Why Surfing is how we Should Approach Life

Recently I’ve decided to learn to surf. As a naive bystander, it looks fairly simply. Swim out on your board to where the waves break. Watch for a wave starting to form, position yourself perpendicular to it, and paddle until it catches the board, wherein you stand up.

So I bought my wetsuit and attempted to schedule a session with my instructor-friend like I would with any other water activity, such as SUP (stand up paddle), kayaking, scuba diving, etc.

“How does Wednesday afternoon look for you?” I texted. “I can do after 4 p.m.”

“Let me check the tide,” she replied. “If you get here at 4:15, we’re in the water by 4:30…hmmm…that’s mid-tide. If you’re willing to risk the bump, I’m up for it.”

“What’s the bump?” I asked.

“Choppiness of the water,” she said.

“If you think it’s safe, I assume this will make it harder but not impossible to get up?”

“It’s really your call. I’ll need to check the surf report, though, a few hours beforehand to check conditions.”

“So there’s more to check than a tide chart?”

I could almost hear her laughing on the other side of the text exchange.

“Mornings are usually better,” she said. “The wind often picks up in the afternoon, but we could get lucky and get a glass off.”

“What’s a glass off?”

“When the water becomes smooth as glass.”  Duh. “Yesterday I went out and the waves were crumbling, so I didn’t bother.”

“Crumbling?”

“Yes, there was no wall to ride, it was all white wash.”

Let’s see…so we have bumpy, glass off, crumbling, wall and white wash…and I’m sure a whole host of other terms to still learn about to read the ocean!

All the pieces started clicking together on why my surfer friends in high school were always checking the waves before parking their cars. And explains the popularity of, and market for providing, surf reports.

Then it hit me how much surfing is like life.

You know enough about what’s supposed to happen as you age and grow, much like a tide chart mapping out the ebbs and flows based on the moon and seasons. You can determine when it’s coming in and when it’s moving out.

But it’s the wave report that really gives you your specific circumstances, and like a weather report, it’s not accurate until a few hours before.

You’re at the mercy of the wave’s size, movement, structure and flow. The wind is also a factor. Both are in constant flux and even wave-by-wave, there is little consistency.

In order to surf, and in the words of Yogi Amrit Desai, you must “exist in perpetual creative response to whatever is present.”

To surf is to notice and read what is coming toward you as it forms.

Sometimes you misinterpret it and end up going through the spin cycle while swallowing some seawater. Other times, it’s a thrilling and beautiful ride. The more you notice, watch and observe, the higher likelihood you have of knowing the difference.

As a beginner, you learn on small swells and slowly work your way up to bigger, faster waves. If you try to conquer the big waves before you’re ready, they’ll eat you up.

Respect the ocean, know your current limits, and challenge yourself in increments.

If we can take the same approach with all our life’s circumstances, we have a chance to take some exhilarating rides. Sure, we’ll tumble a few times, too, but it teaches us more for next time.

The important thing is to get out there and try. Be willing to learn and be a little uncomfortable. Otherwise, you don’t know what you’re missing!