surfing, surfing cliches, surfing philosophy,

“I feel a connection to the ocean.”

The Inertia

How often do you hear other surfers drop those deep, mystical sounding clichés about riding waves? You know, those overused ambiguous statements that easily fall out of our mouths, like…

“I need the ocean” or “When I’m in the water, I don’t think about anything else.” Or how about these two? “Surfing is the source of my happiness” and “I feel a connection to the ocean.” The list of tired clichés is endless, and we are all guilty of dropping them at one time or another. You can watch just about any amateur, artistically-inspired surf film and you’ll hear somebody equating surfing to something more meaningful than just a hobby. Yet if you ask most surfers to elaborate on such things in person, there’s often less depth and meaning behind their words. Most of us just repeat whatever sounds most relatable with little-to-no understanding of what we’re really saying. We all know that there is truth in those clichés, but do we really understand what we are saying?

Personally, I was always aware of the distant truth behind surfing’s overused clichés on some level but also felt they were a bit cheesy and tried my best to steer clear of them. So imagine my horror when I set out to write a book about my love for surfing. I realized real quick that all those cheesy, clichéd phrases are actually very true and difficult to ignore when writing about surfing. The truth is, I really do have a connection to the ocean and I really do need it to find balance…and I needed it to fix my life on the deepest level.

Five years after moving to California, I began to realize that I was trying to be something I wasn’t. I fell into a deep depression and lost everything from my career to my house. At my lowest point, I was living in a budget motel in Anaheim with all my possessions stuffed into the back of a rented Ford Focus. I had gone from a clueless British surf kid in my youth to a career-driven, overweight twenty-something police officer living in inland California. I came out of the other end as a thirty-something who lives for riding waves again and devotes a lot of my time and focus on traveling. Even when I was neglecting myself in those dark days, surfing was present, reminding me there was an equalizer and a life balance to look for. It wasn’t until I was forced to my knees by bad choices and life’s cruel circumstances that I found some meaning in a handful of those clichés.

With that said, here is my refreshed perspective on a few of surfing’s favorite and most common clichés and what I’ve learned about them:

“When I’m In the Water, Nothing Else Matters…”

I write about this saying a lot. The theme that stems from this particular quote is why surfing has such a far-reaching role in so many lives. Surfing demands so much from us and we happily give it our time and energy. Month after month, year after year. The return on investment is internal and not tangible to others, sometimes including our partners and non-surfing friends.

I’ve dropped this one myself and heard many others use it plenty. For me, it’s absolutely true but of course, that’s if you’re not taking it literally. Many other things in life do matter. Just because I go out for a surf doesn’t mean my problems and worries disappear or that the world stops. However, surfing is a solace and doing it requires an actual, physical escape from the real world for as long as you’re in the water. It acts as a counterweight to the demands of modern society and we are relatively free from distractions when we surf.

From a scientific perspective, this can actually be described by the term flow state. Entering flow state is “being in the zone,” a time or circumstance where a person is fully engrossed in an energized focus of activity. Flow state was named by a female scientist called Mihály Csíkszentmihályi in 1975 and the concept has been widely referred to in a variety of fields. Books by Csikszentmihályi suggest that enhancing the time spent in flow makes our lives “happier and more successful.” Csikszentmihályi also stated that “happiness is derived from personal development and growth – and flow situations permit the experience of personal development.”

In short, the reason “nothing else matters when we surf” is because we are in a flow state. We are hyper focused on a physically demanding activity and reaping the benefits of solace and progression. When surfing is embraced for all the positives it can bring, it truly can make one a better person on land by being at sea.

“The Ocean Doesn’t Discriminate”

When anyone steps into the ocean the playing field is in fact leveled. Somehow, many of us still manage to bring our egos into the water with us when we paddle out. This is by far the truest and easiest statement to digest and translate. In my average surfing life, the ocean has always been there, drawing me in from afar. That giant expanse of the living, breathing natural world doesn’t account for your status, race, what technology you have at your use, or your ego. She will gladly hand out joy and terror in equal measure to all. There have been times in my life when I have been successful by modern societal standards and other times when I have been down on my luck. In both of those outside circumstances, the ocean was able to humble me just the same from either side of the coin.

“Only a Surfer Knows the Feeling”

I am not fond of this saying at all. To me, it is the most tired of all our clichés. I tried so hard not to use it in my book, however, it snuck onto the pages twice in those twelve chapters.

The first time is in reference to whether or not surfers have an addiction or if we’re just a neurotic bunch hellbent on attaching meaning to our hobby so we can justify the amount of energy we give it. To be honest, I’m not even that certain what part of surfing this saying refers to. Is it the ride? The tube? Being surfed out after a three-hour session? Let’s assume the feeling that only a surfer could know is simply that of riding a wave. Aside from the surrounding visuals and the environment we experience, the feeling that accompanies it all is caused by chemicals released in our brain. These are the very same chemicals that are known to be habit forming and associated with joyful or pseudo joyful experiences. So maybe we aren’t as unique as we think we are.

I prefer to think that the feeling we only know is the feeling of being surfed out after a session. The session where you’ve stayed out an hour longer than usual because the waves were so good. The feeling where you’re driving home with salty skin, red eyes, thick hair, tired shoulders and a blissful feeling of exhaustion. That’s my favorite feeling.

We all have a unique connection to surfing. And as we grow older it can become more difficult to justify or even defend why it has such a strong hold over us. We all feel the impact surfing has on us but elaborating on it is a lot harder said than done.

Editor’s Note: Learn more about Simon Short’s book, The Average Surfer’s Guide to Travel, Waves, and Progression.


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