Wax in hand rubbing against a surfboard, neoprene wetsuit zipped up and waves rolling in tubes pleading to be cut across.
In a similar setting you’re most likely to find world-renowned surfer Marlon Lipke as he confesses he cannot stay away from the water for too long. Born in Lisbon and raised in Lagos, Marlon was the first German to ever compete for the ASP world championship tour in 2008, battling against some of the world’s elite surfers like Kelly Slater and Mick Fanning. Having made his mark on the international surfing scene – usually dominated by Americans and Australians – the “German boy from Portugal” has caused a stir by constantly challenging his limits and focusing on his vision.
“When you realize that you might not have that lifestyle forever, it really motivates you to get out there, invest all your strength and overcome hurdles until you reach your goals.” Thriving in an environment of healthy competition is key to working up to a professional level, “I try to keep this part separate from casual surfing. I chose to make the sport my career because I loved it and seemed like a natural continuation. I’m competitive but not obsessed with winning. I enjoy pushing myself and my limits.”
The urge to surf can be traced back to his roots as he spent his early years next to the beach where his parents founded one of the first surf schools in the region. Since a young age, regardless of the cold, if there were waves, Marlon would be riding them. Something he’ll never forget is catching his first wave. “I still go back to it. Your first one stays with you, whether it was great or not. Mine was in the south of Portugal and as soon as I caught it I just felt so tall after many days of efforts. And finally that moment…I couldn’t get the grin off my face for the rest of the day.”
Pursuing his dream of being in the water as much as possible has been a hard path that required generous amounts of self-discipline. “The point is to do a job that you love – an idea that’s not encouraged within the current schooling system. Young people are pushed towards pre-constructed directions. You’re judged by how good your memory is or abiding to a set of rules. Your confidence is not being built up to chase after what you love, you’re good at or see yourself doing for a large amount of time.”
Marlon is an adamant supporter of going off the beaten track. “The road to what you love is difficult, you need to step out of line. Break the norm and what’s expected of you. In the end you have to be comfortable with what you do while feeling challenged at the same time. People are scared and hold back sometimes.” After school, Marlon skipped university and simply followed what felt natural for him. “I chose to do my own thing and stuck to it. But some people need guidance and confidence-boosting, which doesn’t really happen often. Some of the most successful people chose to carve their own path and create their job around the life they aspired to lead.”
For the last decade, interest in surfing’s lifestyle has been growing rapidly – even in countries that are not associated with that culture. “Everything about it is attractive: watching the sunset with friends, having a beer, getting to know locals and just be aware of your surroundings. At times, everything else seems unimportant. Surfing drags everyone in because it’s so rewarding. It’s addictive. Even seeing a glimmer of sun while surfing in horrible weather is magic. There are just so many ways that it gets to you. For me, cold weather and unusual locations is an ideal setting. The best part is you don’t have to be good at it to get that amazing sensation – just good enough to glide along.”
Romanticizing surfing occurs often, especially from people who live in cities working at desks. Full-time surfers are believed to have caught their Pegasus. However, Marlon assures us that the daily routine of paperwork and e-mails is not unheard of. “Unless you choose to live disconnected from the ways of the contemporary world then you have to do certain things. To be a hippie is a luxury. In terms of surfing, I don’t do it everyday, it depends on the swell. Taking two days off in a row is also part of the plan and it’s needed. Like everything, you need to shortly escape from your daily routine. Even if it’s something that you love and other people already consider an escape.” He pauses for a minute and quickly goes on to add, “not for too long though, being in the water switches off my brain.”
Marlon praises the sport’s unpredictability and the fact that no two sessions can ever be identical. “The perfect wave that everyone is after doesn’t exist. Surfing is about imperfection, that’s what grabs you and gets you hooked. The rush of the unexpected and knowing that every time you go out there, it’s going to be different.” For Marlon, it’s not about the grandiose wave, but more about those instances where there’s the right amount of uncontrollable sea.
“You never forget your first wave, whether it was great or not. As soon as I caught it I just felt so tall after so many efforts. And finally that moment…I couldn’t get the grin off my face for the rest of the day.”
In between his travels, Marlon can be found in the southern coast of Portugal where the swells might not come as often but ample space and the luxury of riding alone provides all the mental and physical restoration he requires. However, restricting himself to one location for too long is neither an option nor something he desires. Moving around to constantly try new things, different seas and cultures is imperative to his mentality.
“I’ve been traveling since 12 years old. One of my first travels without my parents was to California. I’ve been doing this my whole life and I always feel comfortable, never out of place.” His mentality brings forth a certain openness to the notion of traveling and fast-paced changes. “I’m always searching for more experiences which I then try to incorporate into the waves I ride. Surfing is not just about the sport, it’s more spherical. It’s about meeting locals, immersing in different cultures and pretty much everything that surrounds it.”
Having in mind a surfing trip to Russia’s Kamchatka peninsula, Marlon notes how the waves don’t have to be perfect to procure enjoyment. “As you take in the location, history and everything that makes traveling amazing, you later invest what you’ve gathered into the wave you catch. All your excitement and happiness about this new environment goes into your turns and glides. I guess surfing sort of takes you and keeps you in the realm of traveling.”
In the frothy mayhem is where you’ll find him.
“The perfect wave that everyone is after doesn’t exist. Surfing is about imperfection, that’s what grabs you and gets you hooked. The rush of the unexpected and knowing that every time you go out there, it’s going to be different.”