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A Long Surfing Life

I really enjoyed this profile by William Finnegan of 75-year-old Jock Sutherland, who was one of the best surfers in the world in the late 60s and who still cherishes a good wave.

A surfer as famous as he was could have made enough money for an easy retirement, I thought, but Sutherland hadn’t cashed in. Surfing was never, to his mind, a job. Even when he was at the apex of the surfing world, he was unimpressed, stubborn. There was no pro tour in those days. “You could work for a board manufacturer, maybe have your own signature-model board,” he told me. “But that meant sell, sell, sell. That was…crass. I mean, the banality. It was antithetical to being able to enjoy being out in the water.”

Sutherland’s mom, Audrey, sounds like an amazing person:

Audrey drew up a list of things that every child should be able to do by age sixteen and stuck it on the wall. It read, in part:

- Clean a fish and dress a chicken

- Write a business letter

- Splice or put a fixture on an electric cord

- Operate a sewing machine and mend your own clothes

- Handle a boat safely and competently

- Save someone drowning using available equipment

- Read at a tenth grade level

- Listen to an adult talk with interest and empathy

- Dance with any age

This list changed with the times, adding computers and contraception, and nobody really kept score, but everybody got the idea.

Finnegan wrote Barbarian Days, a memoir of his life as a surfer โ€” I loved it.

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