I was a traveler long before I was a surfer. I can still recall the exact feeling I had boarding an international flight on my own for the very first time. There was a nervous anticipation making my palms sweat and my stomach lurch. And then there was the rush of adrenaline that hit once the plane touched down and suddenly I’d found myself an ocean away from everything I had ever known. I wasn’t aware at that time I’d spend the rest of my life chasing that sensation. An addiction just as visceral as any other, travel didn’t only become a part of my life, it became an integral piece of my very core.
Travel, just like anything else, has its pros and cons. When you’re high, you’re on top of the world. You’re conquering the unknown, thriving outside of your comfort zone, and stretching your horizons and boundaries further than you ever thought possible. But when you’re down, it’s a dark low. Isolated from everything familiar and secure, a foreigner amidst a population who belong, like a fish out of water, gasping for air, flopping helplessly on land. If you’ve traveled without the highs, you’ve not pushed yourself far enough, and the same can be said about the lows. You can’t go to a foreign place and not fully engage—that’s not travel. You have to open your mind and let go of every expectation in order to truly experience a place. If you insist on clinging to that which is similar or safe while abroad, you might as well stay home. If you choose comfort over authenticity the entire concept of travel loses its validity. You go all in, or you forfeit the true possibilities of the journey.
Surfing, I’ve found has a cyclical nature. I learned to surf in Muizenberg, South Africa, chasing that familiar travel high and in need of that one moment where you’re able to recognize yourself in someone else halfway across the world. I learned that surfing is also based on the pursuit of those few seconds when life stops and you’re standing on top of the ocean. I remember catching my first wave at Surfer’s Corner just as well as I do boarding that first flight. It didn’t happen right away. I spent the majority of my time in Muizenberg getting nailed by waves, awkwardly floating on a board that felt unfamiliar and bulky, and unable to steady myself against the rushing current.
It was a cold morning and the gray flag warning of poor visibility for great white shark sightings was flapping noisily in the wind. I decided to quell my frustration with additional effort. Wave after wave came and I repeatedly got slammed into the sea until a lull gave me time to catch my breath and regain my composure. Then, determined and desperately trying to remember every piece of surfing advice I’d ever heard, I paddled as another set began. I was more surprised than anyone when I stood, and after I jumped off my board I couldn’t stop screaming and high-fiving the local kids. The rush of riding my first wave was just as good as any travel high. For a moment, I was on top of the world. And then the craving came. I wanted more.
Just like traveling, surfing was a scary and uncertain endeavor at first. But once I had conquered one place and ridden one wave, a new sense of confidence carried me forward. With a lack of fear and a desire to pursue what made me feel fully alive, walls fell to the ground, barriers were dissolved, and what was possible instantaneously expanded.
The problem with surfing and travel, as complementary explorations and succinct undertakings, remain the same. It’s a quest which is not finite. So as hard as you try, as many places as you travel, and as many waves as you have the honor to feel beneath your heels, it will inevitably only deepen the desire to seek out more. Once you reach that moment where nothing matters but the feeling of unity in a foreign country or the synchronicity of you and a board with the sea, it’s already time to recreate it all over again. It’s an addiction that will propel you to go beyond what you once thought was impossible, realistic, or even safe. You’ll want bigger more challenging waves in farther off and more diverse places. And you’ll begin to surprise yourself with the doors that passion can open.
When I arrived in South Africa for the first time, my cab driver told me learning to surf would ruin my life. I guess the same can be said of travel. When you love anything that much, it changes the game. If I had never gone abroad on my own or caught my first wave, my life would probably be a lot easier, but it’d be far less fulfilling. The journey would be so much less complicated. But the notion of choosing to chase things that don’t challenge you becomes even more perilous. I may never catch the perfect wave or hit every destination on my travel bucket list, but I am certain that I’ll never stop trying to do both. I’m equally as certain that no matter how good the break or how awesome the location, there will always be one more place, and I’ll always want just one more wave.