I am going to be honest (and remain honest) from the beginning… I am not the best, most dedicated surfer. There are people who far exceed my drive and commitment to getting out on the water. That being said, my limited experience does not detract from my level of interest in and respect for surfing; there are things in life that attract us, constantly holding a magnetic pull on our interests and us — surfing has that hold on me.
I look at surfing as more than a sport. I see it as a philosophy and lifestyle. This particular opinion has developed from many sources, including movies, books, interviews, documentaries, and personal emotion. While I have learned that many surfers still have an intense drive and fire to be the strongest and surf the largest waves, there are many who surf for enjoyment and relaxation, to uncover inner peace and understanding. I have found myself doing the latter.
Last spring, I wrote a research paper on Zen meditation. What I learned was that meditation comes from repeated activity that requires minimal thought or discomfort; the body falls into a pattern of enacting what feels natural. Surfing very much falls in line with aspects of meditation. You paddle out on the water, away from the tether of land, filled with noise, technology, responsibilities, and other distractions. The act is simple enough: one cupped hand dips into the ocean and pulls back, when it surfaces the next hand mimics the action, and this movement is repeated until you find yourself where you want to be.
From the silky feel of the water to the bumpiness of a waxed board, much of surfing is tactile, enhancing and engaging every sense. Hearing the sound of waves crashing, receding, and arriving is unavoidable. The water catches in your mouth and you taste the natural saltiness of the element. Everything is illuminated. Stretching all around is an expanse of blue where sky and sun meet sea, or you catch a glimpse of life on land from a new perspective. Being out in the roll of the ocean awakens the body.
While there are moments of fear, intimidation, boredom, and doubt — depending on the condition of the waves and one’s relationship with it on a given day — there is always a moment of liberation and pride. To catch a wave is an overwhelming feeling of connectedness. Suddenly, you are standing on top of an uncontrollable and unpredictable natural element.
Too often, people disrespect and disregard nature. However, riding a wave means working with water, not overcoming its power and capabilities but being at peace with its fluidity. A surfer is paired down to his body and a board, left to deal with the mind of the sea, thus allowing for unfettered interaction between man and nature. The moment you stand on the board and float across the water, feeling the jostles of a force flowing under you, an intense sense of harmony arises. And that encompasses the beauty and philosophy surfing possesses.
For more from Danielle, read more from her on-going series, Anthropology of Surfing.