For many, the search for good waves revolves around luck, requiring the serendipitous alignment of vast meteorological phenomena with the often mundane logistics of everyday schedules.
However for the most dedicated, and those who’s job hinges on being in the right spot on every swell, finding great waves is the result of a complex and protracted process that begins in the brain long before feet touch the sand.
It starts by reading the charts. A quick scroll of a web page, and the mind is away, diving head first into it’s vast internal filing cabinet, which overflows with annotated maps documenting the minutiae of conditions required to light up any given spot; swell size and direction, wave period, wind speed, tide size and position. Information gathered over many years of reading, searching and conversing and constantly updated by spot checks, conversations in muddy car parks about shifting sand and images viewed online of where you should have been yesterday.
Eventually the call is made and alarms set. You set off early and the journey is filled with moments which either affirm or cast doubt upon the predicted quality of your destination; wave buoy readings through a cracked iphone screen and a wet finger in the air, a glimpse of local beachies as you drive past, and the strained recollection of what they looked like last time where you’re heading was good. And then the defining moment. When you make it over the hump or round the bend and gaze out through the mizzle. Immediately your mind surveys and analyses the line up; the size of the lines out to sea and their bend into the bay, the wind ruffle on the surface of the water, the position of the tide and any sign of angular white wash suggesting a submerged bank. The data is processed and deductions made. There’s a brief pause. ‘It’s not quite big enough’ someone croaks into the wind. ‘There’s too much south in the swell’ another voice adds. You delve back into your head and begin to methodically work through a long mental flow chart ‘Is the wind right for that point nearby?’ ‘Yes’ ‘Could we make it there before the tides too low?’ ‘Yes’.
You vocalise your conclusion for assembled comrades, deep within their own internal calculations. ‘What about so and so’ you proffer and their faces light up. You turn on your heels back towards the car. The day is still young and the flow chart is far from the final big red box that says go back to bed.
This process of collecting, analysing and applying data before deducing an outcome is not dissimilar to that used during any intellectual pursuit or indeed by the average working person on the average work day. Where it finds its uniqueness in surfing is the purpose of all this mental work, it’s only objective being to enhance our time spent playing the sea.
When you finally find the waves and you pull into that barrel, or lay your board on rail, it represents not only the culmination of years of practice, but also vast swathes of knowledge accumulation- the meeting point between science and art, the apex of work and play.
Words & Photos Luke Gartside // @lugarts