10 – The Swiss
Who knew that the Swiss surf? They do!
Switzerland doesn’t even have a sea… let alone an ocean. Switzerland is completely landlocked. It’s not the kind of place one would expect to produce a fired-up surfing community! The Swiss, as a rule, locate their annual national surfing championship in Spain. The address of the head office of the Swiss Surfing Association is located anywhere that their ruling President happens to be living which, most often, means Biarritz in France or some other important surfing centre! But don’t tell Swiss surfers that Switzerland is not a serious surfing nation.
The Swiss take their surfing very seriously and Swiss national surfing teams enter every amateur surfing world championship event. Swiss passion for all things surf, probably started somewhere in the 1980’s when the new sport of snowboarding invaded the Swiss Alps. Since then, every summer, Swiss boarders, both snow and surf, have packed their possessions and headed for Portugal, Spain, France, Hawaii, Australia or anywhere else that has great waves.
9 – Easter Islanders
Who knew that Easter Islanders surf? They do!
One of the most isolated places on the planet, Easter Island, (the most far flung of all the lands inhabited by Polynesian people), is more famous for its enormous rock carvings that jut out from the wild “Rapa Nui” landscape than for its surfing. The Easter Islanders, being predominantly Polynesians, have probably been surfing for many hundreds of years. Like other Polynesians, the “Rapa Nui” folk relied on their surfing skill to enable transport, fishing and to provide them with supreme recreational pleasure.
Surfing was (and still is) just about as key to “Rapa Nui” culture as the monolithic sculptures. Easter Island surfing is not to be sneezed at. When far away winter storms generate big wave activity, surfing for the Rapa Nui locals becomes serious business and not for woosy surfers from Byron Bay, like me!
8 – The Dutch
Who knew that the Dutch surf? They do!
While addressing a lecture theatre full of sports management students from all around the world, (for my class on sports culture), I once posed the question to the students “what would you do at your favourite local surfing beach to make the beach a better place for the local surfing community.” I expected sociological responses touching on such subjects as gender equality, homophobia, social class, poverty, policing, violence, localism, overcrowding, racism, law and bullying to be offered. Most of the students did not disappoint.
The Dutch student, on the other hand, made the cryptic comment, “I’d get rid of England.” It took me a few moments to realize that he was suggesting that it was England’s fault that Holland has such crap surf because it physically stands in the way of the powerful Atlantic swells that land on the shores of Portugal, France and Spain. He felt that England should be eradicated! This suggested two things to me about Dutch surfers. Firstly, they have a sense of humour. Secondly, their crap surf pisses them off!
7 – Texans
Who knew that Texans surf? They do!
In Texas they ride horses, shoot guns, make whooping noises, shoot Presidents and execute people a lot don’t they. Well, these things are true, but the place is not all bad. There are also plenty of good bits. The people, in the know, say that the State capital, Austin, is one of the coolest places in the world! The people, in the know, also say that the Texas music scene is just about the best in the world. The people, in the know, also say that Texans surf. Well, some Texans surf. The cool ones surf. It’s the not so cool ones who own guns, shoot Presidents, make whooping noises and execute people. Texas has a range of waves along its southern Gulf of Mexico coastline. The very best waves experienced in Texas come from the remnants of hurricanes that pass through the area from time to time.
Texans also like to surf the wake from enormous freighters that chug past their beaches. It’s not for everyone, but some Texan surfers are only too happy to cruise along on a three-foot wave, for mile after mile, powered only by the wake of a monster ship. To those who refuse to see the good side of Texas please keep in mind that Texas not only has a surfing population, but it is also the place where Australia’s most popular basketball player, Pat Mills, lives! It is also the place where Jerry Jeff Walker lives.
6 – Somalis
Who knew that Somalis surf? They do!
Not a lot is known about Somali surfing. Somalia is one of the most dangerous places in the world, so it’s damned difficult to get in and out of the country to report on the local surf scene without something really awful happening to you. Somalia is a land of excruciating poverty, battles between warlords, pirates, kidnappings, guns, grenades, burned out cities and towns, lawlessness, instability and poverty. Oh… I’ve already said poverty? Well, let me say it again because the Somali people are incredibly poor. What is known is that Somalia has beautiful beaches and an abundance of waves on a long coast line. Some of the beaches are known to have pretty good waves and there is even a suspicion that some places might have world class waves.
Many people think that surf superstar Mick Fanning snuck in and out of Somalia to surf at the remote Pirights which just may be one of the best waves in the world. Mick may have surfed Pirights, and it may be as good as they say it is, but he’s not telling so we just don’t know. What we do know is that quite a few locals, from around the Mogadishu area, combine their love for both surfing and yoga and that their passion for their two special pastimes helps them deal with the psychological damage of living in one of the scariest cities in the world.
5 – Italians
Who knew that Italians surf? They do!
My first experience of Italians was at a café on the shores of Lake Como at around eleven on a cool winter’s evening. In front of the café (with their scooters) were dark, handsome young men, smoking cigarettes, preening and promenading in front of tables of impossibly beautiful young women who were sipping coffees and chattering about the beautiful young men nearby. The lake glistened with moonlight and reflected the image of the high, snow-covered mountains that surrounded the expanse of water. Italians do stuff with style. I guess that is why they surf. Not many people know that Italians are surfers? Well, of course they are.
Is the Pope a Catholic? The Italian sense of style demands that if one can find waves, one must surf! Fortunately for them, Italy does have waves. Well, they are rarely great waves (the Mediterranean Sea hardly ever produces the kinds of swells that can be found in the Pacific, Indian, Atlantic or Southern Oceans), but they are waves and they can be surfed. Its highly likely that Italians don’t turn up at the beach wearing thongs, boardies and Quicksilver t-shirts like other surfers do. It’s more likely that they wear leather loafers, Citizens of Humanity jeans, Orlebar Brown towelling polo shirts, Stella McCartney Adidas jackets or Burberry short skirts on surfing trips but surfers they still are!
4 – Greeks
Who knew that Greeks surf? They do!
Greeks surf? Nah. No way. Basketball? Yes. Soccer? Yes. Tennis. Maybe. Sail? Probably. Invent dozens of Olympic sports? For sure. Drink ouzo or retsina? Definitely. Even run marathons! Without a doubt. But, surf? It’s a big no from me! The Greek mainland and the thousands of beautiful islands that make up this most athletically famous of all European nations just doesn’t have the main ingredient that makes surfing possible. Waves. If you are going to say that Greeks surf the next thing you will be telling me is that Turks surf. Well, Turks do surf, but that is another story. How could a fat ancient Greek sports philosopher like me get it so wrong?
Of course, Greeks surf. Greeks love surfing! It is a not well-known fact that the Aegean and Ionian coasts can turn on magical waves from time to time. When the surf is pumping the Greeks kick away their soccer balls, throw away their basketballs, chug their ouzo and sprint like buggery to the nearest beach where they charge like Mark Occhilupo (actually Occy is an Italian… but you get my drift) until the surf fades away.
3 – Gazans and Israelis
Who knew that Gazans and Israelis surf? They do!
The Gaza strip is a teeny bit of territory nestled between Egypt, Israel and the Mediterranean Sea. While it is nominally independent and governed by Hamas, the State of Israel “indirectly” controls almost every aspect of the lives of people who live on the strip. Gaza, much like Somalia, is not one of the world’s most wonderful places to live. Bombed out, worn out and poverty stricken, Gazans live under the constant threat of violence. When anti-Israeli Gazan activists launch attacks across the Israeli border, the Israel armed forces respond with retaliatory incursions into Gaza. Ordinary Gazans then respond with sometimes peaceful and other times not so peaceful protests. The Israeli military then responds with whatever means it takes to quell the protests. Innocent people get hurt. Guilty people get hurt. On both sides.
On goes the cycle of violence. Surfing is reputed to have been introduced to Israel by Californian doctor Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz in the mid-sixties. Forty years later the “Doc” did the same thing for the Gazans when he was granted permission to deliver a quantity of boards across the border to help the tiny Gazan surfing community that had no access to surfboards or any other surfing equipment. Paskowitz also launched an association to encourage cross border surfing friendship called “Surfing for Peace.” Gazan and Israeli surf are nothing to write home about, but the Mediterranean can turn it on from time to time. Israeli surfers are as passionate as hell and they are prone to escape the limitations of Israeli beaches by surfing in all corners of the world.
You see Israeli surfers everywhere from Hawaii to Byron Bay. Gazan surfers are not so lucky. They do not, generally, have access to passports and visas and don’t have much money to fund travel, so are stuck with their crappy Gazan waves and the threat that when they protest, as some Gazan surfers do, they could end up with serious injuries. Gaza may be a crap place to surf but hopefully peace will enable Gazan and Israeli surfers to enjoy what they do have, in peace, in the years to come.
2 – Siberians
Who knew that Siberians surf? They do!
The Kamchatka Peninsula, (Russia’s most easterly shore line), is one of the most isolated yet exotic places in the world to surf. It’s true to say that very few visitors come to Siberia to surf… but the Siberians themselves just love it. Are you surprised? The Siberians are probably some of the toughest people on the planet so, of course they love surfing. Let me paint a picture. Imagine huge snow-covered mountains that belch smoke, steam and lava (Kamchatka is covered with volcanoes). Imagine thousands of kilometres of icy wilderness with a tiny local population but lots of forests and a long coast line. Imagine beaches buried in pristine, newly fallen, snow. Imagine an ocean with a winter temperature that struggles to get above zero. Imagine groups of surfers huddled together at the snowy water’s edge, covered from the tops of their heads to the tips of their toes in thick rubber, encouraging each other to take the plunge.
They know that, when they hit the water, their bodies will throb with agony and their brains will feel like exploding and that the pain will last for fifteen or twenty minutes at least. But the waves are good on some -40 winters mornings so plunge they will! Siberia does not have the best waves in the world. Siberians don’t care. As every surfer knows, all waves are good… even the ordinary ones… and a bit of brisk weather and the risk of hypothermia isn’t going to stop this bunch from charging when the ocean has something to offer.
1 – Hokkaidians
Who knew that Hokkaidians surf? They do!
Everyone knows that the Japanese love to surf. But most of us assume that Japanese surfing goes on in its more tropical, sub-tropical and temperate regions. Well, that’s true. It does. But what most of us don’t know is that surfing is also popular in its sub-arctic regions. Possibly some of Japan’s most gnarly, passionate and committed surfers come from the most Northerly island of Hokkaido. As any skiing or snow-boarding nutter will tell you, the driest, deepest and best powder snow anywhere in the world exists in Hokkaido. Every winter, ferocious Russian polar storms rage from the continental Russian mainland, across the Sea of Okhotsk, and smash into the mountainous island of Hokkaido dumping metre after metre of powder snow. Hokkaidians are therefor blessed with some of the best conditions for winter sport activities anywhere in the world. What winter sport enthusiasts who come to this beautiful wilderness island, in their thousands, every year, to experience its wintery delights, seem to completely miss, is that Hokkaido also has waves! Hokkaido has some of the best waves in Japan. As is the case with Siberian surfing, Hokkaido surfing is not for the woosy week-end warrior. Pulling your two-thousand-dollar log from the roof racks on your Porsche SUV for a friendly paddle among the other merchant banking chaps on a Sunday morning is not going to cut it at Hakodate, Furubira or Rishiri Island. This is particularly so in winter. For one thing, the water can be cold.
Almost freezing. Icebergs bob around in the surf in some places! For another thing, the locals are not always fond of less than committed outsiders. For yet another thing, the beaches have tsunami warning signs. For yet another, another thing, in the wilder surfing locations, in Hokkaido, there are bears. Big bears. Like, even bigger than grizzles! And they do eat people. For yet another, another, another thing, the beaches are not patrolled by life-guards and there are unlikely to be hundreds of other surfers in the water to help you out if you get into trouble. But that is focusing on the negatives. Look at the positives. A huge coast line with lots of different surf set-ups (A-frame beach breaks, reef breaks, river mouths etc). Surf spots where you can ski your heart out all morning and then surf all afternoon… or vice versa. No crowds on either the mountain or in the water. Friendly people (well, usually friendly… if you are respectful). Great food. Great atmosphere. Beautiful scenery. Hot springs bathing. Fair prices. Yup. Hokkaidian surfers have it made. Except for the bears!