Jason Borte is a self-confessed surf addict. Since the age of 12, surfing has dominated his life.
The former ASP East Coast Champion has travelled the world, competing and writing about surfing for Surfline and Surfer Magazine. He’s written two books, The Kook’s Guide To Surfing and Pipe Dreams: A Surfer’s Journey. In 1997, he set up his own surf school in Virginia Beach where he lives to this day with his wife and three children.
One year ago, he decided to give up surfing for the whole of 2014. For 365 days, he wouldn’t catch a single wave. Why? We chatted to Jason nine months into his challenge to find out…
“I’m 44-years-old. You might think at my age that it’s not a big deal to do something like this. But it’s without a doubt the most challenging think I’ve ever done.
It all started when I read an article in The Surfer’s Journal by Brad Melekian on quitting surfing. He found out that nobody quits surfing. People stop because of responsibilities and injuries, but nobody decides one day that they’re not going to surf anymore.
I was out surfing by myself in late November last year and the thought just hit me. I wanted to write something about my life in surfing and what it means to me. I like a challenge, so I decided that day I was going to see if I could quit surfing for a whole year. Step away from it to see effect it had on my life.
I’ve never gone more than six weeks without surfing since I was 12 years old. Before I started this project, I was out there several times a week. Anyone who knows me knows how active I was still in surfing. It’s impacted my life in every way – from where I live to my family, any trips we might take or free time I have.
“I’ve never gone more than six weeks without surfing since I was 12 years old”
I think stopping surfing has been a positive thing for me. My family see a lot more of me than they ever have. It’s also made me understand all aspects of surfing a lot better. Having that distance helped me see why I surf, what I got out of it and what I want to do when I get back into it.
The first few months were tough though. More people than I thought really understood, but others were really angry. I couldn’t understand it. They thought I was putting surfing down, but it wasn’t about them at all. It was just more of an experiment, I wanted to see what happened.
A lot of people asked how I was going to run my surf school if I wasn’t teaching – but I don’t surf when I teach. Seeing these kids surf for the first time and how excited they are, that brings it all back to me. It’s a great feeling, but not a day goes by when I don’t want to be out there.
Some people said I should stay away from the beach completely while trying not to surf, but I didn’t want to make it easy on myself. I wanted it to be a big challenge. I live 50ft from the beach, so I have to walk down there everyday.
My older son is 17, he surfs all the time. I go down as much as I can when he is surfing and just bob around. The main thing is I’m not catching a wave. It’s ok to be in the water, I’ve even been paddling a couple of times but I’m just not gonna ride a wave this year, if I can help it.
The blog has been a huge coping mechanism. So many people have told me how much they are enjoying it, and that’s really motivated me to write more. When I’m tempted to surf, I write about that feeling and it fills the void a little bit.
Right now we’re in prime surf season – September and October are going to be really tough. This is my favourite time of year. I’ve got so many memories growing up of surfing in the fall, it’s still warm but we’re getting a lot of surf.
Last month I nearly cracked. I was in Rhode Island teaching a camp when Hurricane Bertha hit the Atlantic. Cape Hatteras is my favourite place to surf on the east coast. Knowing there was really good surf up there, hitting all the point breaks, and I couldn’t surf – it was pretty tough.
“I’ve realised I can live and not surf. Before I really didn’t know if I could do that…”
Instead, I went out with a couple of friends. They had a GoPro, so I swam out and filmed them surfing. I found that satisfying.
Living right on the beach and seeing the surf everyday, I know I’ve got some tough moments ahead. Right now, I don’t know if i’m going to make it or not. Maybe I’ve gone long enough?
Still, I now appreciate the ocean and wave riding so much more after not surfing for nine months. It doesn’t matter whether it’s body boarding, surfing or even stand-up paddleboarding.
I’m tempted to come back as a goofy footer and try out more aerial tricks. My competitive nature has always got to me, I want to be able to ride waves and just enjoy being out there without feeling like every other surfer is a competitor.
It’s also made me rethink pushing my kids into surfing. Surfing is the greatest activity, but I probably would have encouraged my kids to try other sports as well.
“I’ve been tempted to come back as a goofy footer, try out more aerial tricks and not be so competitive…”
So come January 1st 2015, I want to be somewhere warm, but I don’t know if life is going to allow it this year. Otherwise I’ll be getting down to my local beach with friends and family.
If anyone else is thinking about quitting surfing, I would say do it. You’re going to learn a lot about yourself and the reasons you do things. You can’t get that perspective without stopping completely.
I’ve realised I can live and not surf. Before I really didn’t know if I could do that. However, given the choice, I can’t imagine not surfing again.”
You can follow Jason’s journey on his blog, How Surfing Ruined My Life, and read about his trials and triumphs as January 1st 2015 creeps ever closer.
*as told by Nina Zietman