Dispatches from Oregon

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If you’ve noticed the peculiar absence of my name in the bylines this week, it’s because – once again – I’m on vacation in Oregon, celebrating a few peaceful days of freedom before I head back home and get to the grind. It has been interesting to move along the beach – surrounded by 60-degree air – and watch surfers in wetsuits braving the cold waters of the Pacific Ocean for the temporary thrill of the big wave. With ample time on my hands too look out to sea, I thought about how interesting the issues are facing the treating of any sea-sport as a scored competitive venture. Waves, being as random and unpredictable as they are, would seem to preclude any objective base for scoring individual performances.

Take, for example, bowling. If multiple people are bowling against each other on the same lane, with the same pin setup each time they are reset, there aren’t any outside variables that would affect one bowler differently than the other bowlers. There is a level playing field for all of the bowlers. On the sea, however, one surfer could be lucky enough to get a perfect wave – to be in just the right place at the right time – when another would have to settle for something mediocre, which would, in turn, affect what they would be able to do with the wave they choose, and, accordingly, their score. And perhaps I’m exposing my ignorance about how surfing competitions are scored.

After all, I’ve never even attempted to surf, because I’ve never spent enough time at beaches with the proper sort of waves. (At least, that’s my excuse.) Maybe the variable nature of the possibility of success is why surfers have developed the camaraderie and clichés, which have become known as “surf culture:” taking the days as they come in terms of the opportunities they present. From the outside, the observer might watch a group of surfers on a bad day and underestimate their skills and abilities simply because the waves at their disposal aren’t up to snuff. But what we don’t understand, the surfer would know: that, no matter how good you are, if the sea is calm or the conditions aren’t right, there’s nothing you can do to overcome it. Unfortunately, that’s often the way the world works as a whole. The situations of many were determined simply by their place and time. Perhaps it’s easier to deal with the caprice of the universe on a surfboard.

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