Amateur philosopher, writer
Staff
surfers walking into the ocean at Ocean Beach san francisco

Why do you surf? Photo: Skyler Fitzmaurice


The Inertia

Lately, surfing has been an all-consuming force in my life. I dream of surfing, wake up early to snag a few waves before work, then write about surfing all day and spend my evenings scrolling through Craigslist surfboards before bed. Sleep, wake, do it all again.

But I’ve also been considering my evolving undercurrent of motivation – the why. Why do I care why I surf? I don’t know, to be honest. I’m a curious person, first off, and surfing is such an interesting and complex subject. It’s a valid question for any surfer to think about and for me it’s definitely a moving target, changing as my relationship to it changes. But that doesn’t mean surf isn’t worth chasing.

surfing aerial

Maybe someday… Photo: Barbara Rezende//Unsplash

A large motivation recently has been progression. A driving desire, a need almost, to be constantly improving. With that mindset, good days of surfing aren’t even the days with the best waves, but the days I’m able to put a bunch of reps in, or really nail that one cutback or feel something click while noseriding. But it can be overpowering and the idea that a day without surfing is a day wasted can chew up time that could perhaps be better spent on other aspects of my life or push me away from opportunities that don’t have surfing baked into them in some form.

And for what? I’m not the next Kelly Slater, or even one of the many engaged in the grind of the Qualifying Series, for whom that improvement represents something more than improvement for its own sake. I could say that I want to improve for the pure love and joy of surfing, for the meaning that it gives me, absolutely, but then that’s something else entirely and the fanatic drive to improve that often grips me rings hollow. So I’m trying to temper this motivation, maybe focus it to when I’m in the water and can actually focus on improving that turn rather than a feeling of disappointment when I miss a day or the waves are bad.

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paddle out

Community in surfing runs deep. Photo: Chase Baker//Unsplash

Another reason is the community within surfing and the identity outside of surfing that it brings. It brings us together, and sets us apart. It’s a secret club where everyone has a bit of that wild child inside, that comes bursting out in the unbridled joy of a “whooooop!” as you rocket down the line or get rocked by a set wave. And it’s an incredible point of connection to have with another person, this shared love of moving your body in such a way, shared knowledge of waves and boards – there’s always something to talk about with another surfer.

But there are times when the exclusivity inherent in the community we’ve built can be toxic. We don’t accept new members to our secret society easily, and often make fun of new surfers as they struggle to integrate. Some might say that’s for the better, less people in the water after all. But if surfing wasn’t so goddamn exclusive and “cool,” maybe people wouldn’t want to join so badly?

Not to mention that the community glorifies a life dedicated to surfing rather than a life lived in balance with it (at least in my own experience). The stories we celebrate are of those who dropped everything to live and surf in places that have yet to see a surfboard, rather than those more well-rounded personalities for whom surfing is just a facet of themselves rather than a 360-degree view. And while part of me would love to drop everything and disappear into the jungle, something tells me that isn’t it in the long term.

The pure love and joy of surfing is definitely a motivating factor. I love surfing, no question about that. But there are plenty of days when my love of surfing isn’t what’s getting me out there. When I don’t really want to surf, the waves look bad, it’s cold, but I do it anyways for one of the other reasons above and below. So it can’t just be surfing for the love of surfing.

Perhaps a part of my motivation is the professional aspect, the careers and “industry opportunity” within surfing. I would hope this isn’t the only reason why anyone surfs. The thought of someone who surfs purely because, say, they work in the surf industry or need the status of surfing for their line of work seems pretty disingenuous. That being said I’ve been guilty of this impure motivation myself, going surfing because I see it as necessary to my work rather than because I want to. And even my desire for progression has been tainted by this impure motive, thinking that I could be a better surf-writer if I were a better surfer. And perhaps that’s true, but to be honest if I were a better surfer I wouldn’t have all these funny foibles and fails to describe in my writing. Being a shit surfer makes me a better writer, perhaps?

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kicking out on a powerful wave

The weightless feeling as you kick out of a powerful wave and go flying over the back – now that’s a good one. Photo: Jenna Anderson//Unsplash.

Adrenaline, endorphins, the release and flow that surfing brings is a big one for me, and one that definitely contributes (along with my obsession with progression) to my “need” to surf every day. I’m just too damn active to sit at a desk from nine to five. A good day for me is one that includes moments in the flow, that state of active concentration where you’re totally present and grounded in the now.

But then again, if it were all about flow, then the cost and time spent out of flow – the tense search for waves, the cold suits in the parking lot, the traveling, wouldn’t make those few precious moments on the wave worth it in the slightest. If it were all about pure maximization of flow, I should pick up my high school sport of running again, or biking, something like that. But perhaps it does make it worth it, in a way. If it weren’t for the massive pain in the ass that getting to the surf  sometimes is, the act wouldn’t feel as precious, and that flow wouldn’t be worth its weight in gold to me, as it is now.

ocean beach sf floater

Photo: Skyler Fitzmaurice

And that’s what I think I’m getting to here. Why do I surf? For the meaning that it gives me. We’ve all got to do something with our lives, and for myself and probably a lot of you reading this, we’ve chosen to make riding waves a large part of that what-we-do. Maybe some of the above motivations have helped us get into it or kept us in it when we otherwise would have quit, but eventually it just becomes a dedication to the act. An, “I’ve been doing it this long, I might as well keep going.” Putting it in those terms does make it sound pretty silly and lame, but perhaps it shouldn’t be. Perhaps that’s just what we’re all trying to find in this journey – an act to dedicate ourselves to, a special something to keep us grounded and make it all worth it. I’m stoked to have found that through surfing.

Anyways, the point of this was to ask you – why do you surf? Feel free to sound off.

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