The 7 Most Important Things Surfing has Taught me About Life
For almost 3 years now I’ve been riding waves. That very first wave on the beach in Brazil seems like a lifetime ago, but somehow I can remember it like it was yesterday. Every time I think back to the first time I stood up and found myself able to repeat that again and again throughout that surf session, I can’t help but smile and think just how much the pursuit of waves has changed my life. It’s defined me in ways I never thought it would, and left me with the the continual desire to be stoked for life. With all of that it’s also brought a variety of lessons that are of significance throughout every aspect of my life.
I surf nearly everyday and on the days when I’m lucky enough, twice a day. I never roll out of bed thinking “damn I have to get to my surf spot.” Instead I can’t sleep the night before in anticipation of my morning session. It’s the kind of discipline that I’ve never had in my life. It’s the kind of discipline that I believe you need to make your dreams a reality. It’s a discipline that may get you labeled obsessed or batshit crazy when in all reality it’s effortless because it’s a passion that lights your eyes up. It’s a discipline that requires no authority figures to enforce and it’s the kind of dispcline that teaches you the importance of just showing up everyday.
I still remember the words a friend who surfed when I was in Brazil. “Surfing is a commitment bro, I’m not sure you have it in you.” He might have been right at the time, but somehow after the first wave I made a commitment to myself that I would learn how to surf. I was determined to do whatever it took. Sometimes it meant days that tested my patience and built my character. It meant putting on a wetsuit and forgetting about the cold crisp air because I’d experience the greatest natural high in the world. It meant forgetting about the small things, riding out the storm, and giving it everything I had to reach the end result. Until this journey I had a reputation for not finishing the things I started. Now, at the point of no return, I’ve managed not only to silence the naysayers, but earn their respect. I’ve made a commitment that will last a lifetime.
Ah mother nature, how I love you for your inconsistency, your temperamental nature and your leisurely schedule. As much as I’d love for you to be on my schedule, I’m clearly on yours. If there’s anything that surfing teaches you it’s patience. You are on the schedule of the ocean and you’ll wait patiently sometimes for 45 minutes, for a 10 second moment of happiness because it’s just that good. One last wave is the curse of every surfer because the moment you utter those words you’ll either catch a perfect wave and paddle right back out for another one. Or you’ll catch on that isn’t quite good enough to call it a day. But the moment you utter those words, that final wave seems to take forever and eventually you become truly patient.
“Go 50 times and you’ll be too invested to quit.” I’ll never forget hearing that from the guy sitting at a bar in San Diego after my 4th failed attempt to surf. As I sat chomping my chicken wings and drinking my scotch, I thought “who the hell would want to do this 50 times.” I think I’ve probably gone surfing well over 500 times. In fact I’ve lost count of the waves ridden although I’ve been tempted to keep a journal until I reach 10,000. I’ve persisted through an endless summer where I became a few shades darker and supposedly ruined my prospects for arranged marriage. I persisted through different length boards, making my way down to a shortboard (something a friend said I’d never be able to do after the age of 30). I’ve persisted through conditions beyond my skill level and emerged with an addiction so strong I go through withdrawal on days out of the water. When you’re so damn persistent, some day define you as stubborn. Pay no attention to them and charge forward. They might eventually label you just stubborn enough.
Every single time you paddle out, knowing that all it takes is one good wave, you put yourself in a situation of uncertainty and potential danger. It’s strange because 2 years ago I would check the surf report and think to myself “I hope it’s not too big.” Eventually that changed to “I hope it’s not too small.” The ocean has taught me to be courageous when it decides to put me to the test. There have those moments when I wonder if I’ll be resurfacing anytime soon, and somehow I always do. The Nicaragua beatdown made my life flash before my eyes, but somehow I didn’t just think “damn that was scary.” But I also thought “it would have been really nice to catch one of those waves.” No matter what you keep going back for more and everyday and every moment you conquer fear just a little bit. You find the courage to just keep going because of the to ear to ear smile that you’ll be rewarded with.
“It’s always got the upper hand.“ These are the famous words of anybody who has witnessed the power of the ocean. Even in your finest hours disaster can ensue. A surfboard to the head, emergency rooms, busted eardrums, and withdrawal are par for the course. The power of the ocean will always leave you humbled. A force larger than life with a mind of its own is what your faced with on a daily basis. It teaches you humility and puts things in perspective. Suddenly thing things that seemed to matter no longer do, even it is for the briefest of moments.
Those of us on a spiritual journey continually seek presence without really ever understanding it. We know logically that the only moment we have is now, but the experience of now, of flow is one we struggle to grasp. Riding waves has taught me presence. When you drop into a wave your mind goes blank and all your thinking about is what the wave you’re on is going to do next. Is it going to close out? Is it going to pummel me? Is it going to take me for the ride of my life? The only thing I can say is that the footprints in my imagination left by waves are among the clearest in my mind. Brief snapshots of my life are almost as clear if they happened just yesterday.
Despite the fact that some people may tell you that surfing has ruined my life, it truly has saved my life and for that I’m eternally grateful. I wake up everyday knowing that I will always have the ocean to look forward to, and no matter what happens riding waves will always keep a smile on my face.