I was sitting in my favourite leather armchair at Surfphoto's penthouse gentlemen's club the other evening. A hearty portion of grilled duck digesting merrily in my bowels, a fine brandy in one hand and an obscenely fat cigar in the other, when a question occurred to me: Is surfing an extreme sport?
I queried our man 'Jeffries' for his opinion as he topped up my brandy and his layman's reply was: 'Supposed extreme sports like aggressive in-line rollerblading, were not fit to lick the shit off surfing's metaphorical shoes, if you pardon my French, sir. Surfing is the daddy, it has a worldwide culture and lifestyle that is so deeply entwined with nature that other activities pale in comparison and it is only extreme if you want it to be.'
A position not dissimilar to my own. Surfing is special. Difficult to quantify and awkward to package for the TV generation. But is it extreme?
The whole concept of extreme or action sports is becoming a bit of a grey area. Apparently skiing is now an extreme sport? I've always thought of skiing as a noble past time, a mode of transport from the past that is now used for fun. I equate skiing with back-country hiking and climbing. A way of challenging yourself against nature and getting a rush. Like surfing really, but because people are wearing baggy clothes and sliding down stair rails on skis it is suddenly an "extreme" thing.
Stair rails are not overly common on most mountainsides that I have visited.
This is one thing surfing is lacking: we can't do grinds. Skaters, snowboarders, in-liners, BMXers and even wakeboarders spend their days sliding on man-made things. How sliding on a bench or rail is an extreme activity is beyond me. I appreciate it takes skill and I'm not dismissing these talented athletes and their bench sliding abilities but please. If you want to feel the glide just go surfing.
The dictionary on my word processing doohickey describes the word 'extreme' thus: Denoting an activity in which participants actively seek out dangerous or even life threatening experiences.
So it would seem surfing Teahupo'o, Cloudbreak or Pipe is extreme. Doing a jump and grabbing your rollerblade wheel and calling it a mute grab or whatever is just daft, you might as well just jump in the air and grab your shoe, the only difference is a few wheels and a trickier landing. Extreme? Don't think so.
Surfing can be extreme, but 99% of us don't partake in the lifestyle because we are suicidal maniacs intent on topping ourselves. We do it because we enjoy it, it's healthy, it makes us feel good and it brings us closer to the planet.
Some of the pro's are extreme, they are pushing the envelope of what is possible in ever bigger and nastier waves, but I doubt they call themselves 'extreme sportsmen' they are just surfers. We don't need the tag or want it.
Surfing is what it is.