Surfing exemplifies simplicity: a human, on a board, riding a wave. There is a presence and purity to it. When you are surfing, everything falls away and the only thing that exists is the moment — the crystalline details of the water, the feeling of your fingertips on the face of the wave, the roar or silence inside of you. It is a moment expanded, both minuscule and infinite.
Then there are all the surfboards, the six wetsuits, the three storage bins full of accessories, and the gear that crowds the entryway to my home so that I sometimes trip when heading out and curse all the stuff I own.
We have a tendency to create complexity in the pursuit of simplicity. Here’s a rundown of the accoutrements surfers must acquire in order reach that state of effortlessness.
There is the surfboard, the vessel one stands on to surf. Different conditions call for different types of boards, and a surfer almost always has at least a few. There are longboards for small waves, small boards for big waves, and myriad designs, outlines, and shapes, each with its own style and specialized purpose. I own 15 surfboards.
There are the fins that, attached to the board, create drive and control. Different conditions call for different types of fins, so a surfer tends to own a few sets. There are the fin screws that secure them to the board, and the fin key, a tiny Allen key with a smooth, teardrop-shaped handle, that is used to turn the screws. These are always mysteriously disappearing, so surfers stockpile them.
A leash is an important item for keeping your board attached to you when you lose it in the surf. The leash is crucial when you are far offshore or in big waves. It is a lifeline to your flotation device and saves you from long swims to the beach. As with the boards and fins, there are varying styles of leashes for all the conditions a surfer might encounter. They break from time to time, so you’d better get an extra. Make that two extras, just in case.
You’ll need a leash tie to attach the leash to the board. Actually, you’ll need 5 to 10 of these, stashed in your car and mixed up with all your gear, so you always have one at the ready. Even then, you will never be able to find one when you need it.
If you live in a climate where the water temperatures are not tolerable on naked skin, you will need a wetsuit. If the temperatures where you surf fluctuate seasonally, you will need a few different wetsuits, most likely three. A summer suit is thin and flexible. A spring suit is for the shoulder seasons, slightly thicker and often with a hood attached to insulate your head. When it gets really cold, a winter suit is needed, one in the 5- or 6-millimeter thickness range, that will keep you warm for hours even when the ground is frozen, icicles hang from your gutters, and you should probably be home in front of your wood stove with a big bowl of soup.
But what about your feet and hands? You’ll need boots. And gloves. One set to match that spring suit and another set just for winter.
Now you’re almost ready. Surfboards are very smooth items, sanded to a fine polish, made for frictionless gliding through water. Wax and a track pad will keep you from sliding off. The track pad is a giant rubbery sticker that attaches to the tail of your board to create traction where it’s needed most. Surf wax is a sticky petroleum product that smells so good you might be tempted to chew on it.
Wax is perhaps the cheapest of the 10,000 things one owns in order to surf. Despite inflation, a bar of wax somehow always costs a dollar. It’s also one of those things no one ever seems to have on hand. The thing is, all the rest of this gear has no value if you fall off your board right before you pull into what would have been the best wave of your life. All the suits and fins and gear are worthless without 20 cents worth of wax to hold it all in place.
It’s time to go to the beach and surf. Wait. Don’t you dare put that board in the back of your truck unprotected. Get yourself a padded board bag to put it in and keep it safe. Might as well get some roof straps, too, in case you need to put that board on the roof of somebody’s car.
Now you can catch a wave, to make it so none of the stuff even matters.