How surfing has changed my life
And why I want to tell you about it.
THE FIRST WAVE
We are at the beginning of a story. And a story that is worth telling is a story that begins in a moment you will remember for the rest of your life.
It was November 2009. A winter break from university, in the middle of my political science career, led me to explore the island of Fuerteventura with my family. It was the second last day of my holiday. I had started a windsurfing course just because it was included in my super mega big all inclusive hotel. It was not that windy that day. But there were a lot of waves.
None of the participants managed to hold the big sail of the windsurf board and keep the balance on it. When the instructor realized it, he removed the sail from the board and surprised us by saying, decisively: “Ok, let’s try another sport!”. Now, just imagine for a moment. You are standing on a windsurf board – which is at least twice the size of a standard surfboard – in a position which you think might be the right surfing position. Your instructor is behind you, waiting for the right moment to push your board when the waves approach. Considering that you normally start surfing from a lying position, you paddle and only then do you stand up on the board, that’s pretty hilarious. But that’s how it went. The first time I fell off. The second time, of course, I fell off again. But right before the third wave reached the board, the instructor told me: “Antonio, stay lower and put your arms in the front to get more stability”. And here we go. I still remember that wonderful moment. It’s coming in front of my eyes right now. That wave taking me to the shore. That huge board sliding on the surface of the water, dragged by the wave. The incredible feeling of moving in complete harmony with the ocean. I felt time stop and my mind get empty. Ashore, I fell off the board, I got up and I said to myself: “I’m gonna do this for the rest of my fucking life”.
Photo credit @Pablo Borboroglu photography
Now imagine the life of an Italian 21-year-old guy who lives close to Venice, who catches the train every day to go attend university in Padua, all dressed up, holding his newspaper. A guy who has just started to write articles for the culture section of a local newspaper. Imagine the life of this young guy suddenly shaken by an experience like this.
BOOM BOOM BABY.
Every day & every night, thinking about that moment. Imagine that guy living his regular life, waiting for spring to have his surf lessons at the closest beach. May 1st, 2010, in Sottomarina, close to the Venice lagoon. Yes, I know, it sounds like a joke. But that’s what happened – and there are actually some nice waves out there (sometimes!).
If you want to have a glimpse into what it’s like to surf in the beaches of Venice, here you have an example. Full wetsuit, hood and booties. Our friend Matteo pushed himself beyond his limits without wearing gloves in the cold water of Jesolo.
Photo credit @Matteo Caeran
Suddenly my life started to focus just around surfing. I started practicing as much as I could, renting a board from a friend who was setting up a surf kiosk at Jesolo beach – shout out to Ale from Yes We Surf ! I started to get into it. I took a couple of friends into it as well and there we go, with the first surf trips again to Fuerteventura, Cape verde and Levanto, which I discovered being one of the main capitals of surfing in Italy. In the meantime, normal life was going on. But what is normal? Is the desire to live a different life something normal? This is what we are all led to think. Like robots, we wake up every day, automatic systems working on their own, and we do what it is considered normal. Going to university, studying, working at the weekends to save money. But slowly my mind started to clear up. There was something that I needed to change. My vision of life was changing. I was not hooked to the place where I was born, anymore.
The desire of surfing different waves created a bigger desire of traveling and visiting new places. The desire of getting to know different cultures and speaking different languages. And tell me now, what would you do if you were a university student who’s started feeling like this? Drop everything and change your life? No, not yet. Still too early. When you grow up in a northern Italian city, the Society tells you that you need to finish your studies. That you need to be a “dottore”, that’s the way you’re called in Italy at the end of your university career. You need to achieve that piece of paper. There is just one emergency exit. It’s called Erasmus exchange program. Guess now, how I chose my destination. In front of the map, pointing my finger to the closest place to the ocean. Pontevedra, Galicia, here I am. Local surfers also call it Galifornia. Galicia calidade they used to say. And that’s exactly what it was, in winter 2013. Quality.
And at last I got what I wanted. For the very first time in my life, I was living a different life. In the middle of a country that was not mine. Speaking a language that was not mine. Going to university 3 days a week, training in the Waterpolo Galaico Pontevedra – the local team of Waterpolo – every night, and going surfing every time I could. Having worked as a waiter for the previous 7 years turned out to be a good way in order for me not to work while I was abroad. But 6 months pass by really fast. I came back to Italy with 2 surfboards, 2 wetsuits, a surfboard bag full of accessories, with a girlfriend and postgraduate dissertation waiting for me, together with an angry mom who thought I was ready enough to be a man. And that’s what I got back to. “Knock knock”, who’s at the door? Ah, Society, my dear old friend.
WELCOME BACK TO NORMAL LIFE
Do you remember all the money I had saved before leaving for Erasmus? Gone. I started to work as a seller for Decathlon – an international sporting goods retailer – at the store in Mestre, my hometown, while I finished my studies. Working 24 hours a week and keeping on studying then for my new master’s degree still allowed me to go surfing somehow, when there were favourable conditions. I liked my job. Working in the water sports section made the game easy for me. I was a fish swimming head-on in his sea, too fast to realize that not long after I would end up in a definitely bigger ocean and get lost there. After a few months, I got selected to become a department manager at a Decathlon store in Bassano del Grappa, a small town in the mountains. From 24 to 40 hours per week – which always became 50 – working 60 km far from the sea. God.
BOOM BOOM CIAO.
On the one hand, I was really proud of myself. 26 years old, a permanent full-time contract with an excellent job position, in a multinational company, well-established both in Europe and globally. Wait, how was it called? Oh, yeah. My old friend Society. Learn fast, work hard. It was normal life again, but this time getting serious. This time asking me to give up with my passions. But it is normal, if you think about it. You work 52 weeks per year, with 4 weeks of holidays, only. If you go surfing for those whole 4 weeks, it will be an exact 7.5% out of 100% of your normal life, a mathematician would say. And so you go on. Take a deep breath and dive deep in. I reached a lot of personal satisfaction. I explored various aspects of the job which have made me who I am. I learnt the basics of my business administration skills and got to know what it means to manage a group of people who work for you. I liked my job, a lot. It gave me a lot, but also took a lot from me.
Photo credit @Pablo Borboroglu photography
In the first year of my full-time position, I only went surfing once – exactly 0.3% of my life that year. And after that first year, after one week of surfing – in which I re-discovered myself back at the beautiful island of Fuerteventura – I got dumped by my girlfriend, therefore putting an end to a 8 year long relationship. One of the biggest elements that hooked me to my normal life had suddenly disappeared. And then, what was I supposed to think? I’m gonna leave.
Far from my family, far from my friends, I woke up every day and had breakfast in the kitchen, staring at a fridge magnet on which I had written “Remember your place. Follow the sun”. I was living my normal life while dreaming a different one. I actually knew that that was not my place. That I had to follow that sun. Dream big, work hard. And while looking for any ways out within my job, by applying to different job positions in other Decathlon stores in Italy and Europe possibly closer to my beloved waves, I chose the destination for the following trip: a surf camp in Tenerife.
Here’s the face of somebody doing something that makes him happy.
Photo credit @Pablo Borboroglu photography
Every morning I opened my eyes in front of a wall which had this painted inscription: “wake up and live”. I went surfing every day, sometimes twice a day and until the sunset. I went freediving with sea turtles in absolute freedom, and it was easy to spot dolphins freely swimming around while paddling on a kayak or on a stand up paddleboard. Once back to the camp, Yoga in front of the sunset was the icing on the cake. I was slowing down the rhythm and connecting with people coming from all over the world in such an intense way. I already knew that coming back to normal life would be a trauma.
THE DECISION TO LEAVE
And that’s exactly what happened. On my first day back to work, my head was completely overwhelmed by a seemingly endless series of events occurred while I was away. Problems that I had to sort out. Welcome back Antonio, roll up your sleeves because we are starting again. But not this time. After such an experience, that crash was so big that I had to take out a leave to escape from work in the middle of my shift. I ran down to the parking lot, got into my car and started driving away. I suddenly stopped in front of a red light and only then did I realize that I didn’t know where I was driving to. I was literally running away. My arms were stiff, my fists locked on the steering wheel, my head sunken in my shoulders. The clear signals of a tense body, expression of a desire to escape still unexpressed.
I wondered what was wrong at that moment and I didn’t find the answer. Then I wondered where I would rather be and the answer was clear: among the waves. It was over.
Back home, I opened my laptop and wrote an email to the guy who hosted me at the surfcamp. I explained to him what I did in my life and that I really wanted to build a different life. After a couple of calls, he told me that I could come back if that was what I wanted for real, so that we could start working together.
It took me 2 weeks to make a decision. The more I was thinking about it, the truer it was becoming in my head.
I could not keep on refusing how I was feeling.
I could not keep on living a normal life that was not mine.
I could not keep on dreaming, I had to start living for real.
And after 2 weeks it was all clear. The fear of regretting not to have made that decision was even bigger than the fear of leaving the known for the unknown. The fear of trying and failing was nothing compared to the fear of me, saying to myself, one day: “I could have done it, but I haven’t”. It was then, or never.
And right before leaving, a friend of mine told me: “Thank you Antonio, because you have given us a beautiful present”. Confused and a bit irked by that statement, I started to laugh. I thought he was making fun of me. “What the hell, I’m telling you that I’m leaving and you take this as a present?”. Smiling, he told me: “By making this decision, you have opened the eyes of all your colleagues. Everybody now knows that life is just a matter of choice. And making a decision is easy. If you really want to”. I was really surprised to find out, some time later, that some of the guys I worked with left their job and took different paths.
On 26th August 2016 that decision brought me to Tenerife. And one year and half later, I started my own business and opened my own surf school: Surf Life Tenerife. That’s how my Surf Life started. But this is another story.