Yes, that’s me in the photo, feverishly paddling my chicken arms as I try to catch the wave looming directly behind me. I’ve been enamored with the romantic vision of a subculture that’s so passionate and often obsessive about their chosen pastime for many years, but finally getting my skinny frame on a surfboard made the world around me make sense in a way it never has before. At least not quite in this way.
The stereotype I had in my mind in relation to surfers and the surf culture dissolved into a sense of complete connection, freedom, exhilaration, and an inexplicable joy that even a glimpse of perhaps could be enough to fuel my entire lifetime. In that briefest of moments when I stood up on my surfboard for the very first time, my thoughts abated, and pure, unadulterated joy came rushing in. A deep and profound respect for the the power of the ocean washed over me as my lungs felt as though they were dilating in order to soak in every last drop of the sea air.
Surfing has captured the minds of 23 million people worldwide; a massive increase from the estimated 5,000 surfers in 1959. Looking in from the outside, I thought that surfers were a specific slice of society; perhaps a bunch of slackers or beach bums who had simply found a way to pass the time in a desperate attempt to avoid work. I didn’t realize how wrong I was. The parking lot at our beach is speckled with everything from quirky VW buses with flowers painted on the side to BMW convertibles with a surfboard crammed into the passenger seat of the car.
The common thread among every one I’ve met so far is an intense feeling of connection to the ocean and life, coupled with the sheer joy and exhilaration of surfing the perfect wave. Devotees to the “Zen of Surfing” in Costa Rica believe that “surfing is one of the most harmonious relationships between man and nature, requiring patience, timing, and deep respect for the ocean.” I think I couldn’t agree more.
I felt this the first time I found myself as a passenger in a glider, soaring thermals in the open sky, or when I find myself floating in the sea sky underneath the ocean, as the vast expanse of a stunningly beautiful, colorful world that rarely enters our consciousness sprawls far deeper than any human has eve been able to venture.
But there’s something different about surfing; I’m not just a bystander with the proper machinery enjoying a treat that a blend of water’s anti-gravity or the sky’s gravity offer; I’m an active participant who’s simultaneously nourishing my body as well as my soul, in a perfect interaction that requires no fuel nor does any harm to the ocean.
I only wish I had started many years ago; but that is part of my continued problem in this life is an inability to devote my life to just one thing. I find such joy in so many things, but to excel at something, to reach a level of mastery that’s required to participate in an activity in the way I ache to, requires one’s full attention for an expanse of time that exceeds an amount I’m ever willing to sacrifice. I love to dive, to fly, to ride my bike, to write and to paint, to travel and to love, to take photos and explore this wondrous planet…and now…surfing.
My present board is a Hammerhead 7′ 4″ and I’ve never had more fun on any board in my life. I dream of the day I’ve mastered it enough to feel as though it’s an extension of my body, but the ride along the way is enough for a lifetime already.
I learn quickly and thought it might be helpful to compose a simple “Surfing Tips 101″ article that lists some of the things that helped me most when I first started surfing. I think that the art of surfing becomes so deeply imbedded in ones nature that it’s easy to forget some of the most basic things that can bring some early joy when trying to catch one’s first waves. But those initial tips graciously offered by others catapulted my skills quite measurably.