Updated: Jul 1, 2020
The joy of surfing is so many things combined, from the physical exertion of it, to the challenge of it, to the mental side of the sport. — Kelly Slater
Oceans have no shortage of variety and unpredictably. At the core of all uncertainty and possibility, there are certain questions that transcend domain. And it’s the significance of these questions that seem to feed a surfing addiction. Every crashing wave echoes a distinct challenge.
Who am I? What am I capable of? And how far can I go?
Even the most basic moves can hook a surfing addiction. Catching a wave is a breeze for experienced surfers, yet remarkably daunting for a beginner. It’s the idea of accomplishing this physical feat, however, that captures the imagination. And mastering this initial skill, or any maneuver for that matter, only opens the next challenge.
The fun and the challenge of it never really go away. There's always something there to put you back in your place. — Kelly Slater
A surfer’s journey, in a sense, is the process of continuously testing and expanding personal limits. Exploring unmapped breaks are an opportunity for self-discovery. Even local spots offer fresh renewals of challenge. Pushing these edges is a powerful, almost primordial experience. It’s a journey marked by moments of hardship and triumph — the cornerstones of any adventure.
Real adventure is defined best as a journey from which you may not come back alive, and certainly not as the same person. ― Yvon Chouinard, Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman
Going out on the edges of strength and skill isn’t recklessness, however. Gracefully shifting between precaution and progression requires omniscience. Surfers have to navigate and adapt to waves that break in a flash. Staying in control is a matter of hyper-awareness — adrenaline wired by laser focus. It’s the chance to live up to potential; a realization often described as “feeling alive.”
For me it's sort of like time slows down. You become hyper-aware of a lot of different things - the way the wave is breaking, timing, putting yourself in the right part of the barrel. It takes all of your mental capacity to do it just right.— Kelly Slater
Like any journey, setbacks are inevitable. When a wave champions a surfer’s abilities, it is not only humbling, but it also strikes reverence — a deep admiration and respect for the ocean. To the committed, though, these are moments of revelation. They open a window for an inward look at where one stands in this very second. Coming to know the edge that cuts between what is real and what has potential invigorates an urge to surmount the next opportunity. And out rises resilience — a deep admiration and respect for oneself.
We're all equal before a wave. — Laird Hamilton
Surfing is precarious. Ridable waves are the product of a delicate balance across vast expanses: from distant storms to changing tides to wind conditions to ocean geography to the surrounding landscape. Even with the best forecasting, there is no perfectly accurate prediction. Waves are vulnerable to subtle, momentary shifts in the environment; every wave will always present it’s own fleeting character — nuances never to be replicated again. If anything is certain, it’s that unpredictability is not unordinary. This is all to say, however, that surfing is an exciting test at every moment. And when the stars are aligned and the waves look good, it’s always “drop everything and surf.”
Surfers have a perfection fetish. The perfect wave, etcetera. There is no such thing. Waves are not stationary objects in nature like roses or diamonds. They’re quick, violent events at the end of a long chain of storm action and ocean reaction. Even the most symmetrical breaks have quirks and a totally specific, local character, changing with every shift in tide and wind and swell. ― William Finnegan, Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life
Staying calm and present is essential when responding to the ocean’s unpredictability. As a way of staying in the moment, surfers cultivate an almost meditative state. The zen of riding a wave melts into a flowing series of lucid decisions and buttery movements. Surfing feels like flying. The gravity of worry and responsibility are released. And taking a plunge into the here and now offers an escape — a refuge from the rest of the world.
Surfing soothes me, it's always been a kind of Zen experience for me. The ocean is so magnificent, peaceful, and awesome. The rest of the world disappears for me when I'm on a wave. — Paul Walker
Every chance to surf feeds the addiction. Ordinary days are as valuable as the peaks they thread together. Although often overlooked, it’s the insignificant steps forward that incubate greatness. Without even noticing, the small hurdles and minor triumphs are valuable lessons that ground character. The disposition to engage patience, courage, discipline, and humility are developed through an otherwise simple day surfing.
Surfing is attitude dancing. — Gerry Lopez
Beyond surfing, these lessons are insights for overcoming life’s inevitable obstacles. Surfing provides a way of approaching life. Indeed, many would argue that surfing is a way of life. At the very least, oceans offer a range of experiences that not only teach surfers about themselves as a person, but also about their place in something much larger than themselves — in the immensity of world. Surfing is rarely about what happens, and almost always about how you respond. Most often, it’s about remaining calm in chaos. From challenge and triumph, surfing is as addictive as it is transformative.
Surfing, alone among sports, generates laughter at its very suggestion, and this is because it turns not a skill into an art, but an inexplicable and useless urge into a vital way of life.— Matt Warshaw