[A]s a young body, you’re not given a choice as to where you want to grow up, the place in which you choose to live or even the people with whom you want to hang out with. Generally, this is done by the lovely people who brought your little body into the world. And without knowing much at all at this time, it starts to shape you for who you are and what you become further down the path of life. Growing up in a small country coastal town with alternative parents has its pros and cons—this is the path I was given for most of my upbringing. I lived on a small farm about 10 minutes from town and about 5 minutes from the beach. I was lucky enough to have a father who was a product of the late 60s early 70s surf era—a long-haired, free-spirited dream liver. He and my mother exposed me to the beach and ocean life at a young age. The first taste of salt water was clean and crisp to my lips. For most people, the ocean’s waters are salty and not really pleasant to taste. For me, it was more. A whole lot more. It was freedom. It was fun and smiles and adventurous times. It was a place teeming with life. And most of all, it was a place to escape. Growing up in this small town had its ups and down for me, right at the time of my life when I was learning quite a lot about myself, in fact. At the time I had no idea how I was being shaped, but what I did know was it was tough, raw, embarrassing, lonely and painful.
I was what some might call the ‘outsider’ or the ‘black sheep’, not fitting into the ‘norm’ as such. I didn’t like the angry jocks who I frequently fought with, so I wasn’t into team sports and being a smaller build didn’t help. I wasn’t a straight, down-the-line A-grade student, either. Art, music and hands-on woodwork classes were more my cup of tea, where I could hide in the corner, doing what I do. Darkrooms were a place where I could hide, look at and enjoy photos while listening to music. Being an introvert didn’t really help that much with anything. Well, sometimes girls, but this would then lead to more bullying by jealous jocks, which then lead to fights. You can imagine—not a desired outcome! So the escape was needed. The ocean had a place and now held more meaning than ever. Wagging school became a secret norm. Sneaking away from a bus stop and into a barrel was an enjoyable hobby. Being a grommet had perks. The older lads knew my old man. He had a reputation, so most were good to me. My old man was someone I looked up to immensely. He had a panel van filled with boards, fishing gear, rust, beer cans, blunt butts, sand, flanno shirts, a bench seat and a blue healer. Helping the groms out is what he did. Many of us were very thankful. For a handful of us (my generation and the one before), he was and now is a legend. His passing was a time of sorrow for many. Seeing strong, grown men sad and shattered was confronting, to say the least.
If I were put away from the ocean for a period of time, I’d be like a flower in a vase. Bright and strong at first, but over time would be weak, dry and shriveled to nothing.
Times changed. We got older. As we got older, we developed and changed from who we were to who we are today. Experiences shaped our personality and characters. Some went forward while some stayed back. Looking back now I wonder how some went so far back. Drugs change people, generally for the worst and more so for addictive personalities. Death also does funny things to people. Men do different things to women. Women are talkers. They group up and chitchat all day about things, debriefing themselves and others in a way that not even they can understand sometimes. This is a good thing for most. Men are totally different. Too many men don’t talk. They’re shaped by life and the struggles and challenges that are thrown in their direction. It changes them. They bottle their emotions up and up and up until one day, BANG! Life changes, generally for the long hall and a lot of the time, not for the good of themselves and others connected to them and the lives they live. Over the years, more so in recent years, I’ve experienced too much death and other life-changing, tough and raw experiences. My internal bucket is full, overflowing like a cup wedged under a rock down on the beach. The waves and water won’t stop and the cup just keeps filling and filling, like a bottomless pit sometimes. But in fact, no one is a bottomless pit. As strong as we humans think we are, we are fragile and vulnerable beings. Standing tall and being a tough man with your guard up doesn’t work forever. You may secretly fool your brain that it does. Reality is, it won’t. You will crash. Hard.
Depression in young people is a real problem. It is a mental sickness that a lot of people struggle to fully understand. The harsh reality is that it’s affecting too many young people. Secretly shaping their lives, many live with the continuing of the ‘bottling’ up. Suicide is one of the biggest killers of people under 40 in Australia. Depression plays a big part. A harsh reminder of what bottling does and can do. Speaking up and getting help is the first and hardest step. Too many people deny what feelings and voices they have. Finding inner peace does not happen easily, but finding an escape and activity to help is a major part of the process. For me, surfing and being creative is my outlet. Getting my personal stoke is what can be the difference from a good or bad day. If I were put away from the ocean for a period of time, I’d be like a flower in a vase. Bright and strong at first, but over time would be weak, dry and shriveled to nothing. Keeping a strong mind and developing yourself is part of life. Taking charge of yourself is your own challenge. Don’t pass the buck and blame another. Stand up and shape your own life how you want and visualise it to be. It took me 30 years of life to get this point. The whole time I’ve used my escape over and over and over again. Many souls have asked why I’m happy being alone in the ocean. Why is it you enjoy riding waves alone? Many answers have been given. These days, the sea is a place of peace. Rolling waves and coastal winds are a reminder of the watermen I’ve known that now rest their weary heads, yet it is still a place of joy and smiles. To many people the ocean and its blessings are many things. It’s the stoke they get that makes it a valuable and respectable asset we are all blessed to be given to enjoy. I say use it as you will, but please respect its beauty.
I’ve written these words to hopefully help you, your friends or even just someone you may know. Help them help themself. Help them get their stoke back. The ocean is and always will be a silent partner willing to help. If it works for you, then do it. If it’s something else then that doesn’t matter. Just try is all I can say. The end result will amaze.