On Surfing

Zach Weisberg

Illustration by Matt Titone

A person fascinated by story and its role in our lives, Zach Weisberg took that interest and lent the culture of surfing the only independent outlets for surf journalism to exist when he launched The Inertia in 2010.

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

One of the most challenging aspects of surfing to me is framing so much of my life around it while remaining so remarkably average at it. I suppose that’s actually a function of not prioritizing improving the way you improve at anything else––setting clear goals, specific skills to develop and work on, and putting a plan in place to get there. But, clearly, improving isn’t actually that important to me. 

I fall within a camp where surfing is an outlet for getting re-energized. Not so much the camp where I’m expressing myself on a wave. It’s kind of like being okay at guitar. I enjoy it, but never gotten to the point where the instrument is truly an expression of how I feel. That can be frustrating. I must admit that when I surf well I feel better. When I surprise myself, I feel good. Though, I have learned that attempting to revisit that moment via Surfline Rewind or any other documentation is almost a surefire stoke killer. Just keep the memory. Seek no proof; it won’t be validating. 

And that may be the most challenging aspect of it all. As a sport and culture, there’s a lot of self-judgment that goes on. Whether that’s self-imposed or a true reflection of surfing’s ties to fashion and being so image-conscious, there is quite a bit of self-censorship going on that can sometimes make it joyless if you accept surfing’s tendency to minimize accomplishments and conditions. The cynic vs. the child. Surfing has a weird struggle with those two figures. 

In that sense, there’s a chasing the dragon element to surfing. Every time I paddle out, I’m looking for a pretty specific feeling. More often than not, I don’t get it. That’s the struggle. I, like most every surfer, want offshore, head-high waves to surf with a few of my good friends––at my disposal when it’s convenient for me. It just doesn’t happen, and it’s an absolutely unreasonable aspiration. So wrestling with the gap between what I want and what I get is essentially what surfing becomes in adulthood. I realize that especially in this moment: We’re about three months into a pandemic, global economic collapse, and civil rights awakening that when combined are tugging at the fabric of America. These thoughts are trite, privileged, and meaningless. Relativism is its own thing, but I am lucky to have any challenges associated with surfing. I’m lucky to be in the ocean and to surf, unremarkably, on top of waves. I will never forget that.

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

It can provide quick and easy access to being in the moment; something that seems to get harder as the responsibilities pile up over time. That tends to happen on a wave, but the moments in between, just bobbing in the ocean, breathing salty air, observing seagulls and colors in the sky––all of the natural phenomena. They’re beautiful. When it comes to riding a wave, there’s not much better than exiting a barrel. So many things on earth and in your life and how you respond to the moment have to align for it to happen, and man, when it does, that gets me jazzed up! 

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

It blows my mind to think that my whole life revolves around it. I haven’t considered that I pay my rent from surfing. I’m saving to buy a home through surfing. I’ve been able to explore so many of my creative ambitions because of surfing. I’ve developed so many amazing personal relationships from surfing. It all revolves around an obsession with those little moments like getting barreled, but all of the ventures that have spawned from that fascination with the way riding waves makes me feel––The Inertia, EVOLVE, Inspire Courses––they’re all essentially examinations of the culture and the way other people and businesses that are also equally enchanted seem to channel and communicate their fascination with it all. 

How long can you go without surfing?

Well, we are three months into a pandemic, and for about two months of it, we weren’t allowed to surf in Los Angeles, so I didn’t. I ran, did indoor workouts, tried to keep active, and I definitely missed surfing. But I suppose, if I had to––as I did––I could go without it indefinitely. My life might not be as rich; I would miss it, but I’d develop other infatuations. Sometimes I feel like going surfing is lazy. That it’s almost a force of habit, and I’m being unimaginative with how I spend my free time. There are so many other ways I could potentially explore and learn that could lead to more growth and fulfillment. But when the ocean is just a few minutes away, why bother? 

How and when did you fall in love with surfing?

I fell in love with surfing during summers spent in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. I started out bodyboarding, and my older brother offered to give me a surf lesson. I remember the first time I stood up on a short board and turned down the line at the Frisco Pier, I was like, Woah. Okay. There’s more speed here. I like this! I like this feeling, and I want more of it. I spent every summer living in the Outer Banks and tossing pizza at Lisa’s Pizzeria in Rodanthe. If I wasn’t washing dishes, slicing meat, tossing pizzas, or waiting tables at that restaurant, I was in the ocean––just totally addicted to every aspect of it.

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

Lately, I’ve been pretty pumped on food and/or beverage post-surf. Getting all zippered up with an iced coffee, breakfast burrito, or beer, I know that post-surf, a meal I kinda worked for and conversation with good company and good vibes are typically on the docket. Waves or not, celebrating the post-surf glow is a joyous custom. 

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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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