9th January 2020

Chris Hines: what surfing means to me

Chris Hines MBE is The Wave's Head of Sustainability, and one of the most respected figures in British surfing. Formerly a Co-Founder of groundbreaking environmental campaigning charity, Surfers Against Sewage, and Sustainability Director at the Eden Project, he talks here about his love of nature, the sea and why surfing can be great if you love people but have a bit of a problem with authority…

Nina Whitby
Wavemaker - Content

What do you love about surfing?

There's so much, but one thing I really like about it these days is that it means being in a natural environment, with almost everything stripped away. You know, you don't take your car, or your phone with you, do you? Because of that, you can respect other people and make connections in a meaningful way. Everyone is equal. That's a big part of what The Wave's about.

How did you start?

I always enjoyed being around water, and I began surfing when I was a kid, on family holidays in Cornwall. I got into it properly when I was about 11 or 12, and then when I was a teenager I used to drag them off to beaches to take me surfing throughout the year.

Who and what inspired you?

My parents played a big role in that they cared a lot about the environment, and fostered my love of nature and natural history. I was lucky enough to grow up on the edge of Dartmoor. Enjoying the natural setting has been a major factor in my love of surfing. Then in the 1970s and 1980s the British surf scene was starting to grow, and the energy of that inspired me. I moved to Cornwall when I was 19 to work for Britain's first surfing magazine to get national distribution.

What was the hardest thing about becoming a great surfer?

I wouldn’t say I was a great surfer! In a way that's the wrong question. As the saying goes, the best surfer in the water is the one having the most fun, so the secret of becoming a great surfer is learning to enjoy yourself. Taking that 'I must achieve' thing away, not thinking about being on show, and just enjoying the experience.

What has surfing taught you about life?

That the best moments in life can come from other people's pleasure. For me, some of the best moments in surfing and other parts of life, is watching someone else enjoy something. One of my favourite things when I go surfing is to watch my partner get a good wave. She has a tough job and I know how hard she works, but sometimes when she has a great wave, I'll see her smiling when she's paddling back out, and… I just love to see it. Give someone else a wave, you’ll get one back for sure! Surfing has a way of reminding you that you're not the centre of the universe - and making you feel good about that.

What has it taught you about your body?

To try to stay fit! I should have done more stretching and basic physical activity. I’m 57 now and, though pretty fit, I could do more. Osteoarthritis hurts but you can keep pushing through it.

Does it de-stress so, and if so how and why?

Very much, yes. Because of the connections you feel with other people, and because that feeling of being in the moment just lets everything else melt away. I've got a fairly healthy disrespect for a lot of authority, because I think authority sits with nature. Being in the sea, right in among the forces of nature, you feel a sense of natural order than can be very calming. That is where the true power lies.

What are the greatest myths or misconceptions about it?

Well, one is that you have that you have to be a showy, competitive surfer to do it "properly". You find some coaches telling younger kids that, and it's so wrong. It's about your own experience, and whatever you enjoy.

Isn’t it embarrassing to do if you’re a newbie? How should someone deal with that?

It shouldn't be, and in fact you're very likely to find yourself among people who love being with others of all levels of ability and experience. Remember everyone was a beginner once. And if you are looking to improve your skills remember to enjoy all the little breakthroughs. You know, in the same way someone who's never stood up before, the thrill when they first get to their feet and glide along, even for two or three seconds will be as great as a world champion will get it dropping into Pipeline.

What’s the best time you ever had surfing?

Surfing on quiet peaks with just a few friends and even someone you don’t know but having a mutual respect. A certain peak that only works some years. Living in a van in Imsouane in Morocco in the early 80s and surfing the Bay with only half a dozen of us out, surfing it with my partner Katie and Tom Curren a few years ago.

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