I guess I’d been lucky enough to avoid it as long as I did, but then came that one fateful day where I felt the hate while surfing. Ah, surfing. And here I thought the hardest thing to learn was popping up. Turns out, that’s not true. The hardest thing to learn is how to continue to have fun while very, very intense surfers around you viciously compete for waves, without the slightest regard for your safety or your feelings or your turn. Like I said, I escaped even the slightest hint of this for many, many months, so statistically, for the most part, surfers are an easy-going, good-vibes bunch.
But a couple of days later, I got some intel that suggested the problem was, in fact, a problem, and not just a once in a lifetime anomaly. Still smarting a little from getting paddled into, dropped in on (and not in that oh-woops-didn’t-see-you kind of way. No, no, this was a calculated attack.) and ran over, I was reading Peter Heller’s novel, Kook. It’s about a dude having a midlife crisis who decides to learn how to surf. Those of you who’ve been surfing since you were little, take a moment and have some mercy on those of us whom surfing saved much later on in life.
Forgive us our puppy dog enthusiasm, our splashy paddling, and our sloppy wipeouts. Sorry if we want to be your friend, sorry if we get in your way, sorry if the sight of a foamboard cuts your heart like fin on skin. I don’t know what surfing is to you, strange water creature, ye who was born riding, but to me it is much more than just a sport, a pastime, a bragging right, a good session, a good wave. It is what saves me; it is what gives me life. Fuck the perfect wave; I just like waves, salt water, sun. I like how the water washes me clean down to my bones, and how my board feels alive when it touches the sea, like the world’s most easy-to-care-for pony. And, surfer-god, I envy you your ease and grace, but don’t think that’s a requirement to surf. At least, it shouldn’t be.
Heller’s first forays into surfing are rife with localism, attitude, and sheer assholeism. There’s yelling and such. Now, I ask you, is that the aloha spirit of surfing? I mean, this ain’t Hawaii, I get it. I’m in LA. But still, all you type-A people who preach the law of abundance while dragging your start-ups into profitability, why do you seemingly ditch that generosity of spirit at water’s edge for cold, jealous aggression?
After the day when there was some haters out in the lineup, I wanted to be that person that was impervious to jerks, but the truth is, my stoke was pretty dented and my heart was hurt. Reading Heller’s novel, I began to resign myself to the fact that there was this unpleasant side to surfing. That there would be days where it felt really competitive and dog-eat-dog in the lineup. That in today’s fast paced world, where natural resources are straining under the weight of an ever increasing human population, where time is the thing no one ever has enough of, aloha is dying an inexorable death. And then I saw a shirt that said: Sharing (waves) is caring. And then and there, I decided, that if aloha was going to die, it would not be by my hand –or even by my silent witness.
I recently started a gratitude project in my life. Like whenever I start to feel shitty, angry, mad or sad, I start finding things to be grateful for and saying thanks to them (you should try it – the fun part is saying thanks TO things instead of FOR things. It’s a subtle but really enjoyable difference). It’s pretty hard to stay in a bad mood, even if some asshole just cut you off, if you’re all: Thank you, dear car, for protecting me and for getting me where I need to go at speeds that are incredible! Thank you, amazing California weather, thank you, convertible top, that I can – and am –putting down at the next red light.
This gratitude stuff is serious. It works! I tried it after once reading that Buddhist monks say a prayer of thanks to everything – like seriously everything – their bowl after they eat, the water for washing the bowl, they even thank the toilet after going to the bathroom. With all that good will and gratitude constantly seeping out from your pores, life looks different. It’s pretty trippy. You start to stare at strangers at the local TJ’s with love in your eyes. It makes them uncomfortable. You caress the apples and avocados with your silent blessings and they all but leap quivering into your arms.
This post then, is for me, for beginner, for the seasoned waterman, and for the hotshot desperado without a leash; for all surfers alike: I would ask that you consider starting a gratitude project with your surfing.
Don’t think that I’m all high and mighty. I need to do it as much as the next surfer. I have definitely been guilty of feeling wave rage (albeit, not acting on it). But the next time some adorable little newb, freshly bitten by the surfing bug, paddles straight into my path, I think I will just crash (my steering skills are still forming), make sure we’re all ok, smile at them, paddle to the next peak over, and chill. And if I feel that little bubble of grumpiness start dancing in my wetsuit, I’ll start thanking things, like my board, the sky, the waves (obvi) and even my wetsuit for doing such a great job of keeping me warm.
And the next time I’m sitting in the lineup and getting hateful vibes and waves stolen right from under me, the next time someone cuts me off, or sits on my ass in the lineup, or crashes into me, I’ll do the same thing: paddle away, and find a few things to be thankful for, just to protect my sanity and my spirit. I suggest all you people who have ever felt the hate (or spawned the hate… never too late to turn over a new leaf!), do the same.
This is the surfing gratitude project: if you aren’t having a perfect day with perfect waves, find something else to be grateful for. If you’re feeling hatey, or hated, if the tension is a little thick out there, just be grateful you’re in the lineup at all. There’s plenty of people who would give their firstborn to surf.
But seriously, I don’t care how you do it, you can thank your wetsuit or not, but when you’re in the water, please try to keep the vibe positive and relaxed. Because I promise, there will always be another wave. That’s just how the ocean works. And if that wave doesn’t come by the end of your session, it will be waiting for you in the future sometime. Sharing (waves) is caring.
(I want to thank my lovely little laptop for helping me communicate this, and my yummy warm cup of tea for being so yummy as I write this. And thank you, fellow surfer, for reading!)