On Surfing

Ty Williams

Portrait by Matt Titone

A raconteur who leaves you sore from laughter, Ty Williams is an inimitable artist, surfer, and romantic who built an empire with good faith.

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

The most challenging aspect would be time. I apparently am not going to live forever, and the excitement I have for waves and riding them hasn’t slowed down, unfortunately. So that is posing a bit of a challenge, because I have other things in my life. They need some attention as well, apparently. Balance is the challenge — that and not having gills.

As life has progressed, I think the cliché holds true that time moves faster. With that in mind, I have also realized that surfing every day wouldn’t bring me the same happiness as sharing my time with others. When I was younger, I was more selfish and didn’t get that part.

What’s one of the most redemptive or rewarding parts of surfing?

To be comfortable in the ocean is extremely validating. I imagine it must feel like when you get “conversational” with a new language, and you’re carrying on a conversation without too many missteps. The feeling of confidence in the ocean maybe is like that?

Has surfing afforded you anything in life? If so, what?

Hopefully without sounding like a complete lunatic, I think surfing has given me the best parts of my life — besides my parents initially deciding to have me. The people I made friends with, the points of view posed by those people, and the “outside the box” thinking that is the nomadic mind are entirely from surfing. All of my work, all of my travels, all of the highs and lows, including romances, can be traced back to surfing, with the ocean as a catalyst. I think it would be even harder to find anything in my life that doesn’t trace back to the ocean.

How long can you go without surfing?

I get pretty loopy not being able to surf or at least be in the water. Sub- merging myself in some body of water is crucial for my mental health, even if it is just a bathtub sometimes.

Surfing isn’t like other experiences. It’s a madness. You’re gliding along a moving form that is exploding and crumbling all around you, and the goal, at least for me anyway, is to maintain some level of composure and calm during all of that. The feeling during that weightless slide isn’t found elsewhere for me, and that’s what makes it maddening, because once it hooks you, you are — in a way — a servant to it forever.

How and when did you fall in love with surfing?

I was 12, and my family had moved from the Virgin Islands to Maine. I had been skateboarding a while but saw some surfing in magazines and wanted to try it. Learning how to surf alone is really hard.

You start off flopping around in the shallows. Your body isn’t in the right spot, and if, like me, you don’t have someone teaching you, you are watch- ing others “trial and error” style. It’s fucking brutal if you’re cold. It’s not like trying to ride a bike, because in addition to not being able to under- stand how your limbs are going to sabotage you, you also are getting knocked around by water. Despite all of it, though, when I finally got to my feet, I knew instantly that I was going to figure out how to be at the beach every day. I think I was making all the plans in my mind before I got into my mom’s car that day.

What’s one of your pre/post-surf rituals you hold dear?

I don’t have too many rituals pre-surf except maybe listening to some music in the car. I love something mellow before I’m about to go wipeout everywhere. Oh, and another ritual I like is to forget to put on sunblock and or pay the parking meter. I hold those dear.

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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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