Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Surfers and the environment

Parts of this article will appear in 'Why Lawyers Should Surf'' (co-authored with Dr Michelle Tempest) which is now available on Waterstone's website here or can be ordered from XPL Publishing on 0870 079 8897 (p&p is included). Extracts from the book can be found here. To see a review of the book in The Independent click here.

Surfers’ connection with the environment comes primarily from the fact that they spend so many hours staring out on its vastness. Contemplating its forces. Harnessing its power. As Matt Warshaw says in Maverick’s: The Story of Big-Wave Surfing, “Surfing expresses ... a pure yearning for visceral, physical contact with the natural world.” However, perhaps it’s something more than this. Taking a perspective from a breaking wave. In geometry, mathematicians describe a straight line which touches the edge of a curve at a particular point as a tangent. Perhaps the surfboard is the tangent on the edge of the world. In Caught Inside, Daniel Daune talks about the Ohlone, the indigenous people of Northern California who have lived in California for over 1,500 years. He says:

“Malcolm Margolin, author of The Ohlone Way, writes that among the little remaining of their culture is a line from a song. The line makes perfect sense to me as I surf here before so much space: dancing on the brink of the world.”


Dancing on the brink of the world. The surfer as the point of intersection between the world and the tangent line of the surfboard. The surfer balancing on the top of the world. Surveying all before him. Perhaps there is even more. Surfers not only standing on top of the world but also at the intersection of the land and the sea as well as that between the sea and the sky. Fiona Capp in That Oceanic Feeling:

“Entranced by that mythical line where the sea meets the sky, Tennyson’s Ulysses regarded all experience as ‘an arch wherethrough gleams that untravelled world whose margin fades for ever and for ever when I move’.

Surfers standing at the intersection of the world. The portal or meeting place of nature’s forces. Maybe it’s all or none of these things. Whatever it is, there’s an essence which continues to elude just as when we grasp at the ocean we are left only with its salty residue. Yet for all that we may romanticize nature, we must never forget its dangers, increasingly evident in the environmental disasters which are hitting our planet. In Cannery Row, John Steinbeck points to the dangers of over-romanticising nature if one is not careful:

“Here a crab tears a leg from his brother…Then the creeping murderer the octopus, steals out, slowly, softly, moving like a gray mist, pretending to be a bit of weed, now a rock, now a lump of decaying meat while its evil goat eyes watch coldly.”

It is the shadow to the light. A reminder of nature’s harsh realities. Just as the crab tears the leg in the microcosm of the ocean so a hurricane can tear away a city. It is something which can affect us all and for which we are all responsible. Not just a problem which others need to solve. Surfers as much as anyone else. They drive many miles to the ocean, often in large vans or with a board on their roof adding to their carbon footprint. They fly all over the world in search of waves and when they get there they put on wetsuits and paddle out on boards which cannot be recycled.

It is with this in mind that I recommend taking a look at Drift Magazine which is the first digital only surf magazine. They are deeply committed to environmental causes and are actively looking at ways of minimising surfing's impact on the environment, some of which is through magaznes which are often not recycled. They have also just launched a Surf Blog Directory which as far as I am aware is the first of its kind for a surf magazine.

The top photograph was taken by and is copyright of Dr Michelle Tempest.

1 comment:

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