For the uninitiated, Matt Smith manages our team of Ambassadors. A key part of the crew for many years, Matt is a big-wave surfer, landscape regenerator and nature conservationist living in County Clare, Ireland. And now, he is also a father.
If there is one certainty in this life it is transition. Countless small moments add up to the vastness of a life and sometimes we get swallowed whole. As surfers it feels we should understand this riddle, because we are used to drawing a clean line while the water rages all around, but this sure isn’t true for most of us. One friend who I’ve always admired for his ability to navigate change is Matt Smith. Many words have been written about the sailor, surfer and farmer. Those things to which he has committed have sculpted his identity, though they are constantly framed by a search for truth. Matt is many things to many people and now he is a father.
If you’ve spent time in County Clare you’ll know the energy of the place. In those countless tiny karst valleys packed with life, in the wildness of the Atlantic where it falls on the shore and the omnipresent shift of the weather; the raw western fringe of that special island is vast. This energy is like a magnet to some people, they soak it up and challenge it and channel it. For a long time Matt has revelled in this power, drinking up the majesty and madness of the waves with fellow travellers and Irish surfers alike. It takes a particular breed to come back to that energy, again and again, winter after winter. I’m not one. Matt is. As a place and realm to raise a child it is a uniquely powerful one.
There is knowledge gleaned through proximity to the water and the soil. Teaching found outside of books, doctrine or culture. It gets into and under your skin. It isn’t measurable and never will be, but you see it often in people who have spent their lives close to an element, it shapes them. For many years Matt lived as a sailor and the voyage has never left him. I am the son of a lifelong sailor, it is hard once you have joined two distant points by sea to ever stop travelling, even when you are apparently still. The currents remain in you, your sails are always full. It makes you mercurial, like the wind. It is the job of a captain to question everything, that is what gets the crew safely from one place to another. Bringing a child into this world creates more questions than it answers.
Humans are creatures of context. At times in history it is our savagery or ingenuity that has brought us through. The challenges that we face at this point in our evolution are manifold and multivarious. Some people are happy to ignore this, others assume it will be fine, still others prepare for the storm on the horizon. Perhaps not in the conventional sense of stockpiling canned food and loo roll, but mental readiness for what may come, meeting the tragedy of the situation with empathy and kindness. This is a road that Matt is walking determinedly. Carrying the little heart of a baby son towards that horizon brings a new sense of urgency.
It is rare to have such courage in your convictions (plenty of people have) but also be open enough to change your mind and to really hear other perspectives - whether those are from your peers or from the many other voices (human and non-human) we need to hear if we are to genuinely adapt. This is one thing I’ve always enjoyed about Matt, he listens and absorbs. It’s a useful skill in a sailor, to hear what your surroundings are saying. The sort of waves that he surfs require the willingness to really commit, entirely based on feel. Trusting your instinct as a father, but also being open to constantly learning, it’s a powerful responsibility we hold.
There’s a pattern here, of committing to a journey and the rough and smooth that comes with it. Matt lives out on that road and it has delivered incalculable joy and commensurate loss. That is what it is to be alive and somewhere between these two things is a form of equilibrium, itself always shifting. The lull between the sets, the ocean. And within that equilibrium is a tiny brain learning to move and think and be in this world. I wish my friend Matt the captain the best of luck and love in all his pursuits and in fatherhood most of all.