East Coast surfing mecca Orlando, Florida finds itself in hot water after displaying less than rabid patriotic fervor ahead of July 4: “A lot of people probably don’t want to celebrate our nation right now , and we can’t blame them.”
“I have (mental health) battles. I’m not kind to myself. I do these things to prove to myself that I’m worthy.”
Over there in Cronulla, the hard-core surf town right there on Sydney’s south shore, they call it Forest Gump.
Peel back the curtain at four a.m. and you’ll see this wild-bearded blond cat, former WQS pro Blake Johnston, pounding the clicks, finishing his pre-dawn rotation with a swim in the ocean before rolling up to the beach to teach kids how to shred.
After nailing a bank of insane long-distance races, Johnston, who is forty, is now set to break the Guinness World Record for longest session, forty hours and 500 waves.
Johnston was going to do an easy six hundred mile run to Queensland to raise mental health awareness but, after a little Google research, he found that the world record for longest surfing session, set by the South- African Josh Elsin, was only thirty hours and eleven minutes, with 455 waves eaten.
“I thought to myself that I could break it. I can run for forty hours,” says Johnston. “And, that way, I can surf with people I love and make a difference.”
He wants to do a diff because suicide is something very close to Johnston. His father committed suicide and when he was a child riding for Quiksilver, one of that company’s most popular employees, Andrew Murphy, died at the hands of the black dog.
“It got to me a lot. I have my own battles too,” Johnston says. “I’m not nice to myself. I’m like, ‘You suck at what you do.’ I do these things to prove to myself that I’m worthy and that’s what my fight is. In these dark times I have to say to myself, well, how good is this? My boys (he has some two, one with a spectacular mullet) deserve a strong father.
Next March, Johnston is going to hit a joint called The Alley, a wave next to a breakwater in the middle of town, and charge companies money for the thrill of surfing in a world record attempt and to challenge themselves with a night surf.
Red Bull picks up considerable tab for lights, judges, tests water safety a bit to keep Tall Whites out.
The money taken from companies is used to raise awareness, that is to say to fight against the scourge of suicides, especially among young men.
I asked Johnston how he handles the darkest moments of his endurance races, when there’s no one around in the middle of the night, there’s nothing but your head, the voices .
“Man, you go places…I think about making myself proud, my family proud. I got it into my head not to make it a big deal, that people could run further and longer than me. But it’s hard to explain. One minute you feel invincible, the next you’re in tears. It’s as if you were short-term bipolar. It’s so up and down. One minute you think you’re killing it, then the next forty k feels like it’s gonna take four years.
Johnston apologizes for being inarticulate, which he is not, and says, “You don’t have to be a superstar to live a full life. You just have to make an effort. You have to go after that.