Life-long surfer explains the three reasons for the coming of the vulnerable adult learner surfer… 

With the number of middle-aged men swapping lycra stockings and four-thousand dollar bikes for rubber and fifteen-hundred dollar resin-tint logs reaching plague-like proportions, there must be some scientific reasons to explain the rise of the VAL.

I have three.

No Fear of Rejection

When I was a grom growing up in Sydney’s south, I’d get off the train at Cronulla station and dread the walk along the beachfront past the patch of grass out front of Joe’s Milk Bar where all The Alley Boys would hang.

I’d pray they weren’t there as I passed with all the other train kids, but if they were I’d try to hide myself behind my board, scurry as fast as I could up to The Wall without drawing attention, and pray they didn’t throw shit at me, laugh at me, or tell me to beat it and go home.

Alternatively, I’d get off one station earlier at Woolooware and walk the back streets up to Wanda to surf alone, hoping I didn’t go past any local’s house or get seen by a local driving their car down the beach.

I’d do whatever I could to go unseen.

As teenage tenderlings we pretend not to care too much about the world around us and throw out sardonic, pimpled scoffs at those who passionately do. But, underneath the false facade we all crave acceptance and inclusion. And nothing rips the guts out of a timid teenager’s self-esteem more than humiliation and heckles from his peers, especially the ones he looks up to most.

We might look at that now through the mocking, unsympathetic eyes of salty, old sea-dogs, but acceptance and approval for a kid of thirteen is everything.

As the NY Times best-selling author Harvey Mackay says,

“Most fears of rejection rest on the desire for approval from other people.”

All I craved was inclusion in that gang of surfers on the little patch of grass at The Alley. To that end, I didn’t paddle out The Alley for years.

Not until I was comfortable with my surfing and I knew all the rules. Even then it took a good few years after that, surfing the same place day in day out, to cop a murmured hello or a muted nod from the locals that mattered, and a good few years beyond that to get a breadcrumb of acceptance.

But once you did finally get that acceptance, it was well fucking earned.

And well fucking cherished.

You felt like you belonged.

The modern-day VAL?

The VAL doesn’t give a shit about any of that. He doesn’t give a shit about acceptance or approval from a bunch of insufferable surfers. The “A” in VAL stands for adult, which means they’ve (mostly) already got the wife, kids, house, car, and portfolio. They’ve also got their well-established group of wanker banker white-collar worker mates.

VALs don’t have any need or desire to be part of the local lineup or to get the nod from the boys when they pull in to the carpark and slide into the best spots overlooking the point.

They’ve got no contextual awareness of local history or the cultural conventions of a given spot.

They couldn’t care less about hierarchy, or respect or drinking with the boys up the pub on a Sunday arvo.

They don’t give two shits about being excluded from the idle chit-chat out the back or not getting the invite to the post-boardriders contest sausage sizzle with Deano, Fanga and the lads. Even if you did invite them they’d chuckle to themselves and think the ten-buck buy-in for bread and bangers would barely cover their first craft beer up the bistro.

They’ve got the surfing bug coz it’s cool and the next door neighbour’s doing it. They’ve got their new board. And by fuck they’re going out there for some waves and fun in the glorious sun before they have to take Bella to ballet and Ozzie to Aussie Rules.

Fear of exclusion?

“Who the fuck needs inclusion from you blokes?” That’s what the VAL thinks. We think they’re ignorant to the ways of surfing and pests in the water who need to learn the rules.

They think we’re ignoramus dinosaurs living in a kiddy bubble they don’t need no part of.

No Fear of Violence

The modern era means the VAL doesn’t have to worry too much about physical confrontation or intimidation.

In the water or out.

For better or worse, nothing got the message through when I was a kid like an unexpected backhander across the chops.

I didn’t surf The Alley til my mid-teens coz: 1) I was shit and embarrassed to be seen and 2) I’d heard too many stories of guys getting knuckle sandwiches for being dickheads for all of ‘em to be tall tales devoid of truth.

Even up-and-coming local grommets got their fair share of roughing up from the older guys and no-one ever said a word. Toughening ‘em up and showing ‘em the laws of the land.

That fear factor helped me learn real fast what I should and shouldn’t do out in the surf. Drop-ins, snaking, paddling for the shoulder, swinging for the same wave as a local, bailing without your board…I watched as beginners or blow-ins copped verbal barrages and physical reprisals for such antics.

Nothing like a fist to the face to put in place some cashed-up middle-aged fuckwit being a nuisance. They soon got the message loud and clear and never repeated it or they slinked off with their humiliated heads between their tails and surfed elsewhere forevermore.

Either way, job done.

Now? Law, litigation, and ubiquitous fucking cameras mean that VALs barely have to deal with any of that shit. Put one on the button of a VAL for throwing his board in front of you? Assault charges and an AVO.

Backhander across the melon for dropping in straight down the face as you were fanging down the line? Criminal record and community service.

Slash the tyres in the carpark for paddling to the inside every fucking time? VAL’s new Jeep has a dashcam. Shit outta luck.

The days of violence and settling matters short and sharp are pretty much done. And the VALs can park their Porsches front and centre without a single fuck given about localism.

Nothing to fear here, dear.

It’s Healthy, Baby!

Finally, we live in the age of the internet. The information age. Everything we need to know is at the push of a button or the tap of an app.

Especially when it comes to health matters.

Nothing matters like health for the VAL. Biking in lycra on Mondays. Beach Yoga on Tuesdays. Jog and gym with the PT on Wednesdays. Protein shake to shake shake shake every fucking day.

And nothing screams health and fitness more to the VAL than surfing.

The call of the wild.

The spiritual engagement of riding Mother Nature.

Freedom.

Oneness.

Who needs Wim fucking Hof when you’ve got a five am duckdive on a crisp, winter morning? The wife’s got her Fitbit and the VAL’s got his funboard. He’s also got his smartwatch to track his paddling, count his calories, and spit out soft top speed stats to share on socials.

You don’t need chinups when you can work on popups. In the fucking ocean.

Are you kidding me? How good is surfing? This is living.

The fact that there are rules to surfing and basic norms of etiquette that have existed for decades is lost on the VAL.

Don’t sit in certain places in the lineup. What?

Don’t paddle for certain waves. Huh?

Always acquiesce to the perpetually grumpy, frowning old blokes. What the actual fuck, dude? It’s the ocean. It belongs to everyone. It’s for all of us to enjoy.

Whatever it is about VALs that irritates longtime surfers, the VAL doesn’t get it and he doesn’t care to get it. For the VAL, it’s all about getting his reps in out there in nature. To feel the water washing over his 9-5 skin. To thrive and feel alive and populate his Insta feed with health and positivity.

Fuck the grumpy old fools and their archaic, stupid rules. The VAL is living his best life and he doesn’t give a shit about bitter, old barnacles from yesteryear complaining.

They’re bad for his wellness.

The VAL just wants to be fit and happy.



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