Monday, July 19, 2010

The View from my Bicycle [COLUMN]

Surfing and protesting - by Nick van der Leek

I used to think swimming was miles away the toughest sport. By tough I mean a sport filled with misery and suffering, and come race day, your chances of losing are always scary high. So my experience over the past 4 days covering the Billabong Pro in Jeffery's Bay was something of an eye opener. Here there are plenty of variables that aren't under your control, which is what makes surfing both a humbling and a heroic sport.

I suppose you can't really compare the mindrot and the cold and the repetition that swimming is, to surfing. I don't know whether the sheer physical investment is the same, but I suspect it's close.

Those Variables

When the contest is approaching its final stages, you start to really feel those variables. How it works is the first surfer to reach a certain zone in the surf 'gets priority' which means, if a good wave approaches, he can choose to use it and the other surfer must forfeit this wave. You may think this is no big deal, but in a point break scenario such as the one at Supertubes [the world's best right hand break hands down] it means you have to make sure you catch a kicker of wave - a wave that won't drown you out after a few feet, a wave that has the sort of form and shape that will allow you to do your thing, and you have to get yourself into a position to use it when it pitches.

If you don't elect to use your priority, the other surfer you're competing against can use it. So it's not just a question of taking your chances, but also denying your competitor a chance to ride on the best wave.

Here's where it gets tricky. Supertubes over the course of the competition had sick waves, but they were sickest on day 1 and then go more and more well as the competition wore on. During the last day and the final the sets were getting thin, and so you have a scenario where one surfer catches a wave does something with it, and then the other waits with priority. Sometimes that can be an awful long wait during the 30minutes allocated to a session. Wait too long and the pressure gets enormous, and you possibly miss out, or catch something and fall trying to play catch up, go too soon and you lose priority on a wave that is simply not going to give you what you'll need.

This makes it a potentially very unfair sport, where a surfer may have the guts, the skill and the strength, but due to a confluence of circumstances, isn't there to catch a wave either because he's squeezed out due to another surfer's priority or because of catching one and while paddling back, missing a duzi.

It is heartbreaking to see the likes of Kelly Slater, 9x world champ, doing his thing and then, inexplicably, whilst on a typically extreme manoeuvre, losing his balance slightly. Being nervous on the moving platform that is the sea in front of a massive audience, whilst being expected to jump through the air, off water, back onto water, has got to be some of the trickiest competitions that are out there.

Which is why something like this is almost incomprehensible:

Protest March

On Saturday there was also a modest anti-nuke protest march. To be fair, I wasn't 100% sure what the fuss was about; I am of the opinion that we do need to make more use of non-fossil fuel based energies. That said, you do have to question why the hell would anyone choose J-Bay to build a nuclear power plant.

I am not someone who has been very politically active, which is something I suppose I have in common with many other white South Africans. Which is why I found it quite amusing the number of non-white faces at the protest march. Let's face it, whites don't know how to make a noise, or toy-toyi when it matters.

What I also found interesting was that they used the protest to gather various interest groups, so under the banner of No Nukes there was also an attempt to address other, arguably, lesser concerns. And this fosters a sense of community, shared interest, shared action, potentially shared outcomes.

It is also fascinating to see the the manifestation of activism and its impact on political leaders in situ, when, for example, a memorandum is handed over and the leader then ums and ahs and attempts to address/placate the crowd. This one was small and well behaved. One fellow wearing a DA shirt was miffed about something, but another fellow also in a DA shirt restrained him. Also interesting to see the DA's subtle behind the scenes organisation here.

At this particular march the mayor said he took the concerns of the public seriously and it all sounded very positive, but one person critically [and quite rightly] observed that while he seemed to be magnanimous and sensitive, he wasn't really saying anything at all. When? When are meetings going to be held, and of course - with a wry smile - he wasn't prepared to answer this question. It is a valuable exercise to be part of these demonstrations.

Much of J-Bays white suburbia was either sleeping or otherwise oblivious to what was happening. Fair enough, perhaps they did not elect this man as their mayor. When people see the demands their fellows are making on a leader, and they see that the leader doesn't really pander to the interests of those that elected him, these leaders must leave as soon as possible to fast track community service. In the end, money talks, and bullshit walks.

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