Christian values and surf culture are an incongruous mix; what with our history of druggy-druggy, groupie-groupie and professionals who are more than happy for a 2.5 out of Ten Commandments. But Abe says his role as the ASP world tour Chaplain is an important one. The modern incarnation of the sport places considerable pressure on surfers and in many cases, they’re unable to afford the luxury of a confidante travelling the world with them. Abe is who they turn to.
Stab: Describe your job, Abe.
Abe: I support surfers in a practical capacity and in a mental, emotional and spiritual capacity. I empower them in their wellbeing, help them keep a clear state of mind and perform their best on tour.
Whose idea was it?
The ASP approached Christian surfers about having a chaplaincy on tour. They saw a need because of certain issues that have risen up over the years.
Nothing specific has been said. It’s more the fact that surfers go through burnout at some stages in their life. You can be at the top of the world one day and at the bottom and injured. And it can be a bit dog eat dog.
And who bankrolls it?
I’m paid like a missionary and raise money through people that believe in chaplaincy - people I know, friends that I have, churches that I’ve been to all contribute. Some of the surfers have given me cash to help me out.
Who is one surfer who you’ve helped?
Last year for the Mundaka contest we were at raining, onshore Sopelana. I was standing on the beach and I had just caddied for Josh Kerr. He’d lost his heat and I felt bad for him. Dustin Barca came down and put his board next to me. He didn’t ask me to caddy for him and I started walking off after Kerrzy’s heat. And I thought I should hang around and be there for Dustin. I’d been speaking with him and he was having a hard time being away from his family and had hurt his back really badly or tweaked out his hip. He came in and was in agony. I helped him with his gear up to his car and after that I had a really good relationship with him. After that I saw that it was really important to be with them through those times when no one is there for them. He was thankful that I was there for him when it felt like he had no one, which was good.
How does it work with non-Christians?
The spiritual element of my role is really important but the religious side isn’t. Whatever faith they choose I will empower and encourage them. My directive is to help someone be a better person.
When he's not lending advice to troubled world tour surfers, Abe the ASP Chaplain works as a school teacher on the Gold Coast. Which is where he's honed this quality backhand bottom turn.
So you get people crossing faiths to confide in you?
Some of my best relationships have been guys that are agnostic or come from different faiths. I had a really good relationship with (Brazilian surfer and Muslim) Jihad (Khodr). We got along really well and it was hard not seeing him qualify for this year.
Do surfers talk enough about their problems?
We’re all blokes at the end of the day and we all have our issues with talking about how we feel. Especially when they’re away from their family and their mates are the one’s they’re competing against, so they can’t talk to them because they don’t want to be seen as weak.
Has surfing as a culture encouraged pros to be open about their problems?
The attitude has always been, “She’ll be right, it’s all good, go with the flow.” As it became more professional there is a lot more stress and money at stake. There was a time when you surfed for fun and that was all it was about. Now it is a career for these guys and they’ve grown up from grommets, and sponsored and competing for so long, it’s part of their life. Fifteen years ago it wasn’t as necessary as it is now.
Do you approach them or they come to you?
You can’t go up to talk to anyone and expect them to respect what you’re saying. You have to build up trust. When it comes down to it, they will talk to me when they want to. I don’t have an agenda, I’m not here to impress anyone. A lot of it is being true to myself. I have to make sure I’m not pretending to be something I’m not. You have to be of the scene but not in it. A lot of it is just your walk and how you act, whether at contests, in the surf or at the party. They make up in their own mind whether they’re gonna trust you.
What are the different extremes surfers will talk to you about?
Anything from how their relationships are going with girlfriends and wives to relationship break ups to their own faith journey. And then there are the temptations they come across, like the partying and that scene.
It’s interesting because surf culture has not always been aligned with Christian values.
Surfing has always had this sense of being spiritual. Surfing has a different feeling when you’re in the water to any other experience you have. At the same time, there’s temptation always. I’m not there to tell people what they can and can’t do. I’m there to help them if they hit the rocks. To pick them up and let them know it’s okay.
Do you battle temptation?
It’s at the back of my mind. Being away from your family can be hard when you’re travelling. Being away from my wife can be difficult. Just watching perfect waves go by and not be able to surf them. –
by Jed Smith (stabmag.com)