A few friends and I were gathered around the campfire a few months back on a beautiful California night. The summer moon was rising in the east and the conversation was dying down when a friend of mine posed the question: If you were given an ultimatum, and had to choose only surfing or music from here on out for the rest of your life, which would you choose and why?
It was an almost impossible debate for everyone gathered around the fire that night as music and surfing had both given so much to all of us over the years. These two pastimes had been the foundational elements of our friendships, our travels, and our hopes and fears. Without exception, none of us would be who we are outside of our common love for the songs and the sea. As I contemplated the impossible decision of choosing only one or the other, a lifetime of memories flooded my head.
My story in surfing and in music begins with joy, plain and simple. It’s a joy as pure and unabashed as the grin I’m wearing right now, thinking back to my early experiences with song and the sea. In music and in the ocean that childlike joy is still alive for me. Sometimes I feel it when no one’s around – on a beach with my guitar – quietly playing a song that no other human ears will ever hear. Sometimes I feel it onstage in front of thousands of people, surrounded by strangers, who feel like family for that one moment in time. In surfing and in song, this joy isn’t dependent upon external conditions. Most of the time, it’s a reflection of what’s happening on the inside rather than the outside. For example, the conditions could be horrible for surfing, but when I’m paddling out with my dad and my brother I’m already happier than almost any surfer on the planet.
The sea and the song still give me a sense of wonder, of awe, and even apprehension. I can recall many times when my experiences with music and surfing have given me feelings of anxiety and even fear. Terror isn’t usually a desirable emotion, but I’m convinced that fear can be good for you. Fear is purifying. It reminds you of your mortality, your humanity. In our world of instant gratification, this sort of humility is hard to find. Fear can provide humility like no other emotion. It’s the humbling experience – standing face to face with your limitations. In the mosh pit, in the impact zone, or submerged in the terror of Beethoven’s 5th, I survive the experience with a sense of wonder and humility.
The ocean and the song are where I am truly reminded of how small I am. From the tranquil summer droughts to the fierce north swells, from Bach to Nirvana, music and surfing are places of almost unlimited possibilities. They are playgrounds for self-expression, places to ask the big questions, places to find yourself and lose yourself all at once. I find transcendence staring out into the horizon. The small, petty questions of vanity fade away as the bigger questions come into view: Why am I here? Is there a God? What has eternal worth? These are places where the scaffolding of my soul is rearranged by hands stronger than mine.
Surfing and music had always been vehicles to find myself in the context of a much larger story. And if I had to pick just one, I suppose I would say that the songs have brought me closer to God. It’s in creation that I feel closest to the creator/ re-creator of time and space. When I surf, I’m riding waves that I have no control over; immersed in the chaos. When I write, I have the rare privilege of creating my own waves – sound-waves controlling the cosmos, and signing God’s blank checks. In my favorite songs, I experience community, communication, joy, wonder, worship, and even transcendence. I compose, or listen or sing along and the story comes to life – fundamentally changing the airwaves around me.
Yes, the ocean is in our blood, but deeper still, the songs are in our soul. We learned to sing before we learned to swim. I agree with Nietzsche when he says, “Without music, life would be a mistake.” As the fire began to die, I looked the around at the glowing faces of my friends, a brotherhood of sea and song. Ours was a community where the metaphor of music and surfing represented a much larger struggle – in the ocean and in our songs we had found a vehicle to communicate our own existence. Transcendent point of contact from the temporal to the timeless. As to surfing or music? I’m glad none of us have had to choose between the two.
Most recently, these Jon invited Rob and Tom to appear in Switchfoot’s newest DVD release, Fading West. If you watch the short film released in conjunction with the album, you quickly realize that their life is enviable. Check out the new album on iTunes.