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Staycation Limitations

The Pitfalls of Perma-Staycationing

| posted on November 15, 2010

The late legendary staycationer Anthony "Doc" van de Heuvel in his encampment in J-Bay. Photo: Slabbert

What do Pipeline, Supertubes, and Cloud Nine have in common? Yes, they’re all world-class waves. But before they were known to the world, before they had names even, they were staycation destinations. In the early 1950s Pat Curren and a buddy lived out of a panel van, on what was an empty, palm-shaded lot, directly in front of the Banzai Pipeline. The Wavecrest area of Jeffreys Bay encompasses Boneyards through to Albatross, and wasn’t much more than unattended farm land until the late 1960s, when it suddenly became rife with hippy campers. After initially squatting at Granjagan Bay, California surfer Mike Boyum moved on to the Pilippines where he discovered, and sat on Cloud Nine.

Waves of this caliber definitely inspire long staycations, but oddly enough, many inferior waves do the same. No matter the quality of the waves, however, a strange pattern seems to develop amid extended staycations. People get as good at vacation as they would at, say, a job. And the better they get at it, the easier it is to stay.

An acquaintance of mine we’ll call Dustin moved to California from Ohio, got a job in the computer industry, and started surfing. He’d always been frugal and saved up a bunch of cash. When he became fed up with the computer racket, instead of hitting some expensive surf locale, he decided to staycation, indefinitely. Dustin lived blocks from the beach, surfed his favorite spot twice a day, paid his rent from his savings, and bought used boards. He knew the location and maturity status of every fruit tree in the neighborhood. He could milk a box of wine into the next vintage. Two years into his staycation, Dustin had become shockingly good at surfing, progressed his musical talents, and—surprise—enjoyed his life. Dustin had everything but a job.

There comes a time, however, when a staycationer is put to the commitment test, and this comes with age. The fun roommates and hook-ups don’t last. Savings run dry. Generally, there are three routes to go at this point: marry really wealthy, land a “position” as a caretaker (a la Magnum P.I.), or move into the bush. Since two of these options require lottery-winning luck, I’ll address the third. Anthony “Doc” van den Heuvel was one of J-Bay’s legendary staycationers. A national South African champion in 1965, he traveled the world, competed in the World Contest in San Diego, and returned to a conservative, apartheid South Africa with all the trappings of 1968 hippy culture. During the return-to-the-country movement, Doc made a home in the bush on the point at Jeffery’s Bay. There were a lot of campers there at the time. You can imagine the wave-drunk hippy-fest it must have been. But as the town grew, and as many of the encampments were replaced with houses and condos, Doc remained steadfast. By the time I met Doc in 2000, he was a wizened older man not quite able to surf anymore. He remained quick with a laugh and had time for friends, but he’d made a lot of sacrifices to surf a wave his body was no longer up to. His home in the bush got cold at night and due to the development, even firewood was scarce. By then, however, Doc’s life path had already been set. He passed away of a heart attack in his camp in 2003.

Pat Curren moved on from his camp at Pipeline to other feats and vistas. Like Doc, however, Mike Boyum passed away in his camp at Cloud Nine. I’m not saying that staycationing for life is bad for your health. What I’m saying is the waves may stay the same, people rarely do.

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  • chainlinks

    I guess you choose your own shangri-la, or maybe you miss out on having one. At first it sounds hard and lonely to live out your years in the bush, eventually unable to surf the waves that summoned you there. But those could just be fears talking. One of my favorite things in surfing is coming to know and love the places where spend time surfing — especially the deep country places.

    A family friend worked summers in New Hampshire and fell in love with a place deep in the woods. He built a house there, and when he retired, he moved there full time with his wife. He spent his time chopping wood and hiking — that’s what he was into. The two of them got to know the area very well over many years, and living life in tune with that place was certainly the right choice for them. A few years ago, she found him dead of a heart attack on one of his favorite trails.

    There are big differences between the two stories, but I think there is a bigger similarity: living in tune with a natural place. Comforts of home and marriage or not, it’s got to be a well spent life.