ROGER COX Gallery images

FOUR SEASONS: CHEAP THRILLS

Published: The Scotsman (TSMag), 23 October 2010

FOR better or worse, I am a creature of habit. I know what I like, and compared to most of my friends my tastes evolve glacially slowly. Take food. At any given moment, I will only know how to cook four or five different things, but that’s fine: they will be my four or five favourite things. Once in a blue moon, I might try something different and like it enough to add it to my very limited repertoire – at which point one of the existing dishes will slip quietly off the menu. It’s the same with music. I must listen to hundreds of new tracks each year, but only a tiny fraction will ever be granted the honour of regular rotation. The ones that push my buttons, though, the ones that give me goose bumps – I’ll play those over and over until I know them by heart and the neighbours give me looks when we pass on the stair.

When it comes to sport, I’m even more set in my ways. Football was my all-consuming obsession when I was younger, but then surfing and snowboarding took over. I still play eight-a-side, but more for the exercise than out of any great love of the game. I honestly don’t think I have it in me to be passionate about more than two sports at once. Apart from anything else, to extract maximum enjoyment out of these things, you have to devote a lot of time to them. And I mean a lot of time. I’m an average surfer and an average snowboarder, but by Zeus’s beard, it’s taken me years of trying to get this average.

One of the best books I’ve ever read about surfing (and I’ve read a few) is Riding the Magic Carpet by Tom Anderson. Growing up surfing in Wales, Anderson dreamed of surfing the flawless point waves at Jeffrey’s Bay in South Africa after seeing pictures of them in a magazine. He didn’t just want to turn up and surf these mythical righthanders badly, however, he wanted to do them justice. So he built up to it slowly, starting with the mellow beachbreaks of France and Spain, then taking on progressively more challenging surf in Sri Lanka and Indonesia before finally making his way to J-Bay, equipped with all the expertise he could muster.

This story of incremental progression really struck a chord with me when I first read it a couple of years ago. I found something deeply satisfying in the way Anderson set himself a goal, then plugged away for years until he could achieve it. By contrast, a book I was sent recently called 500 Adrenaline Adventures had the opposite effect. Published by US company Frommer’s, it lists “some of the most exciting, adrenaline-pumping adventures” available in the world today. Cattle wrangling, ostrich racing and bog snorkelling all get a mention – and, of course, surfing and snowboarding.

The sheer variety of “adrenaline-pumping adventures” on offer means that nobody reading could possibly have mastered all of them, yet the guidebook format seems to say: “Hey pardner, never tried this before? Never mind, just hop on a plane and have a go!”

In the watersports section, there’s a two-page entry on “Ten Places to Ride the Curl – Surfing Around the World”. Location number one? Oahu, Hawaii and The Pipeline, a wave so deadly that I’d estimate only about one experienced surfer out of every 1,000 has the skill to ride it without being battered to a pulp. It’s like saying: “Ever thought of playing football? Well, why not follow in the footsteps of greats like Pele, Beckenbauer and Cruyff and play in a World Cup final?”

It’s not that I have anything against people trying new things – I don’t even have anything against people trying things they aren’t equipped to deal with. Nothing wrong with being thrown in at the deep end. I suppose I’m just depressed by the casual packaging and selling of activities that, for some, represent an entire way of life. You could say it’s the ultimate extension of our instant gratification culture: “Oooh, surfing on the North Shore of Oahu – that looks like fun. Just put it on my credit card.”

But then… all the money in the world still can’t buy you a heaving 10ft barrel at Pipe. Only a bit of luck and thousands of hours in the water can do that.

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