Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Out of the Game

As I sit at my desk working, my mind is always wandering. I’m constantly restless. I know deep down that I don’t belong in an office, it’s almost like a cage to me. But in this life our choices exist within certain boundaries. And as a good friend recently said; ‘It is usually more profitable and successful to follow the path of least resistance’.

Why am I so restless? Well, I guess 5 months of not having total freedom are slowly pushing me to the edge. I’ve lost the skip in my step that was in existence a few weeks ago. I’ve lost some of my compassion for other people and slowly I am losing the desire to be a better person and better myself. All negative things and stuff I must stop. Other people, work and life in general seem designed to bring you to this state. It seems there is a game you have to play in life and those who have power or get off on making others miserable, are the winners.

Of course I could easily blame other people for the loss of spring in my step.

I won’t blame others though. Although it is hard to take the high road, rise above the monotonous of everyday crap and ignore others when they seem to be at their most irritating, annoying and bullying. It is something worth pursuing. As I recently said to Moony who was experiencing some of the same feelings as me, towards others; you need to take a step back and put things in perspective. Out of the billions of people in this world, who cares what a few say, do or think. Their lives must suck if they have to make themselves feel better in such a way.

5 months of staring at walls, relying on others and constantly explaining the same story over and over, slowly grate. But I’ve got to look on the bright side. I’m fit and healthy and I’ll soon have my freedom back. I’m taking myself out of this game. Office politics aren’t for me. Games of one-upmanship the same. While they waste their lives playing them, I’ll be metaphorically sticking 2 fingers up, whilst sat outback on my board, facing the horizon.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

The Magic of True Friendship

I think it is hard to make new, good, close friends as you get older. The ones you have tend to be people you’ve known a while and I guess you tend to spend the majority of your time with your girlfriend, boyfriend, wife or husband.

I don’t make new close friends easily. I think it’s because I’ve been burnt too many times, taken in and let down or just because they are extremely unreliable. I like to think I’m a good judge of character nowadays. And the times you get somebody that everyone raves about, I’ll usually see through the bullshit and spot them for what they are deep down.

Aside from my oldest friends and fellow tripod legs I went to school with, I’ve actually had the good fortune of meeting some great people over the last few years. The Coach, Finn, Boobs and Willow, have all been there when it’s mattered and will be friends for life. But one friend I’ve known for about 12 years and is very important, is Merlin.

Possibly the hardest working, most talented individual I have ever met. He went from being one of the crowd, occasionally confident but often shy, to standing out head and shoulders above everyone else.

A black belt in Karate, a Sensei himself, a world renowned leader on Microsoft products (trust me, you’d see if you Googled him!), a husband, photographer, a resident on THE Wall Street, a survivor and most of all, a great friend.

Over the years Merlin has turned his hand to most things with great success. While we spent our late teens getting drunk, he spent his working his way up the corporate IT ladder to a worldwide recognised status. I took him surfing once, he stood within 5 minutes. He took up Karate when he was 17 and now teaches it himself AND studies with the grand master in Japan. He had a bash at Snowboarding and by all accounts is now a regular showcasing his skills in Vermont. He liked some of my photos, so decided to take up Photography – he now produces images that are magazine cover-worthy! He took up mountain biking and….well you can guess the rest!

The guy is an actual wizard. He makes magic happen, in every sense of the word. You spend time with him and it’s like the spotlight shines on you that little bit more too. Never a dull moment, never a boring story, every experience shared with him enriches your life further.

Now to any outside reader, this may seem a little sycophantic. But I think that when somebody is one of the most driven, hard working and inspiring individuals you’ve met, it should be mandatory to give credit where credit is due. He’s also a central figure in these rambling stories I tell. If he isn’t in them, he’s shaped my opinions and views in some way.

It’s important to note that he isn’t one of those people blessed with good fortune in everything they touch. The kind of person that does exactly what they want in life and possesses no humility, yet still seems to succeed at everything they try. Merlin is the opposite of this. Through a mixture of mental titanium toughness, talent, humility, strength in adversity and a discipline for hard work that seems to have been forged in another time and place, this is one individual who deserves anything and everything good that comes their way.

Of course being jealous of other people is never a good thing. But it is always so much more refreshing, when it is an individual who deserves every bit of success that comes their way. Especially when they have worked so hard for it.

You can usually count the people you can really rely on on one hand. Merlin is on that list for sure.

The word average could never be used in the same sentence as this guy. I accept I may never reach the heights he has, but it gives me great pleasure just being along for the ride.

Summer and Stubbies

5pm on a Friday afternoon and the sun was still shining. Work was finished for the week and the cars were loaded. The usual faces were there; the Captain, the Boss, myself and a few others. Our tents and sleeping bags packed and most importantly, our boards were loaded on the roof. Road trip time.

2 hours later and spirits were still high. We’d hit the M5 in Devon, stopped to refuel with an all-day breakfast at Little Chef and we were back on the road. The M5 gave us ample opportunity to fill our water bombs (condoms!) and launch these from one car to the other. Direct hit from the Boss! Unfortunately, my return fire was a little weak, due to me throwing like a girl!

Once the condoms were used up, ammunition consisted of boiled sweets, pies, custard doughnuts and anything else of a messy and hard to clean nature! Boys will be boys, and this was quickly followed by a mooning competition and then a sketchy race between the Boss and Captain to see who could navigate the M5 in the most pant-wettingly and quickest amount of time.

Tents setup, a couple of beers and we hit the sack, ready for a day of surfing for some of us and a pummelling from the waves for the rest.

10am and we hit the beach, the place is like a zoo as we try and surf amongst ankle biters, bikini clad chicks and even a family and their oversized inflatable boat!

After a quick break for lunch the waves had jacked up. Offshore breeze, clean A-frame peaks and heights of 6 foot plus. The sense of anticipation was great, we were salivating at the prospect of being that close to nature.

There’s less traffic in the water now and the only liabilities seem to be the weekend warriors. You know who I mean…the posers with their shiny new boards, unused wetsuits and Daddy’s 4x4. The kinda people who may have been popular when you were at school, yet 10 years later still think they’re ‘the man’. They list surfing as their main interest after standing for a few seconds on a foamy in Newquay.

Sitting out back, straddling the board, facing the horizon. The sea pitches slightly, a solid green lump rises and heads for me. A perfect line of swell. A quick turn, I lay down on the board, check over my shoulder for the waves position and I paddle, arcing my turn towards the peak of the wave. The swell hits me, I feel the energy and I paddle faster. As soon as I can I hit my feet and angle down the line, letting the energy of the wave take me. I survive the elevator drop and pull in, pumping the board and racing along the clean face of the wave. I bottom turn hard and angle up the face, I go to top turn, but the waves quicker than I am and the curl takes me clean off the board. I recover and with a huge smile and a hoot, I paddle back out to the line up. Job done.

The evening arrived and this meant one thing. Barbeque time. The Captain decided as well as a feast of sausages and burgers, he was going to buy up the shop’s entire stock of alcohol. Alongside the crate of beer (stubbies of course), there was a bottle of vodka, a bottle of whisky and a selection of brightly coloured, garish looking alcopops! The Captain demands that nobody can sleep until the stash is drunk dry.

The evening flew by in a blaze of chat, food and drink. Talk about the waves, the wipe-outs and where we’d like to surf. A fire was built to toast marshmallows and this slowly turns to chaos as the soft, gooey and very sticky marshmallows became ammunition to use against each other.

As the fire slowly dies we drift off to our tents. The food gone and the alcohol severely diminished.

Deep sleep quickly follows, followed even quicker by the Captain waking everyone at 4am to tell us of the latest entry in the Captain’s log. He has not only finished the rest of the stubbies, he’s also taken care of the whisky and vodka too! We throw things at him and fall asleep chuckling.

The next day we cleared up with a spring in our step. Another great surf trip under our belts. This happiness is only slightly tempered by the discovery of one lone stubby the Boss missed the night before. Can he bring himself to drink it? Alas, no. But not to worry, with one quick move, the Boss took the beer and chugged it in one. No thinking, no hesitating. That’s why they call him the Boss.

It is for the reasons above I surf and when the warm fingers of the sun touch me around May each year, my mind permanently wanders to memories such as that above.

I’ll see you out back.

The Bigger Man

Sometimes, everything can get that little bit too much. Everybody annoys you and you just feel stuck in a rut. People just talking in general, grates. Any remark made, even in jest, pisses you off. And you spend your day wishing for another time, another place….anywhere but where you are.

Today is one of those days.

Life is going swimmingly, nothing has particularly happened and progress is being made. So what’s the problem? Well, for starters, everything is moving to slow for my liking. I’m not a fan of patience and hate feeling like I’m living in glue. I know where I want to be, but I’m not getting there fast enough. Maybe 5 months of not being able to walk, having to depend on others for too many things and not having the freedom to do what I want, has finally got to me?

Whatever the reason, the one thing I need to remember is this - there are far more people, in far worse positions than I will ever be. It’s impossible to get on with everyone all the time and the few that do irritate you, make up such a small amount of the population it renders them insignificant.

Through all of this, trying to stay true to your beliefs is the hardest thing in the world. How can you be who you want to be, when others won’t let you? When someone pisses you off, it’s natural to react. If someone puts you down, it’s natural to fire back at them. And when things just don’t feel like they’re going your way, it’s hard not to hate and blame the world.

Hell, I’m too old for these games of one-upmanship, playing the alpha male and conversations consisting entirely of ‘banter’. Sometimes it’s harder, yet entirely more fulfilling, to not fight every battle and just to let things go. Let them wash over you. Take the high road, be the bigger man, whatever you want to call it, it comes down to the same thing. Who really is the better man? The kid who is ‘young, dumb and full of cum’(to rip-off Point Break!) and talks far too much or the wiser, kinder, more fulfilled figure, who tries to stay true to themselves and whose serene exterior belies the life they have lived and the adventures they have experienced?

Nowadays my tastes are simple. Good company, good conversation, a couple of beers and some good memories - forged by summers spent in Croyde with the Boss, the ‘gay’ centerparcs holiday with Sampras, lazy evenings skating and living it up in Manhattan with Merlin and Seth/Ryan time with the Captain.

When it just isn’t going your way, sit back, close your eyes to the world and cherish the good times you’ve experienced. Nobody can take those away from you. Maybe throw on a tune that takes you someplace else, but ultimately, look at what you have and not what you don’t have.


Thursday, 16 April 2009

Back in the Saddle

Over the years, I've often wanted to be better at things than I am. Better than I probably am capable of being. It has frustrated and depressed me in equal measures. It is not so much that I won’t put the effort in if it is something I truly want, it is more that I struggle to see how I will ever get to the place I want to be.

What got me thinking about this was a book I recently read, named ‘Surf Nation’ by Alex Wade. The story of his travels round the British Isles surfing different breaks and meeting locals struck a chord with me. It also brought home how I always feel I am never quite at the level I want to be. The level he was at, to make his trip possible. I don’t want to be a pro or even one of the best at the break, I just want to be solid and hold my own. Maybe I’m being too hard on myself? This coupled with my current lack of mobility and being unable to do anything about it, may be, making me underestimate myself.

But the same goes for my riding too. When things click together, I feel like I am riding well, the lines I’m taking fast and smooth and certain things on a bike come so easily to me. But do I ever get to that level where I want to be? That level where countless other people are and I always seem to be slightly behind? I don’t, no. What holds me back is a fear, a fear of failing and a presumption that what I'm trying won’t work. I fail before I even try.

Maybe the way the media pumps images at us; of individuals performing impossible superhuman feats on bikes or boards, means we defeat ourselves before we have even tried?

My first reaction after shattering my tibia and fibula, was to pack in anything too adventurous and adrenalin filled. Not because I didn’t want to hurt myself, break something else or because I thought the plates in my leg would affect my performance. More because losing 6 months of your life to 1 thing is pretty tough mentally. It’s basically a pain in the ass!

As my recovery has gone on and accelerated recently, my viewpoint has switched. Mainly, this has been due to nightly chats with Finn over how tough certain sports can be mentally, how you need to really love what you are doing to succeed at your level and how mentally you can grow from something like this. Why give up something you love, something that makes the world make sense and something that courses and flows through your entire being, body and soul? I owe this guy a lot for his advice. His dedication to the game of hockey is awe-inspiring.

Additionally, meeting up with the Boss brought back a lot of memories of summers past when we rode and surfed from dawn until dusk. The Boss was the one rider who would push me, on the trail and in the water. He’d take me out of my comfort zone and push the boundaries of what I thought I could achieve.

6 months out isn’t long. I’m incredibly lucky. I’ve got a good job, awesome girlfriend, great friends and a love for riding and surfing that cannot be taken away. I’ve learnt to be patient and more forgiving over the last 6 months and I’m a better more rounded person. Everything happens for a reason.

My friends are going to be driven crazy once I’m back on my bike. I want, no I need, people to push me, force me beyond where is comfortable. We have the talent, so let’s make the most of it? I apologise in advance to any of them who get annoyed with me constantly pushing them to ride Wales and the Alps! But to me….the Captain, Sampras and the Boss, you guys have the ability to create memories that will last forever. Amongst our group we could be legends, so I make no apology for that. I want to look back when I’m 75 and smile, remembering how Sampras blitzed a black run in Wales, how the Boss nailed a jump at Lordswood and how the Captain rode singletrack as sweet and smooth as it has ever been ridden.

Life is for living. I don’t have a death wish or the ability to be totally crazy. But when I finally get myself back out there, I’m going to make the most of it. Some people aren’t so lucky in life. I’m going to sort out my issues in the dirt and the waves.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

The 3 legs of the Tripod

Recently I had a day off from work (not that I needed it, with the events of the last 4-5 months!!) and met up with a couple of friends; the Captain and the Boss.

Now the Captain I see on a regular basis. He lives near to me and works in the same office as I do. As I've mentioned before, he's like a brother and is always there with good advice when needed.

The Boss on the other hand, I had not seen for a year. He went walkabout last March and was nowhere to be found. He was following his own journey, searching for the way and I admired that. When he recently surfaced, I found out he was in the armed forces and is now getting ready to be deployed to Afghanistan. I think he's finally found some peace within himself and it's a great thing to see. This guy will always be like a brother and after speaking for a few minutes we fell back into a smooth groove of conversation with ease.

Meeting up with these 2, we talked about lots of good times from the past. Mischief we had got up to and road trips long forgotten, that had since been replaced by new memories. Every time we remembered something that had us laughing, we would be shocked to realise it happened 5 years ago or more. Where had the time gone?

The Captain and the Boss are 2 polar opposites, yet when you know them as well as I do, you can see how similar they actually are. The 2 of them would often fight like cat and dog and were forever falling out with each other. But I do believe deep down, they genuinely cared and still do, care for one another.

My first ever road/surf trip was undertaken with these two. This was about 9 years ago and would become a template for a period of about 5 years in our early 20's. We had Easter trips that became traditional; the Good Friday and Easter Sunday sessions. Then there was the September Sessions, forever ingrained in memory from the house sized waves coming in and the broken boards that greeted our arrival. Finally our swansong was the summer the Boss lived out of his car in Croyde Bay for 5 months and we regularly criss-crossed the westcountry looking for different breaks.

I clearly remember one Good Friday 5 years ago. The weather was cold, the sky looked miserable and I had agreed to drive us down at 6am. Obviously I thought it was a great idea to go out the night before. The clock struck 6 and on cue the Captain drove round having already collected the Boss. After hanging out my bedroom window to greet them and receiving my dressing down from the Captain for not being anywhere near ready, I was pleased to notice the Boss was also in a semi-comatose hangover condition. Being in no fit state to drive, the Captain had to take my keys and drive us to Devon, picking up Merlin on the way.

I'll always remember those 6 hours spent in the car. Pulling over in deepest Dorset to allow me and the Boss to throw up on what we then dubbed hangover hill, the Boss and Merlin having a waterfight and then a foodfight in the back of the car, my pair of gloves being used to torture, touch, stroke and irritate our designated driver repeatedly from the back of the car, the 4 of us lasting 30 minutes in the water before our eyeballs froze over, my refusal to drive my own car, the pit stops at McDonalds and the race against time to get back for a night out in Winchester.

The 3 of us spent a good few hours laughing and remembering those memories, along with others - the Boss breaking his arm skateboarding (when we were 25!), our first attempts at bbq-ing and using vodka as lighter fuel, our first mountain bike rides, the Boss cooking burgers on his car engine at 8am, discovering an old concrete skate bowl from the 70's, how we funded the September Sessions on 'dubiously' obtained petrol in a jerry can, finding an abandoned boat in a car park, strapping it to the roof of a pickup and selling it on ebay to fund another month of surfing and a random night out in the westcountry with only £20 to our name, which involved befriending a newly released prisoner, hitch hiking and then blagging a taxi ride for miles free of charge, whilst fending off the unfriendly advances of the local Royal Marines!

I got the Captain's wife to take a photo of the 3 of us. Although times have now changed and moved on - we may never experience another road trip together and I may never surf with either of these boys again - that photo will always freeze a single moment in time and remind me of the things we shared and the sights we have seen together.

I will always remember our camping and surf trips, the skateboarding at night in summer, riding through the woods and forest on a dry evening, sitting by the fire swapping war stories, our road trip snack of choice - mini cheddars, sleeping in the back of the Boss's pick up and waking on the cliff to see beautiful clean lines of swell......but most of all, with 2 people like brothers, I'll always remember the 3 legs of the tripod.