by Tim Baker
So, I’ve spent a good chunk of the Summer pushing my kids into waves. And I have to say it is pretty much more fun than going for a surf myself these days. Every wave is a milestone. Every session some new high point is reached. My 8-year-old paddled back out the other day buzzing. “I just dragged my hand on the wave and all this spray came off,” he marveled.
It ‘s an instant time-travel trip back to your own grommet-hood and all those little moments that etched themselves on your consciousness, all those new sensations zinging through your nervous system.
I see a lot of the same crew most days, eager dads bobbing out the back, craning their necks to get a glimpse of their offsprings’ rides. Mature age learners floundering around on longboards. Surf schoolers. Eager micro-groms who’ve already graduated past the dad-pushing-them-into-waves stage.
One mature lady I see most mornings is getting tutored by a bloke I know and I saw her in the car park after witnessing my mate push her into a few sweet rides.
“You had a good session,” I commented.
“I need my pusher,” she replied. “I’m no good without my pusher.”
Which got me thinking – we have become our kids’ pushers, foisting surfing upon them rather than letting them discover it for themselves. Kids are getting into surfing today with almost the polar opposite parental dynamic to the one a lot of us grew up with. That is, their parents are pushing them into surfing, literally and figuratively, when for many of us our parents did their level best to discourage it.
I wonder what this means for surfing. It’s a long time since it’s been any kind of rebellion. I read a skateboarder’s post on Facebook recently where he said, “Skating will never sell out. This cow’s far too wild for those trying to milk it.” I felt a pang of envy. How long since any surfer’s felt like that about their chosen past-time?
I wonder what it’s like for those kids getting pushed the hardest. I see dads growling at their kids like Little League coaches, demanding they leap to their feet, chastising them for every stumble, coaching them on correct technique and heat strategies from the moment they can clamber to their feet. Playing out their own unrealized dreams.
On the one hand, there are a lot of kids surfing at a remarkably high level at an incredibly early age, forming the muscle patterns and neural pathways of wave-riding almost as soon as they can walk. There are going to be some little rippers emerge in the next few years.
But those being groomed for pro careers, coached, and filmed and splashed all over blogs and social media, famous by 12, image-conscious and sponsor-friendly before the onset of puberty. We’ve all seen the pitfalls of child stardom. I fear some spectacular casualties among the extraordinary juvenile talents too, denied precious time to grow up, goof off, find out who they are before their likeness is staring back at them through multiple media channels.
I’ve experienced few joys in life as sweet as watching my kids take their first steps on the wave riding journey, a joy made all the more precious by the knowledge that it will never be more pure than this. My instinct is to shield them, protect them from the early onset of self-consciousness, brand awareness, concerns over what is or isn’t cool, and the anxiety of comparing and competing. The longer I can hold that world at bay, the better off they’ll be I reckon. I’m not about to post any clips or pics here, that’s for sure.
Each to their own, and I’m sure no parents would knowingly sew the seeds of their kids’ future suffering. But I suspect we need to proceed with caution here. Ten years of having your surfing promoted to the public by the time you’re 15 could do weird things to your head, and send you screaming off in the opposite direction if dreams of pro careers and riches aren’t realised. That path is well-worn enough for us to understand the dangers. I can’t help feeling like some surfing dads are looking at their talented offspring as a kind of surfing superannuation, foreseeing a future overseeing their grand sweep to glory. Good luck with that.
What I remember most about learning to surf was the intense feelings of freedom, just me and the ocean in our private reverie, endless new discoveries and no expectations about what it all might amount to or any potential rewards other than the next wave, or the next day’s waves or a new manoeuvre mastered.
For more of Tim’s work, check his website at http://bytimbaker.tumblr.com/
Photo by Mike Baird from flickr.com