I’ve had an on and off relationship with surfing for the past 4 years. I am far from being a professional or one of the “local” surfers. I had a number of “first-time” lessons in Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Bali. Although I promised to continue surfing at home, the responsibilities and duties my everyday life far exceeded my drive and commitment to getting out on the water. Nonetheless, my limited experience does not detract from my interest and awe of surfing.
Throughout our lives, we come across things that draw us in for no rhyme or reason. Surfing was one of those things for me. I grew up near the mountains and lakes of the Midwest and East Coast, so the ocean was an enigma. Through movies, televisions, books and the Internet, I’ve become fascinated with the culture built around the ocean. I felt a natural pull to surfing, the summer cousin to snowboarding. As an avid snowboarder often looking for the highest peaks, I can identify with surfers’ intense passion to chase giant barrels. However as someone who found elation from floating on fresh backcountry powder, I was more attracted to surfing as a way to uncover inner peace and relaxation.
Surfing is a little different from snowboarding. In snowboarding, gravity will always pull you towards the bottom of the mountain or lift. In surfing, a wave is accelerating you through the sea. To go on another ride, you just need to take a lift back up to the top. In surfing, you have to paddle out on the water, fight through waves with a buoyant board, and get smacked by a lot of salt water. When you get to the break, not all waves are the same, so you end up playing the waiting game for the right wave. Even the “right” wave may turn into a completely different wave than you expected.
Nonetheless, catching and riding my first wave gave me an overwhelming feeling of connectedness. With every wave, I began to understand the obsession behind surfing. The tactile nature heightened my senses and awareness of my surroundings from the buttery feel of cool water to the grittiness of my waxed board. My breathing and paddling started to match the rhythm of waves crashing and receding. Looking up I can see the expanse where the sky meet the sea and watch the sun rise or set from a new perspective.
Sitting on my board was a constant balancing act between my body and the ocean. There is nothing but a board between my body and the sea, so surfing made me face moments of fear, intimidation, boredom and doubt. At the same time, it taught me patience, humility, respect and flexibility. Too often, people disregard not only the unpredictable power of nature but also its ability to make you more open and self-aware. Riding a wave does not mean you are overcoming its power but rather adjusting to its unpredictable fluidity. Society has taught us to mask our weaknesses, but ignorance can severely damage your personal growth. (In surfing, you’ll likely wipe out a lot more than you like.) By knowing and accepting our weaknesses, you can strategize on how to use your strengths to redefine your weakness or increase the positive effects of your weakness.