What makes a tribe? The common ground which unites us, or the different passions that define a community? On a recent trip to Ireland, linking up with fellow Finisterre Ambassadors Easkey Britton and Noah Lane, Mike Lay ponders this very question. Read on for an exploration on tribe and community, both within and outside of the surfing world.
'Tribe' - Mike Lay
'Tribe' is a word with many faces. It can inspire both fierce love and bitter dislike. Tribes can rouse defensiveness like nothing else, backs-to-the-wall defiance in the face of adversity. Tribes can galvanise us. They can, at Christmas especially, gather the widely dispersed fragments of families together under one roof, for better or for worse. Each of our relationships with our own tribes is deeply personal but also rooted in a universal experience.
Recently I have been feeling my own, and seeing others', prejudices and loyalties tugged at by social media algorithms. Noticing familiar feelings of outrage and anger being stoked by the vested interests of faceless newsfeed clickminers. Are our natural instincts to defend those we love or those we identify similarities with being used to sow the seeds of division?
It seemed not so long ago that our tribal allegiances had far fewer faces, they were the people you knew at home, to whom you were related by blood, and the people with whom you shared a hobby or an interest. The political party you supported. It now appears that many of those traditional tribal lines are dissolving and being rebuilt, with walls higher than before, sentiments more vociferous. With some of the arguments I can understand the heightened tensions, the impending chaos of the changing climate for example, but many seem to act as distractions from the reality of everyday life, the turning of groups against each other. Distractions from the more solid foundations of family; empathy and understanding.
As our understanding of reality slowly slips to the meta, the meeting places for our interactions are increasingly online spaces. They are devoid of the personable nature of the pub or the park, where human eye can look into human eye. Instead they are shadowed with many layers of misdirection and misunderstanding.
Apart from my own nuclear family, my surfing tribe has long been of great importance to me. While I am grateful to be a member of my local surfing community in Cornwall, I was recently reminded of the simple pleasures of being part of the international surfing family and the tonic real life interaction can be to the complexities of online interaction. As a result of the pandemic, and also recently becoming a father myself, it has been close to 18 months since my last international surf trip. This November I managed a week in Ireland to surf and to reconnect.
"We three represent many different factions of the surfing community [...] Despite our vastly different surfing experiences we indulged in our shared passion that afternoon."
I met friends and fellow Finisterre Ambassadors Noah and Easkey at a beach in Sligo. The swell was small and wind light, we'd checked a few spots on the way to meeting each other and the waves were poor to flat at each one. The last beach looked more promising, waist high and surfable at least. We walked across the dunes and changed on the flat sand of the empty beach. It was the first cold day of autumn.
We three represent many different factions of the surfing community. Noah, an Australian shortboarder and master of cold water slabs, an occasional aerialist and now resident of Ireland. Easkey, an academic and former competitive shortboarder, multiple time national champion and inspiring female voice in the increasingly egalitarian surfing scene she is also steeped in Irish surfing history. And myself, a first generation longboarder from Cornwall, skilled enough on a longboard and one-trick-pony on a shortboard with a reticence tosurf waves of consequence less apparent in either Noah or Easkey. Despite our vastly different surfing experiences we indulged in our shared passion that afternoon.
It is of course a simplistic comparison to make but it was a significant afternoon for me, a reminder of the importance of tribal allegiances when such allegiances are held hand in hand with a sense of the wider world. I was friends with Noah and Easkey anyway, we are members of many similar tribes, there were no differences to overcome other than me forcing them to surf waist high waves... But I can't help feeling that real life must be more conducive to the building of bridges when indeed they need to be built.
As the sun was lost behind a bank of cloud, the temperature dropped further and we rushed into our winter layers. We walked back through the sand dunes and myself, Easkey and photographer Matthieu talked of our shared Celtic heritages, Cornish, Irish and Breton respectively. Tribal heritages to be proud of, linguistically linked, but in the end just a few more subdivisions of what we all were that evening; happy, cold folk walking back from the beach or human beings in an ever changing world.