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My six-year-old son very nearly broke my heart recently when he announced apologetically, “I’m just a bit off surfing, Dad.”

I’ve spent countless hours wading through the ocean pushing him into waves in the hope that we would one day be surfing together, taking road trips down the coast, booking boat trips to Indo. He’d shown all the signs of contracting the virus – a reasonable measure of natural ability, good balance, shrieks of delight at a successful ride, endless requests to “do it again.” He even met Gerry Lopez, who signed a poster for him urging him to “Keep surfing,” from “Uncle Gerry.” The ocean and perfect kiddy waves are right on his doorstep, his old man will take him surfing when ever he wants. And yet he’s turned his back on the waves in favour of … skateboarding.

His big sister had to explain it to me. “Skateboarding’s cooler than surfing Dad because there’s less rules,” she explained solemnly.

When we did the big lap of the country last year, I spent just as much time hanging out at the nation’s skate parks watching him roll as I did chasing waves myself. At home, our local skate park is delightfully positioned in between the airport, the desalination plant and the tip. Planes roar by overhead as tattooed teens swig tallies, smoke rollies and swear in between runs on the graffiti-dawbed  concrete contours. With the Gold Coast’s glorious beaches at his disposal, my boy would still rather hang here riding skateboard, scooter or bike and learning new profanities.

A mate of mine recently gave my boy his son’s old skateboard that had seen some solid years of service. All it required was a small piece of plastic called a pivot cap to get it back in action. And so one Saturday morning I dutifully drove my boy to a couple of skate shops in search of said pivot cap. The young bloke at the first store was friendly and helpful and searched high and low but couldn’t find the necessary piece and so sent us further up the Gold Coast Highway to the Darkside skate shop.

There, the tattooed young bloke could not have been nicer. He quickly located the required part, expertly fitted it, gave my young bloke a couple of stickers and charged us a dollar. I reckon my hopes of a surfing son were dashed there and then. He left the shop with his new/secondhand skatey under his arm, grinning like a split watermelon, immediately stuck the stickers on his board and had to try it out there and then in the KFC car park at Mermaid.

And it struck me later, as I reflected on our morning, that the skate shops we’d been to were full of skateboards hanging from every wall, each decorated with brilliant and varied artwork, glass counters displaying an endless array of wheels and trucks. An area was set aside for the repair and servicing of customer’s skateboards. There were only a couple of small racks of skate wear – shoes, caps, t-shirts. The idea of someone working there who wasn’t an active and passionate skater seemed inconceivable.

My boy picked up on the energy and authenticity of the places instinctively and responded with a spontaneous urge to be a part of all this. It’s the way I can remember feeling the first few times I walked into a surf shop as a kid – marveling at the racks of gleaming boards, in a rainbow of colours and styles, the smell of wax and resin, the cool dudes behind the counter. It’s a long time since I, or any one else I’d wager, has felt that way walking into your typical modern surf emporium. I love my guitars and amps and I drool like a lunatic when I walk into a large and well-stocked music store. Yet in most surf shops I feel nothing.

This is not meant to be another dose of industry bashing for a sector that is already on its knees, but maybe a friendly word of advice. The surf industry began an inexorable path towards its own demise when it abandoned the surfboard, I reckon, the one truly essential piece of surfing equipment. Once they became little more than props squeezed into the corners of window displays, to better accommodate more racks of far more profitable clothing, the slide was under way.

Let me say, I take no great pleasure in the current troubles of the surf industry – a lot of good people have lost money, jobs, superannuation, even homes.  I find it challenging enough trying to maintain a business that supports one family. To found businesses that have employed thousands around the world for decades  is a remarkable and admirable achievement. Yet clearly something somewhere has gone terribly awry.

I can recall attending a trade show in San Diego 16 years ago and even then feeling like the skaters had got something right that the surfing fraternity had let slip – a real and meaningful connection to their core activity. Even amid the teeming trade show floor of earnest buyers and sellers, skaters attacked a massive half pipe all day long and roars of  excitement and the occasional whiff of ganja wafted over from the skate section through the far more somber and sterile rows of surf exhibitors, like a faint reminder of an abandoned ideal.

If the big surf corps had picked up and bankrolled  a few of the world’s best shapers, paid them as well as some of their top riders to produce better boards for them, funded the development of a truly green board, made surfboards the centerpieces of their retail spaces,  we may have been able to believe their reverential surf marketing slogans.

 I’m not out to make enemies in the industry. I hope their businesses can recover and survive. But I’m not sure if a cashed up media company bankrolling a new-look pro tour is the antidote that’s needed. I think it’s simple, yet hard-won, authenticity.

 I’d like to walk into a surf shop one day and for me, and my boy, to feel a chill down the spine, a rumble in the belly and a deep, spontaneous urge to want to be a part of all this, rather than wanting to run screaming to the nearest skate shop.



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