It’s funny how little we pay attention to details. If we don’t notice them in other people’s movements, how can we notice them in ourselves?
The other day I noticed one of my regular-footed friends riding my skateboard switch. I asked if he could surf switch, and he said he didn’t even think it was possible. This observation opened up a whole new discussion about muscle memory, ambidexterity, the power of the brain, and how it’s unbelievably challenging to switch things up. We were curious, so we dug deeper.
Take this video of Destin from Smarter Every Day, for example. Destin experiments with one of the most basic skills most of us have learned: riding a bike. Watch what happens when you take that seemingly easy task and flip it upside down.
If you agree surfing is considerably harder than riding a bike on solid ground, think about how it would be to switch up your stance on a moving wave. It would be extremely difficult to reach that level of proficiency doing the complete opposite of what you learned.
I was curious to know if practicing ambidexterity actually yields some beneficial results when it comes to brain function and the development of new neuronal pathways, basically to figure out if this would give me a chance to become a more complete surfer. According to an article by scientific american, there are several studies that aimed to examine the fact that our left and right brain hemispheres are not interchangeable, and of course their asymmetries aim to specialize different regions of the brain in skills such as language, solving math problems and performing certain movements. Lets go back a few decades ago, and think about all those left handed children who were forced to learn to write with their right hands, thus suppressing some other neuronal pathways, leading to attention deficit and hyperactivity disorders.
Translate all of this scientific jargon into surfing and you get a lot of frustrated Instructors which have a hard time teaching people who don’t know or just can’t figure out what their dominant pop up leg and stance is. Also, there might be the occasional person who learned to skate goofy and learned to surf regular because their nearest breaks are mostly rights.
The bottom line is that it is possible to train our non dominant hands and legs to become more proficient. But ultimately, trying to become an ambidextrous surfer would be more time consuming and would make your right and left hemispheres a bit more competitive than cooperative. So how can we enhance this cooperation inside our brains to become more balanced ?
Try learning to play the piano or any other left-right hemisphere coordination required instrument. Watch some YouTube juggling lessons or learn a new language so you can communicate with the locals on your next surf trip. Brain gym is actually pretty challenging at some of the advanced levels, and is proven to enhance coordination. Taking up a yoga practice does this too, which actually targets and strengthens non dominant muscle groups to make us more balanced.
Ultimately it comes down to turning everything into a playful state of being. That is the most natural and efficient way of learning and developing new skills. Take some inspiration from Stephen Jepson, who has created and mastered many games into his 70’s. The things he can do by sticking to his “always playing” philosophy are truly astonishing