Most people don’t surf–although many are taking up standup paddle boarding (SUP). Most people think surfers are dumb . . . dude. (Not entirely true.) Most people would guess there isn’t much an inlander could learn from surfing. Again . . . wrong. Let me elaborate.
Here are five things that will apply to anyone and everyone whether they (you) surf or not. It should be noted that I once owned a chain of surf shops and have been riding waves since 1977. I’d like to think I am somewhat intelligent (don’t go there) and have been able to take what I’ve learned in the water and apply it to dry land . . . and life. Let’s find out, shall we?
1. GO FOR IT. My worst wipeouts on waves were when I questioned whether I could make it (or not) and hesitated on taking off. When we commit to something with all of our time, talent, energy, focus, and heart, nine times out ten we’ll make it–and make it great. If we’re going to do something, let’s do it with everything we have (mind, body, and soul.) There is no try, there is either do or not do (I’m quoting Yoda) so let’s give it our all and at worst we know we gave it our best shot.
We can do more than we think we can, so let’s be all in and we’ll surprise ourselves with our success. I surfed with a guy named Rex Huffman who was crazy (he lost both of his kneecaps to the reef on a wipeout) but when he would scream at me to “GO!” and I would (even though I knew I could die trying) he pushed me past my fears. The funny thing was, I made every way he sent me on. He believed in me before I did.
2. GIVE BACK. The only thing better than surfing is teaching someone else how to do it. The look on a person’s face when they ride a wave for the first time is priceless. I wrote a story for “Chicken Soup For The Beach Lover’s Soul” about teaching kids how to surf and the ways in which it changed my life . . . for the better. We are all experts at something and sharing that knowledge with someone else is worthwhile.
When I owned my surf shops I organized an annual promotion where we gave gifts for grades. The better the report card, the more free stuff the young student would get. It was another way to give back and help make school cool.
3. ENJOY THE JOURNEY. Everyone thinks of surfing as riding a wave, but it’s so much more. It starts with loading your surfboard on the car (and the smell of fresh wax), meeting up with your friends and catching up on the latest in their lives, and finally hitting the water for the paddle out. For every wave a surfer catches (which may last ten seconds or less) we will spend hours preparing to catch that wave–which is fine since it’s a labor of love.
Life is a lot like that as well. Not to be crude, but we spend a lot of time and money to get to that intimate place with someone we love (or like) and most would say it was worth the wait (and the work) when it pays off. When the preparation (dinner and a movie or walking down a narrow cliff to a secluded surf spot) is part of the process and part of the fun, life is good.
4. REFRESH AND RECHARGE. We all need something that takes our minds off of our problems (even if for a few minutes) and brings us joy. Surfing does that for me, but anything (going to the gym, reading, playing sports, creating art, or going for a walk) is time well spent. Most people will say they don’t have a minute to spare, but we all know that’s not entirely true. Find something to do that refreshes and recharges you and make time for it even when you are beyond busy.
One of my surfing buddies told me once that he puts family first, his work second, and time for himself and his friends third. His theory is we all need some time alone (and with friends) even when we could or should be doing something seemingly more important. I agree.
5. GO WITH THE FLOW. I have a dozen examples of how surfing teaches a person to go with the flow, but I’ll just share these two. Riding a wave is inherently spontaneous. A surfer has to read and react to what the wave is doing–the wave often dictates which way to go and what moves to do (or not do). I have always been a planner and like to be in control, but (unfortunately) that isn’t always the way life works. Learning how to accept and adapt to whatever is thrown our way is a survival tool. Finding a silver lining when all seems lost is also an important skill to master when things go awry.
We nicknamed a friend we surf with “Golden Boy” because he seems to be the luckiest guy alive. I finally asked him how he does it. His response was he expects the best and usually (I would argue, always) gets it. He seems to get the best parking spot in the lot where we surf, has the best waves come to him, and when he checks his phone after a session more often than not learns he landed a new client and closed a deal. When we anticipate the worst possible outcome it seems we get that, too. In this article I left out a lot of great stories about my encounters with sharks, nearly drowning (more than once), and my many near misses with the reef because like Golden Boy, I’m focusing on the positive.