Maybe the waves are funky, or your timing’s off, or your headspace is wrong or you’ve had a crook gut for a week and lost some weight and confidence, but whatever the reason, it always starts with a bad session. Afterwards you try to shake it off, tell yourself you weren’t feeling it, that tomorrow you’ll be back again and there’s no need to worry.

But tomorrow you’re back and … it’s the same again, only this time a little worse. Not only is your timing off, but now your paddling’s dodgy, your wave selection, your ability to string together a decent ride. You don’t want to go hitting the panic button, but it almost seems like your surf skills—those same beautiful things that last week had you feeling like Robert Kelly Slater—have deserted you. You head in feeling confused, frustrated, unwilling to look people in the eye in case they saw your woeful efforts. You tell yourself this is a problem that needs fixing.  

You decide you weren’t putting enough thought into those last couple of sessions. You were just floating around like a brainless jellyfish. Surfing is a sport that requires ninja-quick reflexes, a sharp mind, a steely focus. You paddle out fully prepared to concentrate on every little thing you do, to be present, aware, completely in-tune with your surroundings. First wave that comes through you think about what you’re doing. You think about it so hard that as you’re stroking in you spring to your feet and … they land in exactly the wrong spot. Shit! Next wave, the same thing. The wave after that you manage to get your feet right but judge the first section all wrong and totally overcook it. Half a dozen waves later you’re absolutely spewing. What the hell’s wrong with me? These waves suck! My board sucks! That kook who just put together a better ride than I’ve had all session sucks the most! You rush home in damage control, wondering what you can do to reconnect with the once exhilarating act of surfing.

From here, things go downhill quickly. Every session becomes an exercise in self-loathing and misery. You start to wonder if you could even surf to begin with. Maybe those proud memories you have of deep barrels, big turns and truly great sessions were all just things your worthless ego made up to delude you from the fact that you’re actually a massive kook, and you’re only now starting to realise it. At some point you come to the conclusion that you’ve been trying too hard, and so you vow that next surf you’re not going to give a fuck. But then the next surf rolls around and you find yourself trying so hard not to give a fuck that you end up giving a fuck way too much. You’re desperate. You consider giving it up altogether. You could probably live a semi-bearable and vastly more productive life without this surfing shit anyway.

You go for another surf fully resigned to the fact that you’re a kook now, that you aren’t and probably never were any good at this, and so you paddle out with no other plan than to catch a few waves purely for the sake of it. Then a set rolls through and you find yourself, almost unexpectedly, dropping in with a familiar feeling under your feet, a sense of balance, a sense of purpose. You don’t do anything spectacular but you don’t make a meal of it either, and when you kick out at the end of the wave, you feel a slight buzz, the kind you’d almost forgot existed. That’s strange, you think, I’m a kook now, must’ve got lucky. But next wave, not only is your line good and your feet firmly planted, when a section pops up you find yourself hooking into it, turning, maybe even kind of ripping. No, couldn’t be. Another section … whack, you hit it! Whack, you hit it again! Jeez, this is alright. This is great! I’m great! So by the end of the wave, not only have you remembered how to surf again, but you’re Kelly Slater, and the cycle starts over.