Surfing has been mythologized in many cultures, and with good reason. From an athleticism standpoint, it’s an incredibly difficult sport and requires someone to be in pretty decent shape just to learn. To be truly good at surfing one has to be in peak athletic condition, and to do it as much as possible. It’s one of those sports that you can lose your momentum very quickly if you’re not practicing every day. On the other hand, it will also whip you into shape faster than you can imagine, and dedicated practice every day will yield unexpectedly fast results.
Aside from the physical aspects of the sport, there is a more personal, spiritual side to surfing that is less widely discussed, although some works of popular culture — surfer Dana Brown’s fantastic surf documentary Step Into Liquid and the surf memoir In Search of Captain Zero by longtime surfer Allan C. Weisbecker — have captured this aspect well.
It’s hard to describe the soul of surfing to someone who hasn’t done it, and it feels like a hideous conceit to try to do it when you’re merely a novice. But once the surfing bug bites you and you start thinking of yourself as a “surfer” as opposed to someone who does not surf, there really is no going back to your previous way of life.
When you’re surfing, you’re constantly reminded of something bigger than you, something so huge you really become aware of just how small and insignificant you are. If you don’t believe me, try going nose down and crashing into a shoulder-high breaking wave, caught up in the earth’s biggest washing machine and at the mercy of the ocean until it decides to spit you back to the surface again.
But at the same time as you feel insignificant in the face of force much more powerful than you, you also feel like a part of this amazing whole — part of the wave and the ocean that serves it up and the planet that depends on that ocean to support everything that lives on it. I know that sounds pretty far out, but give surfing a try for awhile and see if you don’t at least catch a glimmer of how this feels.
Lessons learned on the way to becoming a better surfer also are good ones for getting more out of life. Patience is essential, as is the ability to adapt quickly to an ever-changing set of circumstances and the ability to think quickly on your feet (or off them, as is more often the case).
These are all things applicable to life, which, like the ocean, is not always something that cares about your schedule, your plan, your needs and desires. Like the ocean, life does its own thing and expects you will learn to roll with it, because that’s pretty much the only choice you have.
[by Elizabeth Montalbano]