Surfing as a Metaphor for Life

Jan 2018

I have both been around a long time and been around the planet awhile now. One of the things I have learned in my forty coughish years is we have little, if any, control over the big things in this universe. In the circles I move in there is a saying that goes something like this:

There are 3 objects in the Universe you cannot control: People, Places and Things.

Sure you might think you can control things and if you do fantastic for you (and I bet you don't have children) but you do not control much. You do have a say in some things. We all have the ability to guide, or suggest, or lean. In board riding parlance, we can flow. Which is why surfing is the perfect metaphor for living. This does not mean surfing is the only activity that is a great metaphor for life simply one (if not the) best.

When I say surfing is a metaphor for life I do not mean in a general or meta way. I mean to say the ride itself is an awesome metaphor for how to view life. I do not mean the surfing lifestyle in general (because honestly that differs drastically depending on where you live) or the surfing attitude of being somewhat more relaxed about the small things (although we could certainly use a lot more of that). Exactly what I mean I am going to describe in detail but I want to make sure you the reader don't think this is going to be some metaphysical or lifestyle piece: it is not.

Every surfer knows the same thing, no two waves are alike. There are sometimes subtle differences and sometimes massive differences. Nature likes to do interesting and wholly unexpected things. Waves follow the natural pattern of organized chaos. Ask any seasoned surfer how many times a ride unexpectedly changed and they (not unlike myself) probably cannot count them. There are zero guarentees on a wave. None. It doesn't matter how big or small if it can be ridden there will almost always, seemingly once a session, be some kind of unpexpected event. Yeah, you can size them up for sure and perhaps have an accurate guage of the ride but never precise. Not only are the waves always a bit different but large scale things like wind shifts, unexpected storms and changes in current can suddenly alter the entire session. On more than one occasion I was having a good session and something changed that ended it fast. Hell... that sounds like a relationship. Moving on.


long carve
[Credit: Beyond black and white (]


The ride itself holds a big secret though a secret all surfers know. We have no real control over what is happening. A lot of surfers say something to the effect of I got a tube which is really saying I was given a tube because we know that is how it works. We do not ever expect to get inside the crystal palace and when we do, we understand it was not our doing, we just happened to be in the right place at the right time. This is sort of an unspoken understanding of how lucky we are and how sometimes the organized chaos tilts in our favor. Even if it is a blow up (and for me it almost always is) we appreciate.

Now let's talk the ride. Up, going down the line, eyes looking where we want to be. The wave does what it wants, it creates mini phantom drops, unexpected bumps maybe it gets some bounceback. The surfer doesn't master these or alter them or change them: the surfer tells the board to go a certain way, we guide the board and the wave guides us. There is an interplay between the subtle variations of the ride, our movements and the board. We cannnot predict every variation but instead do our best to guide the board and navigate the wave. We might have some ideas, a cutback here a layback there but these are certainly not concrete. More often than not what we end up doing is spontaneous, in a nanosecond instead of just going down the line it starts to close and we pull the board up to slam into the close out when maybe we had meant to go for a cutback (and perhaps it doesn't work out and we get maytagged). There is no timetable, no schedule and no real control over the big things. What we do control is ourselves and the board; until we don't. That is the way of life. We have a say about ourselves, and what clothes we are putting on, where we are going to drive that day. We do not and never have controlled the entire ride.


big cutback surfing


Surfing speaks to me on every ride. It tells me that even though I ended up scrunching down for a blow up, instead smacking into the closeout I had intended, that is cool. Surfing tells me no matter how bad a wipeout is I will recover. Most of all surfing tells me we do not have much time on this little blue ball floating around in the universe - so enjoy it while we can and try not to fuck it up.