On Surfing

Ashton Goggans

Illustration by Matt Titone

Ashton Goggans is the editor at large for Surfermagazine. He’s a writer, blogger, author, journalist, columnist, reporter, impossibly stubborn literary young man whose work has appeared in The Surfer’s Journal, Vice, n+1, Bon Apétit, among many other blogs, newspapers, and publications. “Ash”—as he is known by family and friends—has incessantly served as the fire under my ass since we first met back home in our little corner of the world, Sarasota County, Florida. In the past few years, he has bounced back and forth between New York City, the Gulf Coast, San Francisco, San Diego, and finally Los Angeles. He is one of the most gregarious, warm persons I know, sometimes ineffably so. Goggans is working on his first novel and a new podcast to premiere later this year, and he has a mean, mean pig-dog (backside barrel stance).

Can you describe one of the most challenging aspects of surfing to you?

Looking back on the last twenty years of my life, I can trace my happiness or sense of well-being or worth around how healthy or involved my relationship was with surfing. It’s a remarkable thing, honestly, how much pleasure surfing can bring a surfer, and how much emptiness it can leave, too. For me, as I slide (gracefully) into my thirties, evaluating and reevaluating my relationship with surfing has been one of the true existential challenges, and one of the most rewarding.

What is one of the most redemptive or rewarding parts of surfing?

There’s a true comfort in knowing that, tragedies or freak accidents notwithstanding, I’ll have this thing in my life which brings me a great deal of happiness and joy and community and pleasure, not to mention travel and adventure and just a much broader existential horizon.

What has surfing afforded you in your life?

It sounds cliche, and you hear a lot of professional surfers or industry guys (both clubs I’ve never really been a part of) say this, but surfing has given me everything. Through some tangential way, surfing has opened every door and provided some foundation for every good thing in my life. My most valued friendships, my most important professional connections, basically every good woman who ever loved me, even—somehow you can trace everything back to surfing.

And I don’t necessarily think just being a surfer is what people find value in, but that in my deep, obsessive, and gregarious love for surfing and the happiness it brings me, there is potential for that deep, obsessive, gregarious love and happiness elsewhere in my life. Surfing has given me a happiness high water mark, and for that I’m eternally grateful.

How long can you go without surfing?

Well, that’s a complicated question. If there’s no waves, I stay pretty busy, get lots of work done, and I really enjoy those stretches. But if there’s waves, I’ll go nuts if I can’t get in the water, or if I’m missing good windows and my phone is blowing up with text messages. I’ll last a day or two. Actually, that’s not true. I broke my toe and foot the fourth day I was in Hawaii this year, and spent three weeks in a foam bot, hobbling around the North Shore. Basically, not being able to surf when there are waves—those are the times that try men’s souls.

How and when did you fall in love with surfing?

My Pops got my brother and I in the water when we were tiny, so it was always around. But I can more or less remember when I knew I wanted to be a capital-S Surfer. Like, when it got its hooks in me. There was a good hurricane swell on the Gulf, and Pops took my brother and me down to the beach with him. I can remember driving over the bridge and seeing the water, and these waves breaking way out on the outer sandbars that you could see above the sand dunes and the sea grass, and the red flag on the lifeguard tower’s flag pole just pinned. I remember pulling into the parking lot, and there was that electricity that fills a surf spot’s parking lot. Guys waxing their boards, sprinting across the lot, shouting to each other. I remember guys giving Pops that sort of knowing look, that head nod, throwing shakas. These sort of obvious little gestures that marked your membership in the club. And then just sitting on the beach, guys coming up to Pops to chat, talking about waves they’d gotten. It was all so alive and exciting, and just felt like this amazing little secret world that I wanted to be a part of. This would have been in the early-’90s, so surfing was a lot smaller, and certainly on the Gulf Coast it was an even smaller subculture than elsewhere. So it felt like a very cool little world to have access to at a really young age, and I don’t think that feeling has changed.

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On Surfing is generously supported by our friends at McTavish

Michael Adno

Michael is a writer and photographer born in Florida as a first-generation American to Austrian and South African parents. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Bitter Southerner, and The Surfer’s Journal among other magazines.

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