Writer/Photographer/Stoke Ambassador
There is a lot to learn from the lineup. Photo: Hayden O'Neill

There is a lot to learn from the lineup. Photo: Hayden O’Neill

The Inertia

People who don’t surf will often look at a surfer’s lifestyle and scratch their heads. The idea of devoting one’s life to finding (and riding) that fabled perfect wave seems a bit juvenile (if not completely obsessive) to some. It’s no secret that surfers march to a different drum, with salt-bleached hair, a perma-grin from endless stoke, and an attitude that is perhaps a little less high strung than if they were not completely in love with the ocean and the waves she brings with her from far away.

But the Spicolli-Airhead stereotype of a surfer is wrong. In fact, I’m willing to argue that surfing actually improves one’s intelligence. And I’m not talking about book-smarts here. I speak of the well-rounded life bank that we all seek to fill – one that makes someone stand out in the field as a respected member of society and contributor to the benefit of all humankind. Is that ambitious? I don’t think so. I think it’s in all of us to contribute to humanity. My argument is that surfing gets people on that track much more efficiently than, say, getting a college degree.

So here are a few reasons how surfing helps lead one to a better understanding of life.

1. Surfing gets you onto natural time. A surfer’s schedule is not set by calendars or days of the week. If the waves are firing, we are out in the water. If it’s flat or the wind is blowing onshore, we are doing other things. The ocean doesn’t know what a Tuesday is. It doesn’t care that you have to meet your in-laws for brunch the sunday after next. By tuning into Earth’s natural rhythms of swell, wind, and tide, your body aligns with the forces that surround us daily, but has gone mostly overlooked in present society. When we go by the human-devised clock and calendar, we lose touch of that natural rhythm and get into a routine that is not harmonious with the world around us. The moon plays a role as well. Surfing helps you develop a sense for which phases of the moon create the best tidal conditions for particular breaks.

Living on natural time helps us connect with our natural instincts that, for whatever reason, present-day society has undervalued.

2. You feel the vortex. 

The dictionary defines a vortex as a whirling mass. This can be fire, air, water, or any other medium that can ~whirl~ on it’s own. This might be the most vague definition I have ever seen printed in the dictionary. From what I have noticed in life and the universe around us, is that life produces itself in spirals. In surfing, you find this in the barrel. These spirals range from the minuscule (a DNA strand) to the astronomical (a galaxy). Set these spirals in forward motion and the space within becomes a vortex. This is essentially how life springs from the ether. Don’t believe me? Do some research Fibonacci spirals. That’ll blow your mind a bit. Or just get barreled and feel it firsthand.

3. You won’t catch a wave by staring at it. This is one of those truths that is painfully obvious when in the water but when translated to other aspects of life it is a bit more obscure. You see it all the time when people are just beginning. They see a set stack up, the waves are coming, and yet they are not 100% focused on doing everything in their power to catch the wave. This means paddling, and usually paddling hard. If you are not completely lined up at the right spot, the wave will either pass underneath you or will come crashing down on top of you. But, if you are positioned well and put in the appropriate effort, then (and only then) will you catch the momentum and be able to ride the wave. The same is true in “catching” other opportunities we hope to “ride” in life. It could be a job, or a relationship, or a moment in time on a street corner with a random passerby. The point is that unless you are lined up in the direction of whatever is coming your way, it will either casually pass underneath you or come down crashing hard. But, if your effort is aligned with the force coming at you, you’ll be able to stand up and ride alongside whatever may come.

There's an unparalleled connection between a surfer and the waves, a connection that is anticipated offshore, but explored out in the lineup.  Photo: Ming Nomchong.

There’s an unparalleled connection between a surfer and the waves, a connection that is anticipated offshore, but explored out in the lineup. Photo: Ming Nomchong.

4. You literally dance with nature. It might sound like hippie-flowery bullshit but it’s true. Waves are all around us. They permeate our very existence on a level that none of us truly understand, or can even fully perceive. Waves are the basis for how information is transmitted in the universe. Surfing is dependent on the interaction between wind and water to create swell, until that swell reaches land causing it to break. But here’s the kicker – the water we ride on is simply a medium that transmits the energy we ride. The actual water molecules are more or less stationary as the waves themselves travel thousands of miles across the ocean. What does that mean?  It means that when you are surfing, you are riding energy. Let that sink in for a second.

5. You learn about true love. Surfing has kicked my ass over and over again. Just when you think you have something down, you learn something new that is so humbling, you are forced to evaluate what you thought you knew. You are brought to reality time and time again, and any ego trip that you are on will put you in ultimate failure if you bring that attitude to the waves. On the other side of that equation, by putting in your time and forgetting about all the bad moments you will relish in moments of pure ecstasy that cannot be described in a simple blog post such as this. It’s a lifelong relationship that is not without it’s struggles. But the reward is ultimate.

I wouldn’t say that I’ve ever had absolute unconditional love, but I know that no matter what the conditions are and how poorly I surf, I always feel better after paddling out. And being around something or someone that makes you feel better…well, I’d say that is a pretty good definition of true love.

You pour hours, days, months, and years of your life into surfing, and it returns the favor with timeless moments. Photo: Chris DeLorenzo

You pour hours, days, months, and years of your life into surfing, and it returns the favor with timeless moments. Photo: Chris DeLorenzo

6. Not all hard work earns you a paycheck. Perhaps this follows the preceding post on love. But the phrase “labor of love” is a good one. Aside from a minuscule percentage of professionals, surfing will not make you rich. Sure, there are jobs related to surfing that allows you the freedom to surf, but you will find very few people who make a living simply for going out and surfing. But my god, is it ever hard. You have to put in your time. There are no shortcuts. Your reward isn’t money. Which is a very powerful lesson, showing that monetary gain is not the end result.

7. It’s scientifically proven to make you happier. The actual state of being “stoked” is a real thing. It has to do with ionized water particles in the air that you either inhale or ingest.

Bridget Reedman of Coastal Watch wrote a great article about it on The Inertia:

The turbulence created by breaking waves alters the physical structure of the air and water, breaking apart water and air molecules and releasing charged ions* into the atmosphere. On their eternal quest for perfect waves surfers inevitably encounter this altered atmospheric state.

Some scientists are convinced this abundance of negative ions has a positive effect on mood by triggering the release of endorphins and serotonin – the “happy hormones” – and increasing blood flow and oxygen circulation through our bodies.

Other sports do this too. Getting a face shot of powder on the mountain will inject the system with the same ionic pleasure force. But the point is by doing these activities you are exposed to the fast-moving ionized particle at a rate much slower than your average human, other than perhaps, I don’t know, a fire hydrant technician? And you know what? I’ve never seen a fire hydrant technician who was a complete dick. Which is good enough for me to prove my point.

8. It’s really fun. To me, that is the ultimate goal in life. If your life isn’t fun, you are wasting your time.

Smile, you're surfing. Photo:  Richard Kotch

Smile. You’re surfing. Photo: Richard Kotch

  • AbigailatSea


  • CS2013

    really beautifully written and so on point – thank you! keep writing! keep surfing 🙂

    • whererusteve

      Thanks for the kind words! I shall continue with both for as long as I can 🙂

  • Matt Tung

    Yeah you said It!

  • Sophia Indja

    Love this! Great work 🙂

  • Guest

    I was in Hawaii when I wrote this. Waves are firing most days in the winter 🙂 sometimes the ol’ body needs a rest. 🙂

  • seldom seen smith

    Great article, this really summarizes what the #saltlife is all about. And #3, about dem vortices, man I’ve been saying there’s something to that all my life.

  • seldom seen smith

    #10: You don’t have to get out to pee.

  • Pieter

    9) It teaches you to write pointless blog posts

  • JT

    One with the earth…

  • Kevin Stephen WunderBread

    I love this article it’s the the truth 🙂

  • Gary Ross

    Great article …and a subject that has not been explored. Ever notice that if your life is maybe out of focus it comes out in the water but also an easy way to correct it with getting back in touch. Ever wait for that perfect peak set wave and then maybe you take the one before it and see the real one you were waiting for as you paddle back out, maybe as in life timing and patience is on display and just one aspect for learning. How about getting beat up paddling out and then you sit with no waves for a long while, maybe you deserve it on that day. Not so bad as in the water you are always in the bonus round and you know there is always another wave. So if some kind of crazy life lessons going on also it is only that and makes it fun to consider. When the wave comes and born from maybe 1,000 miles away it washes up on the shore and no more unless you experience some several second insane barrel ride and then it may be etched in you mind only and maybe forever.

    • whererusteve

      Thanks for your insight Gary! Glad it resonated with so many people 🙂

  • Pedro Pinto

    One of best articles a read about surf in years. Congratulations. Everything is true.

  • Lorelei Horry

    Thank You for the fluent interesting story on what we know on an emotional level.

  • Phil Beenham

    good post!

  • Stunning Steve Jiu

    You forgot fist fighting over a wave and territorial locals!

  • Tamara Reuveni

    How about: if you stop on your knees, you’ll never get all the way up.

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