It’s amazing how time passes and changes. Am I really going to turn 56 in 12 days? Looking back I can now see a little more clearly at the events that shaped my life, the influences along the way, the so called role models and ones I looked up to. There were different segments, some etched in time, some geographical, but each one stands out as a benchmark, an energy burst of formation.
Growing up at Point Dume was a perfect scenario, friends and family around, a trail directly to a perfectly lined up wave. Gentle swells, mild weather, and not a care in the world. My brother and father groomed me in the line-up, my friends drafting in the wake of my progression, and sometimes the other way around. Guys like Kirby Kotler, Billy Barker, of similar age, but seemingly older and more mature in many regards including wave riding. I looked up to them, watched and studied, as they must have been doing with the older generations, such names as Jojo Perrin, the Ballard brothers, Bigelows, Daniels, and Newmans. Who knows who these guys were emulating, but I am sure now that they were surfing other breaks in addition to “The Point”—checking and refining their craft and style in the Southern California of the early 70s. My age held me to the select rides at the Point, and in doing so, kept my influences to a minimum.
Next stop the Central California Coast: Cambria and Cayucos, cold, rugged line-ups, hard to reach for a young teenager. All my peers washed away so to speak, all my input on hold as I had to adapt to a new environment and way of life. It was no longer the surf/skate culture below Point Conception, rather a lonely type of introverted silence. It was my skateboard, my dogs and a few new friends who knew nothing of the ocean or surfing. A 3-year void of the very thing that I had grown up with, what every cell of my being knew warmly.
That is until my sophomore year in high school, when I met the Parmenter brothers. Now I had two regular footers to spur me along, motivate me to be better, stronger, more creative and faster. I discovered surf magazines, and soon my new heroes were the new world champions—the Aussies and South Africans that were turning heads and changing the way waves were ridden, the young afro-wearing Hawaiians who were radical, different and flowing all in one. This was my new definition of culture, surf and lifestyle—the way I wanted to grow up and be. And sure enough when you focus on something so fiercely, you become it.
All along the way my parents also played a part in my way of living. I loved reading, and writing, music and plays and films. It may not have shown much, but their influence was key in my growth—at least potentially—and still is, I hope. Other factors were music of the times, from Tull and Zeppelin, to Honk and Pablo Cruise. Any song or tune that would bring forth a desire to surf a wave harder, rip more turns, or lift my spirit to become better than I was. The soundtracks to surf films, the surf stars themselves, names like Tom Carroll, Occy and Curren, Wayne Lynch and Jim Banks—many names, many masters so to speak, and generations from which to draw.
As I moved to Southern California and chased a professional career in the surf and surfing industry, my mentors became the likes of wetsuit company owners like Wayne Brown, surfboard shapers like Rusty, and clothing marketing experts like the Tomsons and Instinct’s Lista Sagnelli. The lists go on, just like time, and now I find myself having to look up to even more elders, as I become one. I need inspiration from them to age gracefully and become the model that others will need in their times of youth. Of course, I still get excited to see the modern day acrobatics of the top athletes in any sport, but especially the one I have followed since birth. May the ride continue, may we all find the path we seek and most desire.
Is it enough to recycle boards, eat vegan, buy used clothing, make things last beyond their years, recycle, reduce, and everything else that one does to be green? Maybe not. Here’s to dreaming big, imagining a world that exists without pollution, without corporate greed, without obsessive consumerism and over population. Utopian? Whatever.
As Hawaiian Larry Bertleman said about surfing, “Anything is possible.” So why not a world that flows naturally with alternative energies, abundant foods, clean air and water for all, and open, wild spaces. We read about these places. We see them in photos. We even visit them once in awhile: Byron Bay, Australia, Mendocino, California, islands in the Caribbean and the South Pacific and South and Central America.
Every continent has these amazing things happening, with people doing the right thing, living outside of the box, living the dream, creating their own world. Why? Because they are dreaming it, believing it, and then making it happen.
However, we need to ask if this is really possible for all humans and other beings on the planet? Is sustainability in the true sense of the word really possible? The mind boggles to think about it when in a giant city, driving on an overcrowded road or at a mega store. Have we gone beyond our tipping point?
On a recent trip to Chile I was trying to wrap my head around this one. Buildings upon buildings for miles upon miles in Santiago, and not a one that I could tell had a community garden, state-of-the-art waste disposal, water heating or the likes of anything modern in the sense of bridging the gap between looks and environmental function. I’m no architect, no eco-designer, just a super critic of how space is used, how efficient things are, and how much better things can be designed. God knows how I ended up running a two-bit kayak company, because I sure have a big opinion.
I think right now I’m urging all of you to think the same way, start with yourself, and critique your life, your way of operating, your consumerism, your usage, so to speak. Now close your eyes and dream the world that you want and desire as individuals, as communities, as a global entity: What it looks like, what it functions like, what can you leave behind, change or add? Perhaps if we all dream together we can ride a wave into the future that has space and resources for everyone to thrive under, get the waves they want, feel safe in their homes and have healthy full lives. I was once taught that less is more, and it rings so true in every sense of my life, although I have not embraced it completely and often enough. I guess that’s being human?
For over 40 years Craig Comen has been playing in the worlds oceans. He competed for 11 years from 1979 to 1990 as a professional surfer, winning a number of championships and gaining notoriety. Later he became a coach of World Champion surfers and a judge of both amateurs and professionals alike. He has a BS in Marine Science, having graduated from the intensive 2 year program at College of the Redwoods in Fort Bragg.