From cheap stodgy eats to chia seeds and coffee, every surfer has their fuel.
At some point, a voracious appetite for waves has to be sustained by a suitable consumption of calories. However, historically, choosing a surfing way of life has often meant surviving on a shoestring budget. Fine dining can be one of the first things a hardcore surfer is willing to sacrifice for the sake of an existence that offers a few more waves. In his memoir, ‘Stoked’ Bob McTavish famously reflected on the times when he lived off hollowed-out loaves of bread stuffed with bananas.
The other day I was out in the water and heard two surfers cackling over a mate’s post-surf culinary preferences. “Jonno had a four-hour surf and then came in and ate roll-ups on bread.” It seems their mate had turned the fruity, rubber textured kid’s lunch snack into a sandwich item. Cheap and filling but a little like eating chewing gum between bread. But if it meant having time and money for a four-hour surf and enough left over for a few beers then you can see his point.
Some of the most austere surfer diets belong to the Indo journeyman. I knew a guy who could live off devon and tomato sauce sandwiches while saving for his three-month Indo stints. Of course, once he arrived in the archipelago a staple diet of pancakes, jaffles and Nasi Goreng made him feel like he was living like a king.
As a young surfer, it seemed that storming the bakery after a long session was one of surfing’s great traditions. Gorging on a hot pie, flavoured milk and sweet treat after an energy-sapping surf was the perfect conclusion to a morning of pumping waves. On trips up and down the coast, it seemed that the search for the perfect bakery was almost as important as finding the spot with the best waves. Life was simple then, one longed for nought but a few good waves under your belt and a tasty pie smothered in sauce in your belly. In honour of this tradition, one of the popular surf movies from the late 90s/early 2000s was titled ‘How’s Your Pie?’
While the call of the bakery is still strong, these days it seems our tastes have matured and many of us go in search of a fancy cafe after a surf. The cafes now proliferate the Australian coast; tempting us with an array of expensive breakfast and lunch variations that would make my old journeyman mate look at a menu and reel in horror. At those prices, every mouthful would feel like a day in Indo disappearing down your guts.
Coffee alone has become a fundamental part of life for surfers. It seems many of us run almost exclusively on the scent of saltwater and caffeine. Joel Parkinson has a coffee company sponsor while Italo Ferreira boasts that he powers his frenetic, sky-scraping, free-surfing sessions with multiple cups of Java.
I have a mate who can down a latte at dawn and then surf till lunch, topping everyone’s wave count with the energy supplied by a single cup of Joe. Australian surfers are as discerning with hot beverage selections as they are with their board choices. These days, it’s more a case of forget the mull and bring on the macchiato. Or perhaps one balances out the other.
Many pro surfers have embraced alternative diets in pursuit of peak performance. Cheyne Horan once lugged a bag of brown rice around to live off overseas and sold herbal remedies as a part-time hustle. He also once profoundly said in a Tracks interview. “I just want to surf, eat a banana, and go surfing again.” Kelly Slater is notoriously fastidious about his food. He’s been known to travel with a chef to contests, and on trips, so that his food can be prepared just how he likes it. If you can afford it why not? Kelly also went through a well-documented chia seed phase and boasted he could get by surfing all day after a bowl of his chia pudding or a cup of chia tea. A few years ago surfers and crowds arrived at the contest site for the Quiksilver Pro to find the event site plastered with posters of a Chia pudding product that Kelly was endorsing. The perennially starving surf media lived off the free handouts for a week. None of them surfed like Kelly.
Just the other day another sponsored surfer told me he had gone gluten-free. Amongst other things, beer had been sidelined and replaced with gin. He looked more lean and agile than ever as a result of the new diet. In Hawaii a few years earlier another pro insisted he had gone Paleo, basing his food choices around the idea of a hunter/gatherer diet. Meat, nuts and seeds were in. Legumes, grains and dairy were out. I didn’t have the guts (or maybe they just showed) to tell him that I’d just enjoyed recovering from a long surf by gorging on yoghurt, muesli and bread. If you feel like disappearing down a radical, dietary rabbit-hole you can always go and check out Laird Hamilton’s Super-food website. That’s what it’s called. ‘Laird Superfood’. But be careful, you may come back looking like a condom full of walnuts.
Thankfully us gluten-lovers can take solace in the fact that Kai Lenny fuels his feats of big wave wizardry with taco-bell burritos. Whippet-built Kai apparently can’t get enough of the Mexican wraps and eats them five times a week for lunch. If he has a long session at somewhere like Jaws he’ll happily chow down on a stash of the spicy burritos between waves.
However, perhaps the last word on surfing supplements should go to a guy I surfed with yesterday. We’d both just exhausted ourselves on a reeling point that requires one of the longest paddle-outs in Australia. As I exited the water my thoughts turned quickly to sourcing tasty and sustaining food to replace the lost energy, meanwhile, he made it to his car, lit up a durry, and grabbed a beer from the esky in his ute. I’ve never seen anyone look happier…
What’s your favourite surf-related feast?