Locals: William Shaules, Surfer-Professor
Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, is a name still known by so many people today though he pioneered exploration of the human mind in the early to mid 1900’s in Vienna Austria. His world-wide fame sometimes shows up as a comical skit of an old bearded man, heavily bespectacled, with a cigar, pondering a deep issue, maybe sex, or as a reference to the obscurities of what we are really thinking and feeling behind our daily social appearances.
One of the beauties of surfing is that it is such a here and now activity, maybe even a close attention-demanding physical challenge, that thinking and dealing with daily issues fade quickly into the background, leaving a more pure bodily-felt moment. If a surfer is asked why he/she surfs it would be no surprise to hear said by a majority, sometimes with a look of incredulity at the question, something like, “Ah because it’s fun.”
This resonates with Freud’s most famous principle, “the pleasure-pain principle,” which proposes that people move towards pleasure and away from pain – well, daah. It’s obvious to us surfers that it is basic kinesthetic, proprioceptive whole body/mind/spirit pleasure that draws us repeatedly to the ocean’s edge. To quote one old psychoanalytic joke punchline, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” Though it can be examined in greater detail and depth, fundamentally, surfing is fun, it’s happiness, it’s pleasure, it’s a rush, it’s major stoke!
When during our interview, I asked local Bill Shaules, a new surf-buddy for many of us at early morning C St, why he surfs, his answer, though uniquely expressed and felt in him, was also that almost universal answer. The next posed question, then, is, “Why is it fun?” Another simple answer that seems almost too obvious: “Just catching a wave, as you know.”
The photo above, taken by Rafael Borrayo, shows Bill attuned, having fun, and, “just catching a wave.”
From that beginning, when encouraged to put into words – which is one of the aesthetic economies of surfing, few words are needed, and often not desired – he gradually unpacks in greater particularity what it is for him that is involved with catching waves and feeling stoke. Bill rides his 5’ 6” mini-Simmons style board quite adeptly for being a relative new comer to wave-riding. In the almost two years that he has been charging the breaks in Southern California, being a thoughtful and expressive person, he easily identifies that he is less afraid of bigger waves now and so can more confidently penetrate that daunting unknown air space beyond the wave lip into which comes the pivotal invitation to make a committed drop.
Adjunct Professor Shaules of Loyola Marymount University began the royal art at 49 years old, he’s now 51, and there is a good story that could be told behind how this life-style change has come about. We can imagine that surfing is a very big tonal shift from an academic and college teaching atmosphere and from the Catholic Church organization where he also works. Especially, to see an easily-serious Master of Divinity and Doctor of Theology suddenly begin to enthuse child-like about the stoke is an unexpected contrast for our imaginations and is a breath of fresh air.
“You know you see the curl in front of you, and you have a wall next to you, and you can touch the wall, and it lasts… well, the longer it lasts the better, you know, maybe 10 seconds, it’s just, for those few seconds, it’s… [his inner pause button gets tapped for a smile and a full chuckle] Doug, there’s nothing like that in the world! And now I know why so many people get up early on cold mornings and jump into the ocean. Because if you can do that once in your hour or two-hour session, one of those perfect rides, [his voice gets wistful in remembrance] the whole thing is worth it. [His words begin to separate, each one with spontaneous and deeply felt emphasis.] So it is just sooo much fun!!” And he elaborates further what it is for him in the complex brew of epic rides, mundane attempts, and laughable wipe-outs. It’s all good – he is feeling it.
From a mature background, Dr Shaules, has been able from his first sorties to the shoreline to recognize that there is present an overarching culture to surfing and specific subcultures to each unique break and even micro-locale in a parking lot. This knowledge has reinforced his already existing temperament for entering a space with an attitude of respect and care. [Personally, I, the author, have had to learn this lesson a little more in fits and starts, sometimes the hard way.] Being on the reserved side of temperament, Shaules isn’t sure he yet qualifies as a “local”, but he feels honored by the designation, and those often around him at the shoreline would have no trouble feeling him as such. He’s easy to be around.
Within our pleasant and relaxed interview period, because of his level of understanding and developed facility with language, he was able to flesh out in greater psycho-social detail what “respect” means to him while going for waves along a busy break. This ‘getting’ the culture, along with having self-knowledge, has allowed him to tease out how he is wired on the inside to navigate both the lively sometimes volatile mix of camaraderie and of potential clash of individual wills and momentums. When momentarily going down a road of theorizing, his vocabulary pulls out the existing common tensions found everywhere in life, between “the collective” and “the individual.”
It has been Bill’s temperament to be on the quiet side and his style to be easy-going, traits he attributes also to his dad. When there have been displays of aggressive challenge and posturing around him, he tends to observe and maybe paddle to the side. He is less likely to take a verbal barrage as a personal attack, as is easy to do. Situations are usually handily diffused in this way.
His respectful make-up has also been present in his aware manner of entering the parking lot culture. For example, at C Street where he has enjoyed gradual immersion into the overall friendly though variable atmosphere, he has approached inclusion with no hurry. He says that he believes that over time people will see, without many words, that on the water and shoreline he will make way for the more experienced and socially more senior members of the tribe than himself who is a new-comer. This is not weakness – this is respect.
Sometimes we take these subtleties of social custom, appreciate them or not, for granted, at our peril. Bill has not.
Mr Shaules has been a part of other communities, in academia and in church organizational structure and congregation, yet, for him now, there is a vital freshness to hanging out with a different vibe and within the vast variety of personalities and individual histories. Catching waves is fun. Mixing within surfline wave tribe is fun. “I so enjoy spending time with new people” is the sort of statement where he emphasized that he was loving the whole package.
Because he so digs riding his mini and engaging the many challenges of surfing and of learning, and because of his low-key manner, one would not know that he has had such a long and deep immersion in formal religion. He likes being a surfer dude, said with a smile, and surfing is certainly what he is at the beach to do. He could of course talk eloquently of theology and biblical chapter and verse. More likely, however, he’d dive into fins, planing surfaces, wave shape and tide, facing and overcoming fear, and the epic ride of the day that almost blew his booties off.
Taking a moment for an overview of William Shaules life, he sees himself mostly as a teacher, a father, a husband, an engager with the juice and substance of community that goes far beyond religious doctrinal propriety – and he is “a surfer.” His most prominent passions of the moment are, no surprise at spot number one, surfing. There also is music and guitar playing in which he has substantial mastery, running six miles on non-surf days, and teaching eager minds at the university. In the below photo, Shaules is in full academic doctoral regalia.
Touching briefly on what might describe the turning of his life-style from primarily family man of wife and children, from university teacher, and from Archdiocese leader, he referred to an article and video that I had sent him. The New York Times Opinion piece by Josh Izenberg quoted the subject neurologist, and there was a phrase that connected immediately with Bill. He feels that his mid-life has been undergoing an analogous “seismic shift.” I have pasted below a quote from the article, along with a link, in case a reader wishes to see this unusual medical doctor in video form. There is a portion of this story that inspires Bill greatly.
“I’ve long been fascinated by people who make seismic changes late in life. It goes against the mainstream narrative: Grow up, pick a career, stick it out, retire. I was also curious about Slomo’s concept of ‘the zone,’ a realm of pure subjectivity and connectedness that he achieves through his skating. The only thing Slomo loves more than being in the zone is talking about the zone, so it wasn’t hard to persuade him to take part in a documentary film.
Slomo’s combination of candor and eloquence made him a natural on camera, and his background as a neurologist legitimized his metaphysical theories about skating, lateral motion and the brain. But like many of the people who saw him skating by, I couldn’t help wondering: was this guy nuts, or was he onto something? And was his mantra – ‘Do what you want to’ – translatable to those of us without the nest egg of a retired doctor? But just like the throngs of Slomo fans on Pacific Beach, I couldn’t get enough of him, and was determined to capture the effect he had on people in a cinematic way.” http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/01/opinion/slomo.html?emc=eta1&_r=1
Our local and new surfer dude, Bill, is now doing more of exactly what he wants to do. We can, in varying degrees, relate.
As happened in our interview, if conversation with Bill Shaules veers away from the easy topics and word play around today’s swell conditions, the most extravagant wipe-out, the barrel that hinted at curling over his head on the ride in, he can generalize too about life-lessons learned from surfing. He can own facing his fears of steep overhead drop-ins, he can stretch discussion into metaphor about wave and ride that speaks to other facets of daily existence. He can use the three letter G word, he can speak of Spirit, he can highlight our incessant reaching for Transcendence which he believes impels much or all of what we do. Most often you’ll see in the movement of his sturdy physical frame and on his youthful open face, a bad case of the smiling stokes.
– the beginner, doug honeyman