Things we do for waves
by Alexander Haro
I have done some pretty awful things in my short time on this earth. Terrible, dirty things. Things I’m ashamed of, and when I really think about it, most of them have had something to do with surfing. I’ve had human shit sprayed from a frozen metal box into my face. I’ve singed my eyebrows off, burned almost every part of my body, cut slabs of skin off, frozen my nose and ears, broken bones, and blown eardrums. I’ve waded through swamps, fallen asleep at the wheel, and eaten some of the worst food imaginable. I`ve been chased by a buffalo. I’ve snorted cocaine off a dumpster in an alley. I’ve been hit in the head with an umbrella by a hooker. I’ve been a plumber, an electrician, a faller, a firefighter, a pipeliner – or a pidelimer, as my Indonesian driver’s license would have you believe – a tree planting hippie, and a bunch of things in between. All of that relates to surfing.
Canada is beautiful. The North is cold. There’s a lot of money to be made up there in a short period of time. An amazing amount of awful jobs are sitting there waiting for a young guy to rush in, work hard, get drunk, fist fight, see a few moose, then duck out with a duffel bag full of cash and a face that points south. I’ve spent the last eight or so (save a few for school) years of my life in this rotating door of work/play.
Squatting in the middle of British Columbia sits a town called Prince George. During the winter months, P.G. acts, for me at least, as a barrier to the North. Anywhere south is nice, and anything north is not. In the fall, driving through the province’s winding roads, one passes through towering mountains, long flat plains, and bone dry, wind torn deserts. Generally around Prince George in the winter time, the snow takes on a different feel a bit dryer, a bit colder, and a bit windier. The wind howls through mountain passes, peeling snow off mountain tops like an offshore wind blows spray off the back of a wave. The stars are incredibly bright, their brilliance cutting through the clear, cold air. Long stretches of road, sometimes rendered almost impassable by blowing snow and darkness, line the map, fingering out to small, hard to reach mill towns protected on all sides by some of the most beautiful landscape in the world. As soon as I pass Prince George, I am north, and I am working.
One of the worst jobs I’ve ever had was as a plumber for a company that installed the plumbing in shacks where guys that work on the oil rigs live. I kept at it for seven months because my girlfriend’s dad got me the job, and I was too scared of him to quit. He’s very tall and a wears a mustache big enough to hide a hunting rifle. So I worked. Shifts up to 18 hours, choking back cigarettes in my shit covered coveralls. See, when the weather gets cold, the holding tanks freeze. That meant a fellow poo-crew subordinate and I would head out with sledge hammers, propane, and a barely suppressed gag reflex. We’d flip the boxes upside down and smash them with sledge hammers, spraying slushy toilet/sink/shower water everywhere. Another common occurrence was an air-locked pump. You’d lift the lid, expecting to find a frozen box, but instead you hear a quiet, frustrated whirring noise. Tripping the pump was always a gamble. Most times, someone with poor manners or a twisted sense of humor would cut a hole, effectively stopping the airlock until it blocked up again. That way, when the next guy trips the pump, he gets sprayed in the face with shit water. Hilarious. Disgusting. There is no rage more murderous than the rage felt when you have shit in your mouth.
One of the best jobs I’ve ever had was as a wildfire fighter. I worked up north on a crew of exceptionally hard working, funny, and smart people. Mostly students there to work for four months and pay for the next year of school, our crew consisted of twenty men and women that somehow, I never managed to get sick of. I ran a chainsaw, cutting down danger trees. I saw parts of the province that I would have never seen before. I lit backburns at night, starting infernos that burned for days. Some of the most fun times in my life have been with a group of guys, a pile of drip torches, and as much diesel/gas mix as we could fit in a truck. I flew in helicopters with the doors open, chasing bears above towering cliffs.
Every year, after months of back breaking, sometimes terrible, sometimes wonderful work, I’d quit my job and take off to a tropical place with some of my best friends and do nothing but surf and drink and get sunburned. Sand filled open wounds, pounding, liquor induced headaches, and blistered skin. Donkey rides, hold downs, and amazing waves. Indonesian knife fights, Nicaraguan border arrests, Hawaiian turtle collisions. There are a million stories. The juice is worth the squeeze.
I often struggle with the moral dilemma of working for companies that do bad things to the planet, but I’ll go, work, save money, and go surfing. It’s easy to be romantic and talk about “following your dreams,” but unfortunately, dreams aren’t very filling and they don’t keep you warm at night. Sometimes you take the high road to keep on chasing your dreams, but sometimes the low road gets you closer to them. And that’s why I’ll go north. Because the ends justify the means. The things we do for waves.