Just before his matchup at the WSL Finals, the cameras panned to Jack Robinson. It was a sight surf fans had become used to. Robinson had each foot placed on the opposite thigh, eyes closed, and with thumbs touching index fingers. A few heats later on the cobbles, Griffin Colapinto adopted the Lotus position or Padmasana, attempting to drown out the noise of the 30,000 fans he had just recently whipped into a frenzy.
Over in Portugal on the same day, just before entering the water in the Final of the QS Pro Santa Cruz, Marco Mignot and Gatien Delahaye were filmed side-by-side, in the same position. Such was their concentration, I could have sworn both levitated into the lineup, rather than paddled.
It seems the love affair between surfing and meditation has finally gone mainstream. Five years ago, a typical pre-heat warm-up involved a surfer writhing on a large, inflated ball, stretching some industrial rubber bands whilst listening to loud heavy metal or rap through enlarged headphones. Now psyching down is the new psyching up.
Of course, Jack and Griff are just the latest, all be it highest profile, surfers using meditation to elevate the sport. With his 50-year-long commitment to yoga, Gerry Lopez has probably highlighted the benefits of meditation the loudest (in his own quiet way) and the longest. But Shaun Tomson, Cheyne Horan, Dave Rastovich, Dick Brewer, Tom Carroll, Greg Long and Taylor Knox, to name a few, have long used mindfulness and meditation regularly.
Knox credits the practice of Kelee meditation as life changing. After 10 years on tour, he started suffering from anxiety and depression. “Meditation prolonged my career for a decade. But the surfing was a by-product of how meditation helped my whole life,” Knox told Outside magazine at age 47. “I got to a point with training where I hit a plateau on the physical side of things. I was stagnant. So, I started learning about how the body follows the mind, and how, if you have a toxic mind frame, it doesn’t matter how much you work out. You still won’t be able to perform.”
Knox is still ripping and it could be argued that he is now the second-best 50-plus surfer in the world. He can be found running Kelee meditation and surf retreats, accompanied by Matt Griggs, Mick Fanning’s former coach.
Tom Carroll, too, embraced meditation more than 15 years ago. The two-time world champion, who came clean on his long-term drug addiction a few years ago, is a qualified, and much sought-after, Sattva meditation teacher.
“We discover that we have been reaching for resolution from external sources, which is ultimately impossible,” Tom said on his website, which offers personalized and online meditation, as well as weekly guided live-streamed sessions on his Instagram. “While it may appear that everything is okay, really, we know it is not. We begin to ask questions. The answers to these questions start to point within. This is where meditation fits in.”
Now the benefits of meditation are well established. It has been shown to improve stress resilience, reduce blood pressure, and ease anxiety. Carroll also believes surfers should be more open to meditation, and that the practice fits well with our sport.
“Nature is about constant change and that is what gives us that feeling when our attention has been on a wave and we come in from the ocean,” said Carroll. “And back on land, we feel refreshed from that experience, so it is kind of like a from meditation.”
Robinson started of young with a keen interest in healthy food and diet, taught by his parents. By age 18, he was practicing yoga, which led to breathing exercises, or pranayama yoga. Meditation is a natural progression on that journey. “I initially was just trying to be a better athlete, but it just translates into everyday life. I couldn’t imagine life without it,” Robinson told The Inertia.
Colapinto has been a more recent convert, leaning heavily into Eastern philosophies of meditation and mindfulness. In a recent Instagram post just before the Finals, he wrote, “I’m deciding to let go of the attachment to an expected feeling. What’s most important is focusing on the little tiny details of our day right now. To practice Sadhana; a spiritual practice of life. Every moment is an opportunity to become closer to awareness. Awareness of what we are feeling, thinking, speaking, and so on.”
Colapinto said that he was not so much interested in the results and had decided to let go of the attachment to an expected feeling. That was perhaps helpful when he lost his first WSL Finals heat and with it the chance of a first world title. Robinson too failed at the first hurdle at Trestles and will no doubt have since meditated on what he could have done differently. And yet the pair of deep breathers won three CT events in 2023, finished in the top five and qualified for the Olympics. They showed how meditation has been a constant source of strength and stability. And how it can make you surf better.
“Surfing can be a path of happiness and when practiced together with yoga, it can bring great, long-term benefits,” said Lopez, in his latest movie, The Yin and Yang of Gerry Lopez. “Keep paddling, breathing through your nose and living with the Aloha spirit.”
Yes, there are much worse ways to live.