I’ve always thought that it was interesting that my surf column fell into the “sports” category in the folds and creases of the Daily Nexus. When I think about sports, I think about football, or baseball, or just about any competitive activity that involves some kind of grass field and the word “ball.” Surfing involves neither. The kind of grass that has been associated with surfing since the world met Jeff Spicoli in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” is much different than the kind that gets trampled by the 400-pound sacks of meat that smash into each other in pro football. In fact, it was around the same time as Spicoli’s rise to fame that surfing started to be seriously considered as a sport.
The Association of Surfing Professionals was formed the same year that “Fast Times” was released, and many surfers have been taking themselves way too seriously ever since. Surfing is most definitely a physically taxing activity that requires a considerable amount of commitment if you ever want to be any good at it. These qualities may hint that it is indeed a sport, but the same could also be said about jump-roping or hula-hooping. The whole concept of surf contests seems silly when you think about what surfing actually is.
When you stand up and ride a wave, no two waves will be exactly the same, and no matter how hard you try, you will never do the exact same cutback or boost the exact same air twice. So how can surfing be judged? What one surfer likes to do on a wave is not necessarily better than what another surfer does. It comes down to a contest of aesthetics, and no one ever put Salvador Dalí or Vincent van Gogh in a jersey and told them they would be scored on whatever painting they could create in a 20-minute heat.
Even in the realms of skateboarding and snowboarding, with which professional surfing is constantly compared, the ramp is the same for every competitor, and the tricks can be perfected to the delight of the Mountain Dew-chugging fans of competitions such as the X Games. Waves are unpredictable and inconsistent, and even when the stars align and a contest is graced with good surf, the number of variables is mind boggling, which is why the best surfer in a contest is not always the one that is going to win.
Someone once said that the best surfer is the one that is having the most fun. That’s a bit cheesy for me, especially if you consider what it would be like to watch Dane Reynolds surfing next to some kook on a soft top, but there is a certain amount of truth to it. Rather than throwing jerseys and numbers around like we actually have a criteria to judge by, let’s just marvel in the fact that every turn on a wave by every surfer on the planet is a unique act that will never happen exactly the same again. Maybe just knowing that is more important than standing on a podium, and maybe one day you’ll be reading this column in the Artsweek section.