When Is It Acceptable To Ditch Work To Go Surfing?

Mother Nature can be cruel when it comes to surf trips. There are times when you’ve done all the hard work: studied a location’s history of swell activity, scrutinized the barometric trends down to last hectopascal, and planned your vacay during the optimal period for swell size and direction. And then gotten totally skunked. Something happens between the atmospheric pressure dropping and the wind turning offshore, which results in the ocean being flat when it is supposed to be firing. And that’s your holiday.

Three weeks later, out of nowhere, the swell of the year hits. Your favorite local break is firing in the middle of the week and you’re back in the office, minus all your leave days. A buddy sends you a text photo of 4-6 foot sets stacked up to the horizon and a school of dolphins towing people back to the back. But it’s Wednesday morning and you’ve got a meeting at eleven. Tough shit.


Cameron Cattell shows us what happens when things go right.

You drag your heels to the car and try to summon the will to endure a day at your desk. It’s a sick joke. Your hand starts to shake as you turn the car key. You’ve got sweaty half-moon pits stains and an indescribable urge to ply your finger nails out. Turning the final corner before getting on to the freeway, you see the ocean sparkling in the distance like the City of OZ. Frustration builds up inside you, like a volcano about to erupt. You curse everything in this world that stands between you and getting shacked all morning.

And then it happens. Your brain churns out the question that opens up Pandora’s Box. You pull the car over and consider making the following phone-call:

“Listen, boss,” you’ll say to the person on the other end, “I ate some dodgy calamari last night and it’s given me a messy case of the jets. I’m in bad shape.” You’ll make your voice go soft and vulnerable. It’s not hard. All you need to hear are those four magic words: TAKE THE DAY OFF.

When Is It Acceptable To Ditch Work For Surfing?

Being a surfer and a functional member of society is tricky business at times. Unless you’re extremely lucky, you’re going to miss a lot of good days at the beach. That’s life; it’s not always fair. It would be fairer if someone invented a laser-beam that made people who don’t surf understand how awful it feels to be working while the waves are cooking. Instead of lying about a stomach bug, you’d be able to zap your boss in the face with this magical device and make them understand.


“Shit, I had no idea, you poor thing!” he or she would say. Followed by, “Seriously, take the day off and surf your brains out. Take two if need be!” Until this understanding-laser-beam is invented, we’ll have to keep asking the magic question: when is it acceptable to bunk surfing for work?

The short answer to this is ‘never’.

The middle-distance answer is still ‘never’, but that’s only as long as you’re not lying.

The long answer really depends on the definitions of some tricky words, like ‘truth’, ‘bunk’ and even ‘work’.

Lying Is Always Lying… Except When It’s A Watertight Story

Ditching work is a terrible and lazy thing to do. The sort of people who lie about being sick on a regular basis end up losing their jobs or still living with their parents at forty. But you wouldn’t be a normal human being if you didn’t consider it every so often. The question all boils down to moral flexibility and responsibility.
The equation looks like this:

Likelihood Of Telling A Lie To Ditch Work For Surfing Equation
Desire To Surf + Frustration Level + Feelings About Job /Moral Flexibility & Responsibility = Likeliness Of Telling Lies To Ditch Work For Surfing

If you’ve got a job that doesn’t matter to you, with no rent to pay or extra mouths to feed, odds are you’ll bunk a few days when the waves are cranking. Nobody gets hurt and you’ll be a better employee if you’re not daydreaming about surfing.

But a father of three with a bond, a rolling credit card bill and car payments probably won’t be as easily swayed (do not assume the latter is infallible). It’s all about having a watertight story: a fictional truth that frees you from the moral foul of lying, and gives you the right to take the day off.


The ‘tummy-bug’/bad calamari excuse is not watertight. It’s an easy card to play (almost nobody questions a person who is in the throes of diarrhea), but you’ve only got one chance at it. The toothpaste is out of the tube after that. A day will come when you’re really going to need some time off because you’ve eaten really bad seafood or a curry with teeth, and then you’re fucked.

Like Mother Nature, Karma is equally sneaky when claiming its pound of flesh. Another genuine risk you run with a ‘tummy-bug’ is having the boss call your bluff. He or she could easily say, “Shame. Just drop a handful of Imodium, come in and see how you go. I really need you here today.” Suddenly a dress-rehearsal becomes a live performance. Not only will you have to endure the frustration of missing waves, you’ll spend the day running to/from the bog, acting wounded and sickly. This becomes even harder when you claim it’s chicken-pox or another ailment that requires visual proof.

If your boss calls you out, your only escape is to pull what’s commonly referred to as a ‘Lazarus’, which involves acting like you were miraculously cured. This means answering any and all questions about your health with the following: “I used my grandmother’s old recipe X and it worked!” or a similar variation.


Car trouble is another lie that will buy you a few hours, but then you’ve got to follow the bluff up with an entire back-story about what the mechanic said, how much they over-charged you, and then deal with the consequences of your car actually breaking down in the future.

A watertight story is an extenuating circumstance that only happens once every blue moon. It’s a situation where the truth serves your excuse and grants you a free pass to go home, grab your stuff and enjoy the freak swell that eluded you on your holiday.

For example, during large sporting events (the 2010 Soccer World Cup springs to mind), certain companies allowed staff members to leave the office at lunch if they had tickets to watch the game that afternoon. On the day of one particular match, the waves in Cape Town happened to be going absolutely bizerk. As long as you had a ticket and wanted to watch the game, you could leave the office.
This gave surfing employees 3 options in that situation:

  1. 1. For complete moral freedom: Buy ticket (even if this means paying a thousand bucks to someone named Moses), head to the stadium and then leave. Essentially you have fulfilled all the requirements for early departure, except for watching the game – which you will do later, when it comes on TV
  2. 2. For partial moral freedom: drive to stadium, act like it’s too busy to find parking, and leave with the knowledge that you at least tried.
  3. 3. For moral wiggling room: head straight to the beach and go surfing. wait in line and then go surfing. Watch the game later and act like you were pissed off with how the organizer’s handled such big crowds.

Before work the next day, catch the highlights and tell all your co-workers what a cracker/shocker game it was. These situations are a gift from the surf gods, really – if they happen to fall on days when the waves are cranking. But don’t expect this to happen often. The only real way to gypo the system and take time off is to be the boss and make your own rules. Until that happens, you’ll just have to get better at reading swell charts and taking the right days off, or invent that laser-beam we talked about earlier.

Top 10 ‘Get Out Of Work’ Lies That Have Been Overused:

1. I have a tummy bug

2. It’s my grandmother’s birthday

3. Car trouble

4. Sorry, I have been sleeping all day. I genuinely didn’t hear the phone ringing. I

have terrible flu.

5. Emergency dentist appointment.- I broke a tooth/lost a filling

6. You didn’t get my e-mail? Eish, no ways. I told you ages ago that I had X

commitment today and needed time off.

7. The water pipes in my house burst. It’s a mess here! I’ve got to wait for the

plumber to arrive.

8. I have an important meeting with the “bank” (this is stretching the truth, by making

a play on the word ‘sand bank)

9. My wife/family-member is terribly sick and I need to be here

10. Something urgent came up. I’ll explain later.

*Cover Photo – by Cameron Cattell @SurfCartel – showing us what happens when surf trips go right.