The biggest fan of the World Surf League asks: “Is the WSL turning a single sport into a generic, compliant and corporate glory hole?” “
Long-time surfer explains the three reasons for the arrival of the vulnerable adult surfer…
With the number of middle-aged men swapping Lycra stockings and four thousand dollar bicycles for fifteen hundred dollar rubber and resin-tinted logs reaching plague-like proportions, there must be scientific reasons for the increase in VAL.
I have three.
No fear of rejection
When I was little I grew up in South Sydney, got off the train at Cronulla station and dreaded the walk along the waterfront past the patch of grass in front of Joe’s Milk Bar where all the Alley Boys were hanging.
I would pray that they weren’t there when I passed with all the other kids on the train, but if they were, I would try to hide behind my board, run as fast as possible to the wall without get attention, and would pray they didn’t throw shit at me, laugh at me, or tell me to beat him up and come home.
Alternatively, I would get off one station earlier in Woolooware and walk the lanes to Wanda to surf on my own, hoping not to pass a local’s house or be seen by a local driving their car on the beach.
I would do my best to go unnoticed.
As tender teenagers, we pretend not to care too much about the world around us and throw sardonic, pimply taunts at those who do so with passion. But, under the false facade, we all yearn for acceptance and inclusion. And nothing tears up a shy teen’s self-esteem more than the humiliation and heckling of his peers, especially those he admires the most.
We could look at it now through the mocking and unsympathetic eyes of the old salty sea dogs, but acceptance and approval for a thirteen year old is everything.
As NY Times bestselling author Harvey Mackay puts it,
“Most fears of rejection are based on wanting approval from others. “
All I wanted was to be included in this gang of surfers on the grassy patch of The Alley. To that end, I haven’t paddled The Alley for years.
Not until I am comfortable with my surf and know all the rules. Even then, it took a good few years after that, surfing the same spot day in and day out, to receive a whispered hello or a muffled nod from the locals who mattered, and a good few years beyond to get a thread of Ariane of acceptance.
But once you finally got that acceptance, it was well deserved.
You felt like you belonged.
The VAL of modern times?
VAL doesn’t give a damn about any of that. He doesn’t give a damn about the acceptance or approval of a bunch of insufferable surfers. The “A” in VAL stands for adult, which means they (mostly) already have the wife, kids, house, car, and wallet. They also have their well-established group of wanking white-collar banker buddies.
The VALs have no need or desire to be part of the local programming or get the green light from the boys when they arrive at the parking lot and slip into the best spots overlooking the point.
They have no contextual knowledge of the local history or cultural conventions of a given place.
They didn’t give a damn about hierarchy, respect or alcohol with the boys in the pub on an Arvo Sunday.
They don’t give a damn about being left out of the idle chatter in the back or not being invited to the post-boardriders contest with Deano, Fanga and the guys. Even if you invited them in, they would laugh to themselves and think the ten dollar buy-in for bread and bangers would barely cover their first craft beer at the bistro.
They have the surf bug because it’s cool and the next door neighbor does it. They have their new board of directors. And damn, they’re going there for a few waves and some fun in the bright sunshine before they have to take Bella to the ballet and Ozzie to the Aussie Rules.
Fear of exclusion?
“Who the fuck needs to be included from you guys?” This is what the VAL thinks. We think they are ignorant of the ways of surfing and of the parasites in the water who need to learn the rules.
They think we are ignorant dinosaurs living in a children’s bubble that they don’t need to be a part of.
No fear of violence
The modern era means that VAL doesn’t have to worry too much about physical confrontation or intimidation.
In the water or out.
For better or worse, nothing got the point across as a kid like an unexpected setback through the chops.
I didn’t surf The Alley until I was a teenager because: 1) I was shitty and embarrassed to be seen and 2) I had heard too many stories of guys getting knuckle sandwiches to be assholes so that they are all great tales devoid of truth.
Even the promising local carnations have had their fair share of brutality from the older guys and no one has ever said a word. Harden them and show them the laws of the land.
This fear factor helped me learn very quickly what I should and shouldn’t be doing in surfing. Drop-ins, meandering, paddling for the shoulder, swinging for the same wave as a local, bailing without your board… I have seen beginners or blows making verbal blockades and physical retaliation for such antics.
Nothing like a punch in the face to set up a cashed middle aged motherfucker being a nuisance. They quickly got the message loud and clear and never repeated it or they slipped their heads humiliated between their tails and surfed elsewhere forever.
Anyway, work done.
Now? The law, litigation, and the ubiquitous fucking cameras mean VALs barely have to deal with all this shit. Put one on the button of a VAL for throwing your board in front of you? Charges for assault and an AVO.
Backhander through the bowler for falling straight to the face as you were pushing down the line? Criminal record and community service.
Slash the tires in the parking lot to paddle inside every fucking time? The new Jeep from VAL has a dashcam. Shit out of luck.
The days of violence and settling cases are pretty much over. And the VALs can park their Porsches in front and in the center without worrying about localism.
Nothing to fear here, my dear.
It’s healthy, baby!
Finally, we are living in the Internet age. The information age. All we need to know is with the push of a button or an app.
Especially when it comes to health issues.
Nothing is more important than health for VAL. Lycra bike on Monday. Beach yoga on Tuesday. Jogging and gym with the PT on Wednesdays. Shake protein shake shake shake every day.
And nothing screams healthier and more fit at VAL than surfing.
The call of the wild.
The spiritual commitment to ride Mother Nature.
Who needs fucking Wim Hof when you have a five in the morning dip on a cool winter morning? The woman has her Fitbit and the VAL has her funboard. He also has his smartwatch to track his paddle, count his calories, and spit out soft top speed stats to share on social media.
You don’t need pull-ups when you can work on pop-ups. In the fucking ocean.
Are you kidding me? How good is surfing? It is to live.
The fact that there are basic surf rules and etiquette standards that have been around for decades is lost on VAL.
Do not sit in certain places in the queue. What?
Do not paddle for certain waves. Eh?
Always nodding to the perpetually cranky, frowning old dudes. What are you doing, man? It is the ocean. It belongs to everyone. It’s up to all of us to take advantage of it.
Regardless of the VALs that irritate long-time surfers, the VAL does not understand and does not care. For the VAL, it is about bringing its representatives into nature. Feel the water running over his skin 9-5. To thrive and feel alive and fill your Insta stream of health and positivity.
Fuck the cranky old fools and their archaic stupid rules. VAL is living his best life and he doesn’t care about the old bitter barnacles of yesteryear complaining.
They are bad for his well-being.
VAL just wants to be fit and happy.