Growing up in East Hampton, I was lucky enough to be able to learn to surf and to experience the desirable surfer lifestyle, spending 90% of my waking life in the ocean, on the beach, in beach parking lots, or in cars headed there, even when life dictated my presence elsewhere (such as school, work, court, etc.). During that time I met and befriended tons of surfers. And amazingly I've found, nine times out of ten, a person's surfing style consistently reflects his personality, upbringing, and even socioeconomic status. (...)
Take my friend Trent for example. A successful music journalist and long-time New York City resident, Trent is also a great surfer. Originally from the midwest, he moved to New York City after college without the slightest idea that people even surfed on Long Island. After living in Manhattan for almost a decade, Trent took a few
surfing lessons with his girlfriend while they were staying at her parents' summer house in Montauk, and he's been hooked ever since. He's got an extensive (and ever-growing) collection of surfboards from every era of the sport, most of which he doesn't ride, but purchased simply because he's captivated by the spirit of wave-riding, and because his income allows it. Surfing for Trent is the ultimate way to unwind from the stresses of his work life, and to recharge his creativity and focus as a writer. You can see this reflected in his approach to surfing. His style is smooth, balanced, and unambitious -- defined by underplayed and relaxed maneuvers. When he's out in the surf, he leaves the rush of urban life behind, often passing up dozens of good waves in anticipation of the one that will offer him a ride that's just right.
Out in Montauk, where the swells break over rock-reefs, Trent plays it safe. He'll end his ride early if he catches glimpse of a boulder down the line. He steers clear of waves that slam over shallow water, and picks his rides carefully on big days. Although he loves surfing, he loves it because it complements and enriches his city lifestyle so well. He's not taking any risks for a quick thrill.
At 27, John is also an excellent surfer, but in a totally different way than Trent. Although the guy eats, breaths and sleeps surfing, the lifestyle was essentially chosen for him. He comes from a long line of fishermen and grew up on the docks and at the beach, watching his dad and older brother charge the surf. For John, surfing is a ritual that reinforces his alpha-male status in the local community. He surfs aggressively, in dangerous proximity to rocks, on the biggest, scariest waves. He confronts the steepest, most crucial sections of heaving water with conviction and confidence, often performing on a professional level. His style is less subtle and contemplative, and more driving than Trent's, and his abilities have earned him supreme respect at every surf spot from Southampton to Montauk point. Every surfer who lives in the area, even if they've never seen or met him, have heard his name, and associate it with skill and fearlessness.
When a hurricane swell hits out at Montauk point, you'll find both surfers charging it. John will take his place at the main peak, waiting for the biggest, most-challenging waves to rise up off the horizon. Trent will wait for more manageable waves closer to shore with the rest of the crowd. Although the two surfers recognize each other, they will keep their distance. John sees Trent as just another yuppie who's discovered this cool new hobby called surfing -- the former's sacred lifeblood -- to get girls and impress his rich city friends. Trent, on the other hand hugely respects John's abilities, but sees him as a close-minded, small town glory-boy who brings a hostile vibe into the surf line-up -- the place that's become his escape from the hustle-and-bustle of urban life.
As a tourist out exploring the pristine beauty of Montauk state park, you'll no doubt be captivated by surfers zipping white lines across those massive, crystal-green waves. So make note of the various styles and approaches you see, and you'll be amazed at how much can be inferred about their story-lines and personalities.
- Dan Asselin