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Volpe's Surf Travels

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A Brief History of My Brief Surf Travels

Cape Hatteras LighthouseI am thirty-seven years old. I have been surfing for twenty-four years. I like to think of myself as an above-average surfer. By New England standards I'm probably even better than that. I'm probably one of the better surfers from my area and I mean that in the most specific way possible, which is to say I've obtained whatever level of surfing I do possess having barely left Massachusetts. In twenty-four years of surfing, I have only gone on two legit surf trips. On both occasions, I pretty much got skunked. My being in Mexico and Nicaragua for five weeks a piece, two years apart, in no way bettered my surfing. Five years ago, I moved to Santa Barbara for fourteen months. I wouldn't say it bettered my surfing, but certainly ironed out a few kinks. In regards to surfing ability, I am what I am based on twenty-four years of riding waves in Marshfield and Little Compton (south swells). This fact depresses me as much as it makes me proud.

Here's a brief timeline of my shabby surf travels and whereabouts.

1986 Started surfing year round.

1990 Six-day trip to Cape Hatteras. Three days of head high waves. Two days of waist to chest.

1996 One day of surfing overhead Biarritz on rental board while traveling Europe for three months.

1999 Seven-day surf trip to Hatteras. One day of waist high waves. Skunked the other six.

2003 Five weeks in Nicaragua. Surfed three to four days a week. Marginal quality. Never bigger than shoulder high.

2004 Mexico for five weeks. Mostly visited friends. Surfed three times. Head high close-out beach break.

2005 Seven-day trip to Hatteras. One day of waist high waves. One day of chest high slop.

2005-2006 Lived in Santa Barbara for fourteen months.

Why the meager history? There are a few reasons. First of all, my timing has always been lousy. I was younger than my friends by a year or two, which meant they were finished with college and venturing to Indo and South Africa while I was still on campus studying literary modernism. After that it was graduate school while they were surfing just about every quality spot in Central America. By the time I was finished with school and ready to travel, my friends were getting married and having kids. My wife (then girlfriend) is probably the most lenient surf widow you’ll ever meet. She’s also a hardy traveler, but I couldn’t expect her to sit around for a few weeks watching me surf three times a day. There had to be some give and take. Our compromise was to find surf destinations with personal and/or cultural offerings. This worked out for my wife and only half for me, which come to find out is not such a bad thing.

When my wife and I traveled to Nicaragua and then a year later to Mexico, we did so during their flatter season. I knew this upon going to both locations, but my graduate school and her career restrictions limited the availability of our schedules. At the time of my Nicaragua trip, I was studying Latin American literature. I had met some of the country's best writers at a conference and my trip was as much about studying Ernesto Cardinal and Sergio Ramirez as it was surfing. Despite the mediocre surfing results of our trip, I do not regret going there when I did. It remains to this day, one of my favorite places on earth.

Mexico was a similar story with a more personal addition. A close friend of ours had moved there, met a guy, and was now raising a family. They lived in the Michoacan city of Morelia. The nearest beach was hours away. My wife and I would make weekend excursions to various stretches of coastline and the result was always the same, either dead flat or long closed-out beach break. This trip left me frustrated in terms of surfing but it's not every lifetime you get a chance to immerse yourself in a culture by living with someone for a month, eating chicken feet soup at their dining room table and modifying yourself to the pace and tempo of their lives. We also had the honor of meeting the grandfather of our best friend's children. A wonderful man who was kidnapped two years after we left. Although his grandchildren may never know him, my wife and I can at least play some tiny part in providing Derek and Lucy with some understanding of who their grandfather was. At the very least we will be able to verify all the great things they will surely hear about him.

My Hatteras trips, aside from the first one, were wildly disappointing albeit fun as hell. Both involved a van full of best friends, weed, booze, porn mags, farts—the cheapest and easiest of laughs. The surf royally sucked so we got drunk, fished, got more drunk, rode go-carts, crashed into each other in said go-carts, got banned from go-cart place, drank more, found another go-cart place, got kicked out of there, drank more, smoked more, went out for dinner at a bar with man-woman ratio of 12-1, went home drunk and horny only to beat the shit out of each other, breaking furniture and hence losing our security deposit. In essence, the vacation of every man's life.

So why tell you all of this? What's my point? Well, for one, perhaps surf travel is overrated, or at least the wave quality of your surf travels. Maybe scoring perfect waves isn't the end-all of surfing overseas. I've done some extensive traveling but only a tiny bit in search of waves. I know who I am as a surfer. It's who I am as a human being that I like to scratch and claw at when land-locking myself in a strange and foreign place. It's easy to cling to surfing as an identity, but true self-examination only comes when we step out of our element. Riding perfect reef waves at some tropical surf camp will tell me very little about myself. By way of pleasure, it will fulfill obvious aspects of my ego, but the very point of traveling in my opinion is to lose your ego and all the preoccupations by which you define yourself. Doing so can be existentially jarring. It's why many Americans prefer Epcot's simulated version of the world to actual countries. Most seek an ethnocentric self-affirmation when experiencing new places. It should be the opposite. Denying the self. Tear the self down. Strip it bare until you’re shivering with angst and uncertainty. That is the true road to self-actualization.

As a surfer, you'll never know who you truly are basing the majority if not all of your travels and experiences on catching sick waves. You'll most likely become a gluttonous pig, and a well-tanned muscular pig at that. If you're a New England surfer you'll probably wind up being one of the best surfers in a given line-up. The biggest New England standouts either grew up surfing somewhere else or were born here but moved away for considerable lengths of time only to return their prodigal talents to our mediocrity. Either way, they've dedicated themselves to surfing and hence limited their mind and body experiences to wave-riding and wave-riding alone. Look around. The best guys in the water are often times the most self-centered. They've got the biggest egos. They're the biggest wave hogs. So what's my excuse? I don't have one. I'm just an asshole. But at least I have come to know and accept that about myself. The world would certainly be a more peaceful and accepting place if more men could come to terms with their character flaws. Ditto for the surf line-ups.


0 #10 Davy Boy Simpson 2012-02-19 12:49
I need spell check. or I need to go back to school and get a better degree then a AA. LOL to myself.
0 #9 Davy Boy Simpson 2012-02-18 14:19
I am sorry for my post so late, but I read this article late and I agree with Eric. Their is so many levels to surfing, just like any sport. II surfed with Eric many times. I seen him do nice airs over me everytime I paddle out beatle. He's competive with himself and pushes himself. If you surfed with Eric I can tell you not many people were doing airs in the 80's. Plus most east coast surfers have no riding stile, they just chop the wave to death. Eric has style and tallent. He has never been a dick, unless he's drinking. I was know for fighting and being a bigger dick then any one. Running people over with my board, chocking people etc... Yes I had issues, but thats life. I am nice guy then and still am, just dont look at me, o.k. I surfed Hawaii and coasta rica, ect... Up and down east cost. The thing about all us east coast surfer is enjoy what you have. Eric right,going somewere is over rated, Going somewere were you think its great, its not always good. I took two trips some times to the same place in the same month to get waves, sometime its way moore than I can chew, Too big. Being older know and still surfing, I pass on what Eric did for me, now I do for young surfers. I still dream of going to my home break and surfing Beattles and with Eric Again!!!. I watch Eric and all the rest of the gang from my house on the beach and when I finally got my oppertunity to surf and paddle out with Eric. He is the only one how gave me respect before any one else. I could tell no one wanted me out their. Eyes never lie. Eric first told people to give this kid a try. He teached me the rules. I was 8 years old. He gave me waves. I was 17 when I last seen him. I two, think I was better then most surfers from the east cost. Eric is a great guy. Thanks for all the great memories and small trips I took with you Eric. P.S. Yes I am still a spazzz!!!
0 #8 nautilus 2011-05-24 02:04
BrantRockSurfer - You said it yourself. The content of Volpe's article had nothing to do with your response:

"Because I'm commenting more on the author than the topic"
"I'm reacting to... the tone of the article not the content"

As for comprehending my Mama - if you've managed to do that then you're doing better than me.

0 #7 BrantRockSurfer 2011-05-23 23:44
Ok Nautilus. How do I have a reading comprehension problem? Because I'm commenting more on the author than the topic of this piece of crap? While my Masters degree may not be in literary modernism, I do have one. Do you smartass? What I'm reacting to is the tone of the article not the content. The smug 'I'm better than you' tone that comes through in all of Volpe's writing. Can you comprehend that?;-)
0 #6 nautilus 2011-05-23 05:08
Seems to me that BrantRockSurfer has a reading comprehension problem. ;-)
-1 #5 BrantRockSurfer 2011-05-23 03:22
Volpe in no way represents the surfers of Marshfield. His surfing ability is nowhere near as high as he seems to think it is. There are many surfers out at the Jetty on a big day that are much better than him. Neither are they as egotistical and self-centered as Eric. I find it comical how he writes this bullshit to justify how much of an asshole he has always been at the breaks of Marshfield. I have been surfing the same breaks since about 1993 and he has not changed a bit. It's funny that he says you need to be a huge douche-bag to be a good New England surfer when the two best surfers I've ever known from Marshfield are the nicest guys you ever want to meet. Mike Walsh and Bob Pollard (RIP). Eric has been overheard at Beetle's Rock telling people they should leave because it's kind of a local spot. You'd think we were on the North shore of Hawaii. The one thing I will give Eric credit for is at least he realizes he's an asshole. He just doesn't realize how much of a kook he is.
0 #4 dgc 2011-05-20 09:43
seems like the writer was just relating his personal experiences, not trying to pigeon hole surfers. i have to agree that by putting oneself in strange, foreign circumstances or surroundings is a great way to find out who you are as a person. not once did I picture Spicoli while reading this. nice job.
0 #3 Lester 2011-05-20 01:25
Brutal I think Volpe is saying something for more complicated than what your trying to say. I think some of his comments were meant to be read tongue and cheek. Taking words too literally is not smart.
0 #2 brutal 2011-05-18 21:21
It seems that you're saying that surfers who travel for the sole purpose of finding and riding great waves are just a bunch of fucking idiots. No?
The tone of smug superiority you exhibit in your article comes from, unfortunately, a few very limited surf-travel trips. Maybe you should travel a bit more, meet some surfers with a experiences that go beyond a drunken trip to the OBX before you paint all of us with the broad brush of your own ignorance.
Some of us actually appreciate the cultures and people we encounter on our trips to the "perfect wave." We are not, as you suggest, idiots. We do not destroy furniture or make a spectacle of ourselves when we travel.
As a matter of fact, I would suggest, after reading the description of your glaringly stupid Hatters trip, that you and your friends are a bunch of fucking idiots! I'm sure the people of Cape Hatteras were glad to see you go home.
Thanks for adding to the lousy reputation surfers have earned over the years!
0 #1 Mattysez 2011-05-17 12:20
Great words, my biggest stereotype of surfers in general in New England and elsewhere. I have worked in the ski industry, mountain bike, skydiving and more and the biggest egos i have ever met have been those in surfing... but i have met some of the funnest and most likeable goof balls as well... Travel is all about expanding your circle of life, seeing how far you can push your boundaries a little bit at a time. Thanks for reminding me of these goals...

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