Have you ever tried to explain what surfing means to you to someone who has never surfed? It’s nearly impossible to get it right. Even with the best intentions, it almost always comes out wrong–the only available descriptors make you sound like Johnny Utah, or some other variation of a stereotypical surfer. Not good.
I often wonder why this is so. It’s not as if surfers are illiterate or unable to express themselves; the surfing folks I know are as professional and qualified as you can get, but if you ask them to describe surfing, they come across as gibber-jabbering. I’m no exception, by the way. Before you know it, I’m “dude this” and “rad that.”
So what does surfing mean to me? Well, here goes:
Aside from my family, it means possibly everything. The physicality it demands and the elation it readily gives in return.
Quite simply, it’s the gift that keeps on giving, regardless of conditions, regardless of session, good or bad. It’s a constant. It’s also very empowering. I could be faced with a seriously demanding situation in work or personal life, and the stress simply dissipates when I think about times while surfing when I had to face a different set of fears, paddling out into big surf or getting through triple wave hold-downs and close-out sets.
Ultimately though, what does surfing really mean to me? Let me put it this way.
When my dad passed, I took some of his ashes with me surfing. Although he knew I was a surf nut, he had never seen me surf, so I could never really share this with him. So I paddled out at my local break in Lahinch and half-way through the session I picked off a set wave, took his ashes out of a small canister in my wetsuit and let them scatter into the wind and surf as I held a steady line.
It was one of the most meaningful, fulfilling, sacred, possibly even holy, moments in my life, and ironically the closest I ever was to him. I’ll never forget it and I’ll be eternally grateful that I could do this and see my dad off in style: I know he would have liked to have been there, and at times I feel he is.
I am both emotional and relieved to be able to share why I’ve spent the last 20 years chasing that surfing dragon. In a word: peace. Nothing more, nothing less.