Writing About Surfing

A Picture of Wind

I wish I could write about surfing.  I love it so much.  It creates the shape of my life. 

It’s easy to talk about a surf session, a break, a particular wave, or a board with other surfers, but writing about surfing is very hard.  It’s like trying to paint a picture of wind or describe love.  There are things that, when you wrap them in a blanket of words, they stop being what they are.  I can describe to you a picture of surfing, but how can I tell you what surfing is like?  It is motion.  It is pain and delight and infinite patience.  It is “stop” perfectly braided with “go.”

Can you tell me how to ride a bicycle?  Explain it to me.  What you say will not at all describe the actual experience of riding.  It is a thing you know in your body, not in your mind.

Heavenly Bodies

Surfing begins in the sky, with heavenly bodies—the sun, the moon, maybe even the stars.  The gravitational forces of the sun and the moon pull on Earth’s water, making bulges the planet spins through.  And then there are the storms.  Warm and cold air swirl in the sky.  Storms form over the ocean and, like kiddos jumping on the bed, cause the surface to bounce up and down.   These disturbances travel over thousands of miles of open ocean exactly the same way ripples radiate outward from the point a pebble tossed hits the water.  They arrive at the coast as sets of waves.

We wait for them.  It’s all very predictable.

A multitude of variables are constantly changing.

The Conditions

There’s not much to say when you write or talk about surfing except to describe the conditions.  The swell direction—as in where the storm was.  The size of the swell.  The wind direction.  The speed of the waves.   The time of day.  The water temperature.  The length of time between sets.  The height of the tide.  Whether the tide is rising or dropping.  The currents.  The number of people in the water.  Any time one of the variables changes, the entire experience changes. 

All of the variables are constantly changing.

You must pay attention.

Lessons

These are the lessons of surfing:  Wait.  Pay attention.   Commit.   Release fear.

Surfing Is Waiting

Most of surfing is waiting.  You wait days or weeks for a swell to come across the ocean.  You wait hours or days for the tide to come in or to go out.  You hope and wait for the wind to switch, stop, or start.  Right there we’ve whittled a lifetime into a few hours each week. 

You paddle out into the ocean and wait.  Wait for the set of waves.  Wait for a good one.  Wait for the best one.  Wait, if someone else positioned closer to the peak than you are.  Paddle.  Stay in position.  Wait.  It doesn’t make the most exciting photos.  Exciting photos are misleading.  Most of surfing isn’t standing on a surfboard.  Most of surfing is waiting, paddling, being ready, feeding brave thoughts to your heart.  Exciting photos are monuments to the best seconds.  

At Any Second

When the time comes to turn, paddle, and stand, you must be very strong, very fast, and very brave.  You cannot hesitate or fear.  This is why surfing is a lifestyle—because you must always be ready either to wait or to give 100% at any second. 

Then the ocean’s conditions interact with your conditions:  What you’ve eaten.  What you’ve drank.  How much you’ve slept.  How often you’ve surfed lately.  How happy you are or how sad.  How angry.  How much you love yourself.  How relaxed you are.  How afraid.  Where your body holds pain.  How much energy you have left.  What board you are riding.  How focused you are.  How quick.  How strong.  How brave.

All of the variables are constantly changing.

You must pay attention.

The Soul

The wave isn’t water.   The wave is something else.  It’s a pulse of energy, large or small, that moves through the water.  Water itself lies flat.  Waves move through it and shake it the way you shake your towel to be sure there are no scorpions hiding there.  Water is an element.  Waves are live moments that move through it.  Water is the body; the wave is the soul. 

We interact with them intimately.

From a Verb to a Noun

Somehow, waves and particles are the same thing in quantum physics.   Separated unto itself, I cannot understand this statement.  But in the context of surfing, it’s what we know instinctively.  A wave is all of its moments.  The wave is the swell on the horizon that you sense in the back of your eye before you can see it.  It is the bulge in the water moving toward you, forming.  It is the push behind you.  It is the sudden slope you are diving into as you leap to your feet.  It is the myriad of instants that shape and disappear over/under/around you as you ride.  It is the boom of whitewater as the wave empties its last energy onto the sand bar, or the gentle fading into calm water as it ends.  It’s not one of those things; it’s all of them.  Any of them, separate from the others, is not the wave. 

Get a camera.  Take a photo.  The wave turns into a particle.  It stops being a motion and becomes an image; it switches from a verb to a noun.  Long before you look at the photo, the wave doesn’t exist anymore at all.

You must pay attention.

These are the lessons of surfing:  Wait.  Pay attention.   Commit.   Release fear.

One Thing/Homework

When you love surfing, it shapes your life.  And so you love your life.  

It all becomes one thing:  Surfing, living, love, the water, the motion of waves pushing through it, waiting, the work of paddling, the courage to engage a mountain of water, what you eat, when you sleep, the coffee brewing at dawn.   The magical moment when you release your coiled energy into a push, a leap, and moments of flight—this is the highlight.  But surfing is everything you do if you love it. 

Love is everything you do if surfing is your teacher and you have done your homework.

Very exciting photo by Leonardo Pinero, Tamarindo Costa Rica

2 thoughts on “Writing About Surfing

  1. This was a great read. I enjoyed it from start to finish. You found a way to put words beautifully together to express in an artistic yet realistic what surfing is. I relate 100%

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