The reality check.
By Dan Dobbin.
I didn’t have a “When” that I knew that the dream of becoming a professional bodyboarder was over. I had a “Who”.
I’d walked the usual path. Swept up in the currents of historical time and circumstance. A coastal kid from a working class family in Australia in the nineties meant bodyboarding made it’s way into my life.
First sled was a round nose, square tail, no slicked single piece slab of foam with screw in twin fins. So flexy you could make the nose touch the tail.
Like everyone else, I fell under the spell of the mystic of Mike, this all shredding, all winning hero figure who surfed so well even the stand up surfers who were culturally at war with the rise of boogieing had to respect him.
I was obsessed enough to get decent. Won some one off local competitions. Got some sponsors, made the Nationals titles one year. ( My old man drove me 7 hrs to Redhead beach in Newcastle, watched me surf 2ft blown out wind chop for 20 minutes just before dark, get last in my heat, then drove me 7 hrs back home. Thanks Dad).
After deciding I needed to get more practice in competition if I was going to crack the big time, and with no local club in my area, my boog mad mates and I loaded up the most roadworthy car we had between us and put our newly licensed freedom into practice and headed north to compete in the Headlanders club based around Ballina / Byron Bay one Sunday.
And it was here I came across the “Who” that lifted the blinders from my eyes and gave me a serious reality check.
“Who” was Joel Taylor.
From the very first time I saw him take off and rip a wave apart I knew he had a gear I didn’t have.
I’ve since come to learn that around this time Joel was in the depths of surfing every single day for years on end (more on this in the future) and was shaping himself into a finely tuned shredding machine.
Whatever it is that gifts some of us with seemingly inate abilities in some areas, Joel seemed to have it in spades riding a bodyboard. Coupled with his dedication, it was pretty obvious that he was on the trajectory to becoming one of the best riders in Australia.
I kept the delusion alive for a few year’s, surfing as hard as I could, but when I was honest with myself I knew I didn’t have what I’d witnessed that day in Joel’s riding.
I was a solid bodyboarder, but was never going to stand out in any meaningful way from the masses like he did, didn’t have that “wow” factor that is evident in the top few in any endeavour.
I had kids young, worked, got a Uni degree and a career. Shifted my goals from trying to be one of the best in Australia, to trying to be one of the best in my area, to trying to keep up with the new generation of groms, to just trying to surf my favourite wave as best as I can. A revisionist scale of modest goals.
I never became a Professional rider, but I’d wager that bodyboarding has given me many of the same things as those who did. A sense of purpose in life, my closest friends, some of my most cherished experiences, fears overcome and limits seemingly found and surpassed. Quiet moments of reflection and split seconds that created memories that will last a lifetime. A shared understanding and acceptance into a community that stretches around the globe.
It’s an old and tired cliche but it really is the journey and not the destination that is important.
Many of you will recall that on the cusp of becoming one of the world’s best riders, Joel broke his back at Pipeline and lost the use of parts of his lower body. Instead of letting that define his future, he started Unite clothing, arguably bodyboarding’s most successful clothing label, still going strong after 17 years.
Today after years of rehab and commitment, Joel is back on the pathway to walking and incredibly, with help and support is back tentatively riding waves again.
If any of his past endeavours are anything to go by, you’d be a brave man to bet against Joel having more success and doing the incredible in the future.
Watch Joel ripping here: