lucky you will hit another wall and this will continue five or six times. So I got back on my surfboard, took a deep breath, and paddled back out. Shaka-gnar-gnar.
I hit the Wall of Life in my own personal life as well. At 25 my life had become a mess, I was going from functioning alcoholic to non-functioning alcoholic quickly. The best decision of my life was to give up drinking and begin to put my life back together. I finished school sober and got back into the water as much as possible. Surfing is the closest thing I have to a spiritual experience which has helped me to live the life I wish to live. That and a little bit of AA, those guys are not as bad as most people think. Now that I have gotten over that wall, I am fortunate to wander down the road of life looking for my next big wall.
I love teaching kids how to surf. The stoke on their faces make everything worth it. I once taught some guys from Chicago how to surf. When they went in the ocean for the first time and got water in their mouth they exclaimed, “Oh, it’s salty!” Every smile makes the time I put into it worthwhile. Cowell’s beach is one of the best waves to surf for beginners and experienced surfers alike. I love to surf Cowell’s on a huge day when only a few people go out. I once caught a wave from the top of Cowell’s all the way to the shore. Up to that point in my life it was the ultimate wave ever ridden.
I always dreamed about a long barrel ride in crystal clear waters. In my waterbed I would paddle in my sleep with visions of tubes in my mind. I had a sweet barrel at Natural Bridges while surfing with my buddy Adam Berg. Time slowed down and I felt weightless. There is so much energy surrounding you that you get into a zone and your body travels through another dimension. Each barrel it unrepeatable and unique in it’s own way. Like each individual on earth, a waves leaves it’s own imprint upon the earth. A wave will travel over 10,000 miles just to hit a reef, and get you pitted for a few short seconds of your life. It is within those few seconds that you can fully appreciate the natural world.
Besides the tube ride, classic shredding is always a blast. Power hacks, layback snaps, off the lip, and through the cappuccino are my favorite maneuvers. If you bust a gnar-gnar air off the inside and land it in the flats, you know you are having a good day. Some people say the best surfer is the one that rips the hardest; others believe the best are the ones who are having the most fun. I believe it is a balance of going out there, doing your best, shredding it up, and enjoying the ocean with your bro bros.
Out of all the surf legends I’ve meet: Kelly Slater, Rob Machado, Nat Young, John John Florence, and Tim Curran, Matt Wilkinson is the most entertaining surfer around. When I first meet Matt at a US Open surf party in 2010, I told him he looked familiar and asked if he had ever surfed the Cold Water Classic. He smiled and answered in a cheeky Australian accent, “Yea….I might of won it last year”.
Last year the Cold Water Classic was one of the most important stops on the World Surfing Tour. Matt Wilkinson made the final and scored 2nd place against Taj Burrow. More importantly, Matt re-qualified for this years World Tour. “Keep chasing your dreams and always have fun.” is what he told me while I was working with him at a Rip Curl pro surfer signing event. Remain searching for you dreams and never give up no matter how many Walls of Life you slam into, and enjoy the ride.
I saw in a movie that you should always end an article with a quote. If you have something good to say, chances are that someone before you has said it, only better. So it is only fitting that I end this article with a quote from a movie.
“Be excellent to each other, and party on dudes”-Abraham Lincoln (Bill and Ted)
Photos by: Kenan Chan, Jack Neenan, Todd the Bro Bro, and Christly Miller Photography.
Article By Jack Neenan