Sorry, You Are Not A Surfer: The True Story Of A Skier’s Fall From Grace

words:: Ben Osborne

I met him at a bar in Whistler, BC. He had long hair with blonde streaks. I could tell those weren’t his natural colours. I didn’t know anyone, so I struck up conversation as we waited for drinks. He had just gotten back from a month-long surf trip in Bali. I didn’t know exactly on the map where that was, but I knew enough about the place to fake it.  I had just spent 2 hours a day cleaning the dirt out of every crevasse on my body after wet mountain bike rides, and I was enjoying living through his fantasy. He was talking about things I had never heard of: bottom turn’s, cover up’s, and cutbacks. He bought me a Pacifico,—”These things are the best post surf beer, man.” We chatted for a short while—he controlled the conversation with stories of localism, how he mounted his surfboard rack to his dirt bike and found secret breaks, and a book he read—A Surfing Life, by Bill Finnegan. I wrote it down in the notes of my iPhone, but who ever checks those things anyways. I had to run to the bathroom, and when I came back he was gone.

I never got his name, but I figured it must have been Jonah, Taj, or maybe Dane. He left an indelible impression on me that night with his smooth and easily attained vindication—and he didn’t even own a $7,000  carbon mountain bike.

I had to have what he had— so I followed all the rules. As the snow began to stack up, I was holed up watching Endless Summer on re-run. I introduced new terms to my crew on the mountain such as “Fins out!” and “Damn, Peak Chair is firing!”. Tourists turned their heads in the lift line, already befuddled that there was new ski-town lingo they had to learn to bring back to their friends in New York City.

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That spring I booked a trip to Costa Rica, (waiting tables wasn’t going to afford me that flight out to Bali) and I was hooked. I surfed, drank smoothies, and even bought a board from the local shaper. I was a surfer now.

I was eventually returned back to Whistler as the summer season ramped up and I was needed again to serve hungry tourists. I looked in my garage, but mountain biking seemed complicated and stale. I became irrationally angry when I heard someone saying how “surfy” their run was. I had to get back to the ocean, so I  headed on weekend trips out to the coast, but the best part about each trip in the end was the novelty of telling others in a mountain town I was headed on a surf trip. The drives were long and expensive, and the waves were usually disappointing—or maybe it was my surfing. Each trip, I ran into the same situations: repetitive conversations of the awestruck tourist pondering: “Isn’t it freezing out there?”, as I consistently replied by boasting about how well wetsuits work, and then continuing on with stories of how I became a surfer after spending a month is Costa Rica just less than a year before.

But even I knew it wasn’t the truth. In the small summer swell, the locals were making it look fun, so why was I stuck with one knee glued to the board as I tried to pop up? Each session ended up with hopeless euphemism—”I had a couple fun drops”, “The sunset session should be good”, and “maybe it will work better on a different tide”. Doubt began to creep into my mind—maybe it wasn’t the weather, the wind, or the waves—maybe it was me.

Fall came around and the swell picked up, and I eagerly booked a week off work—I was going to score. The swell was there and I headed back out to join the van-lifers I had longingly admired. Once again, my first session was a disappointment. Was my board the wrong size? I headed to the shop. I can’t justify buying a board. Maybe I should buy a longboard? Wait—no. I can’t justify buying a board.  It should be better at low tide I told myself—the waves will have a bit more power. Once again, I left the water with nothing more than a few fun drops and an earful of water. I woke up my final morning at 5 AM—dawn patrol was sure to be great: no crowds, clean waves, and the tides were just right. I got to the beach to find the swell pumping, and a hearty group of locals suiting up just moments before there was enough light to get into the water—I was doing everything surfers are supposed to. I paddled out to the corner to join them as they sat staring blankly into the distance.

I knew they were friends with each other, but there was an eery silence. I chose to break it. “What’s up guys?”. I got a few nods.

“You from around here?”

“Yeah, you?”

“Nah, but I always try to get out to the island as much as possible. I’m more of a skier, but I could easily be a surfer. It’s awesome out here”

They turned their heads back to the horizon. O.K., that didn’t go so well. They didn’t seem like the kind of guys who wanted to be dropped in on, so I stuck to the inside waves, keeping an eye out for some outside sets. As I saw the posse begin a subtle paddle to the outside, I followed suit. I was a moment late and next thing I knew I was looking head on at a 6 feet of fiberglass hurtling toward my face. I paddled left, and the board went the same way. I tucked my head and tipped my board up, bracing for impact as the crunch of fiberglass and styrofoam was drowned out by the crashing of the wave and a loud “F*ck!” from the rider of the board which had just ended my session.

My board was broken at the tip—the board I had flown back from my trip to Costa Rica, but his was fine. My ego was bruised, and I body-boarded my way back to shore, the surf town’s version of a walk of shame. I got out of the water, headed back to Whistler, and chose to keep quiet about my trip.

November came around, and opening day started. I sold my Surface ski’s, and got back to what I was born to do: carve groomers. The pow came, and my thoughts drifted away from fin-out hacks on every wind lip—I re-found the joy of straight-lining, hucking big cliffs, and doing a good old fashioned spread eagle. I had pushed down any pride of being a surfer and was a sure-fire skier—what I grew up as.

One night, after a long day on the hill, I was waiting tables. A nice, young couple from California was visiting, and they couldn’t believe I was skiing Peak Chair that day. As I went to take away his dishes, my sleeve rode up my wrist, revealing my Rip Curl watch I had bought just 5 months ago on my fall surf trip.

“Oh, nice watch! Do you surf?”

I paused for a moment, unsure of what to say.

“No—I just got this at the Rip Curl factory sale. Wish I did though.”-ML

*This article is meant as satire, you can still be a surfer if you want to. We believe in you here at Mountain Life.