Cultural considerations to Indonesia surfing as international sport: Cold Water

In 1980, shortly after graduating from college, already an adult, I stood on the shore at Ventura, California, trying to wrap my head around the idea that this berm of fine silty gray-brown sand was actually a beach. I couldn’t dispute the fact that it was a beach, for there was the ocean, waves breaking and swishing as waves do. But up to that moment, my entire experience of beach was tropical Indonesia, beaches of either hot sparkling black sand (or volcanic boulders), or hot coral sand from wave-pulverized reefs.

Not this long pile of what was basically fine-grit dirt.

And cold dirt at that. Even though the sun shone, and the top of the sand felt warm, underneath I could feel cold.

That should have cued me for my second, bewildering revelation. Surfers were frolicking in your basic beach-break slop, wearing surf trunks and hooting and hollering. Well, okay, the beach was weird, but the waves looked like waves.

I plunged into the water…and plunged right back out again. The ocean was blue and sparkling, the waves were foamy white, all looked as it should looked…but holy crap, it was like I’d thrown myself through a refrigerator door and into the freezer.

This was the ocean…how could the ocean be cold? Oceans were warm…it was the high mountains and their lakes that got cold.

My surfing buddy rolled his eyes, saying something like “this is summer, dude, wait until winter. Taking pity on me, he loaned me a short john wetsuit.

Cue third revelation: I’d never worn a wetsuit before in my life. I struggled into the short john. “How can you surf in this thing?” I complained. “I can hardly walk.”

My friend, who was waxing up his board, looked blankly at me and burst out laughing, roaring until he cried.

I’d put it on backwards, the zipper up the front of my chest.

And to this day, I’ve never liked cold water or wet suits. But I’d rather wear a wet suit than be cold.

So I was thinking about this in regards to cultural considerations to Indonesian surfers at international contests and the pro tours.

Now, I find it odd to be considering pro surfing at all. I read the magazines that come my way, I browse through the on-line sites, and that’s really about it. If anything, you could say that the only real effect pro surfing has had on my (and average surfer’s) surfing life is how crowded the waves have become, because pro surfing and media exposure and surf corporations’ relentless marketing are all intertwined like kissing cousins in a hill-billy valley. (Well, here in Bali, surfing has provided a livelihood for friends and their families. And I’m proud, in my own hermit cave-dwelling way, when a local surfer stands out in the international surf scene.) On the other hand, though, I reckon there’s no point in getting overly puritanical about surfing being a “soul sport” because a) it never really was and b) anything that humankind can compete in against each other is bound to turn into a pro league. The other month I saw on Eurosport TV the international foosball (table soccer) championships. Foosball! Why, I half-expecting to turn the channel and find a navel gazing contest.*

But I digress. Back to the point, if I, a white bulé with genes for winter, find cold water and wetsuits to have been a difficult adaptation to make, then I reckon it’s even more so for the Indonesian surfer (as my son and friends can attest to).

Cold water might seem a minor point, but if you grew up surfing in the tropics, you don’t know what a shock 60 degree water is to the system at first, physiological and mental. I don’t know how long it would take to get “used to it” but obviously you can (and there are plenty of Indonesian surfers who travel and surf in cold water, but anecdotal evidence suggests they can’t wait to get back home–and why not, home breaks, world class surf, warm balmy seas). Most of the international pros grew up surfing cold water, or have long competed in cold water, so they’re definitely used to it. From my strictly arm chair perspective, with a balmy breeze that passes for Bali’s August cool season blowing through the window, If I were a surf coach for Indonesia surfers going international, I would have an acclimatization program way before any cold-water contests appear on the horizon–perhaps this would include a tweaking of diet to provide energy for generation of body heat. It’s one thing to grovel in slop beach-break conditions to try to eke out a win, it’s another when one is feeling extra miserable because of the cold, lethargic due to lack of energy, and a layer of damn rubber on the skin (no matter how warm and flexible wetsuits are, it’s still like playing football with army boots).

One could start here in Bali by having early morning swims in Lake Bedugul.

Already a long post. More next week.

* (The International Navel Gazing Championships, Yoga Joe head to head and navel to navel with Guru Pundit.

Announcer 1: Look how focused and determined Yoga Joe is. He could well be the winner.

Announcer 2: Yes, Guru Pundit, a fine opponent, looks rather uneasy…wait, wait, what is this…Guru is lifting his gaze…he is lifting his gaze…oh my, he is is gazing at Joe’s navel. He is gazing at Joe’s navel,ladies and gentlemen, he is not gazing at his own navel but at Joe’s. Oh my, oh my. Surely this is against the rules?
Somebody tell me this is against the rules..surely he is disqualified?

Announcer 1: This isn’t against the rules, but this does indeed violate all standards of good sportsmanship…gazing at your opponent’s navel! My god, this is a travesty, this is like Tyson biting Holyfield’s ear, or Trevor Chappell’s infamous underarm bowl.)

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