Anyone who grew up in Southern California has vivid wisps of memory of second-skin sand, saltwater up your nose, suntan oil hefty and sweet, voices half-heard floating over the wind, reggae music on the stereo as you slow down to coast block after block, checking the height of the waves at each beach. Surf culture is so entwined with Southern California culture that even non-surfers know what a set is, when to use a longboard, we know the scent and texture of surf wax. Even we know what a good wave looks like when it crests.
Surfing began in Italy not long after it began in California. In the 60’s and 70’s there were two separate groups that began surfing, in blissful ignorance of each other on two separate coasts. The Tuscan Alessandro Forte had seen a surfboard when traveling - an oddity, but intriguing - and set out to make one of his own upon his return. Meanwhile, in Liguria, there was a rascally pair of brothers who began by surfing on an old door, completely unaware that elsewhere this “riding the waves,” as they called it, was becoming an officially recognized sport. This idea that they were making something up as they went along, this spirit of the game, stuck with them and has helped infuse the entire Italian surf culture with a constant beginner’s enthusiasm.
Today’s surfers in Italy know that there’s a world of competitions and sponsors, of course. One of the world’s top ranked surfers is currently a tow-headed 17-year-old from Rome, Leonardo Fioravanti. But the culture is small enough still to remain Italianized. There’s something about the chase, about the specialness of finding the right waves at the right time that is Italy’s particular gift. It’s like an unexpected present to find that the sea has swelled up into perfectly formed waves. And it demands a drop-all-else enthusiasm: Here. Now. Now.
And the Mediterranean is tricky because you must know her well. Sardinia is the unrivaled queen of surf in Italy, being surrounded by the legendary sea on all sides. But here the waves are caused exclusively by the winds which, though present and familiar enough to have names, defy prediction. The Mediterranean without wind is a slow, clear mirror - perfect for splashing, for an ice-cold bath - but dead boring to a surfer.
The winds may be irreverent to our dear surfers’ needs, but they are consistent. Sardinia tends to have at least 200 days a year of good surf with waves more or less 3m high. And so the chase begins. Not only does a Sardinian surfer have to know the area where the good breaks might be but he also has to know how to get there. The island is well-known for having a spectacular number of little cave beaches - rocky-cliffed havens reachable only by a day’s hike or by boat. And, as all hunters know worldwide, a good spot is a good spot for as long as it remains a good secret.