I’m visiting my dear old friend Robby who now lives with a surfer buddy in Venice Beach, LA. It’s been raining cats and dogs since I arrived. Not your typical sunny southern California weekend but we’re making the best of it.
For Robby, a hard-core surfer, it’s essential to live by the ocean. As we sat in his living room last night catching up, he tells me he’s heading to an island off the coast of Sumatra this summer (he forbade me from revealing the island’s name). His main reason for going is ‘the tube’, also known as ‘the barrel’. This elusive place, he explains, occurs when the wave traveling out of deep water hits a reef or a sandbar and rises up to break. The surfer’s goal is to drop into the wave, stall his speed and wait for the ceiling of the wave to pitch over and create a tube that engulfs you for a brief moment. Sometimes this lasts five, six, seven seconds… Time slows down in the tube, the light changes. Behind you is a roar of the breaking wave but inside this enclosed space, this pocket of air, it is completely quiet and still. Robby describes this as a place of transcendence, the epitomy of surfing, the quintessential moment, a place of wondrous luminescence. Unlike much of our lives which we spend in buildings and enclosed spaces, inside this ‘green room’, it’s about pure fun and freedom. Yet it takes years of commitment to get inside the barrel for just a fleeting moment.
As Robby talks about surfing, a friend from Buenos Aires skypes me. Sebastian himself used to surf in Uruguay so we start a chat about waves. He writes: “Usually, you have to cross at least three lines of waves to get to the point. There, you can catch your wave, or think about what to do, where you will be in the next seconds. It’s kind of a safe place, or should be. From there, you have a view that no one from the beach can have. You see the others surfing, the silences, the sound of the board kicking the waves, the silent waves, things, the sea. Also, you see them disappear down the wave, two seconds later, they come up… it’s a journey.”
So I got to thinking about surfing as travel. Surfers make pilgrimages to catch the world’s most revered waves – the north shore of Oahu, G-Land in Indonesia, Jeffrey’s Bay in South Africa, Chicama in Peru, Tarazout in Morocco… To Robbie, “happiness comes in waves”.