[This Editor’s Note, originally published as “60 Years of Escape” for SURFER’s summer 2020 issue, has been updated for the website. To subscribe to SURFER, click here.]
Welcome to your mental vacation! You have now entered a conspiracy-theory-free zone. As you’ll notice, there’s no comment section below for people to digitally scream about fascism and “sheeple”. What’s that? Yes, of course we believe in science. Everyone does here. Just relax, you’re not in the bad place anymore. We’ll handle your baggage. Here, put this lei on. Would you like to try one of our complimentary mai tais? The pineapple is fresh.
We could all use a vacation right now, and while the literal kind is probably not in the cards anytime soon, the mental variety will have to do. Life during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a time of high strangeness — a bizarre cocktail of desperately missing interactions in the physical world and being consistently appalled by those in the digital one. On social media, even innocuous posts unrelated to the pandemic devolve into commenters tarring and feathering each other in the Instagram town square. From surf photo to conspiratorial political rant—umm, how did we get here, exactly?
The fact that many of us couldn’t legally paddle out at our local breaks for much of the past few months certainly hasn’t helped anyone’s headspace. Along with the rest of San Diego surfers, I was drydocked for more than a month during March and April during stay-at-home orders—probably the longest I’ve gone without surfing since I started 20-something years ago. It was hard to stomach, but easy to put into perspective. From hospital staffs to grocery clerks, people put their health at risk to help one another (if you’re one of those people, please accept our deepest thanks, and we hope that our small tribute to surfers working on the front lines in the issue will brighten your day). Others have made sacrifices they didn’t have a say in, like losing their jobs as businesses across the country shuttered in the economic fallout of COVID-19. And none of that even compares, of course, to what people have gone through who have become sick or lost their lives due to this virus. If pressing pause on surfing—to stop people from congregating in highly-trafficked lineups, in parking lots, on beaches — even slightly mitigated the impact of COVID-19, then it would have been a small sacrifice. Surfing is an indescribably fun activity, but it’s one that we could clearly live without for a little bit — and one that only feels better now that most of us have it back.
But let’s put all that aside for a moment. Or in the overhead bin, actually, so we can get back to our mental vacation. Is the mai tai rummy enough for you? Good. Let’s get that tray table up. The runway has just cleared. We’re gonna escape this thing for a bit.
Escapism is something SURFER is pretty good at—we’ve been doing it for 60 years now, after all. From the first cover shot of Jose Angel charging down a Sunset Beach slope to the teepee fronting snow-covered mountains just a few issues back, SURFER has always excelled at providing fantasy fodder. “Insert Self Here,” would have probably worked fine as the cover blurb on every single issue. This issue is all about the act of escaping and our particular knack for it as surfers. And while this wasn’t the issue we had planned before the pandemic hit, it wasn’t exactly a hard pivot, either. In keeping with our anniversary-volume theme of paying homage to past covers, the obvious choice for this issue’s page one was a nod to surfing’s ultimate escape artist, Craig Peterson, who created one of SURFER’s dreamiest cover shots in 1984 when he captured Kevin Naughton leaping from a dinghy into a Fijian fantasy. Our modern version, shot by Nick Liotta at the very same break 36 years later, feels like a natural progression: the bow now empty, its former occupant driving through a crystal cylinder.
As you flip through these pages you’ll find what I hope is the appropriate mix of features that both acknowledge this moment and provide some kind of escape from it. “A World Away” is a personal essay from New York City-based writer Owen James Burke, who went on a wave chase thousands of miles from home just before the Big Apple got turned upside down, and faced some understandable inner conflict surfing by himself in paradise. “The Greatest Escape” is a beautiful photo feature paired with quotes from surfers about how wave riding has helped them cope with all sorts of strife. “Four Things to Make You Feel a Little Less Shitty About Everything” is exactly what it sounds like.
You’ll also find a story about Italo Ferreira and Brazil’s rise as a competitive surfing superpower, as well as an essay about what the successful Fight for the Bight campaign means for the future of Australia’s coastlines. Neither have much to do with COVID-19, which is just as well. I’m guessing you didn’t come to SURFER hoping for front-to-back pandemic coverage—probably just the opposite, in fact.
It’s very unclear when things will go back to “normal” — a term that seems increasingly difficult to define. In the meantime, we should consider ourselves lucky to be surfers, to have dependable methods of escape in difficult times. Usually we just go surfing. Sometimes all we can do is read about it, look at it, mindsurf it. It’s certainly better than nothing.
When surfing was still restricted in San Diego, one of my favorite means of mental escape was a recurring conversation with my surf buddies. It was always some version of, “Where should we go when all this is over?” We talked about different breaks near and far, getting into the details of the conditions we’d be looking for in each case. What’s funny is how little those details actually mattered once we were able to get back in the water. When you haven’t surfed in a month, it doesn’t matter where you go or how good the waves are. Just being in the ocean is the greatest escape there is.
[Below, get a sneak peek at what’s inside our spring issue, on newsstands now.]