“Life is just better when you surf,” is how the old saying goes and I have to agree. There is nothing like being out in beautiful, warm ocean water with friends and a perfect six-foot wave with nothing but pure adrenaline coursing through your body as you match the power of the ocean briefly, pop-up on a wave and scream down the line feeling like there is nothing else in the world that matters. We will, in future blogs, get down to some surfing basics to get us right there in that moment just described and hopefully learn to be better surfers together but for right now we need to understand a little about the sport and why humans are the only creature on the planet that require an artificial instrument to actually use surging ocean swell (i.e. waves) to move.
The road to becoming a competent surfer can be challenging and difficult. There is no doubt the glamour and portrayal of the surfing lifestyle has become increasing romantic and appealing. The top surfers in the world have multi-million dollar contracts with surfboard and surf clothing manufacturers and brands. These surfers literally travel with a laptop computer searching for the next big swell on the planet and then book tickets and get there to surf the best waves. Sunshine-filled beaches, beautiful azure waters, and bikinis typify the “office” of your average pro-surfer so, yes, the appeal is high! But to be fair, it was a long road for these surfers and probably started when they were barely walking (Kelly Slater, 11X world champion, started around the age of 5) and have had decades of water time to perfect the sport.
For the rest of us (and especially our First Descents participants who may have only 5 days) we have not had as much time. However, the beauty of surfing is that just being out there on the water talking with friends or taking a break from tumbling in the waves and relaxing on the beach is just plain cool! Let’s face it, where else can you simply hang out and watch dolphins, whales, and fellow surfers and call it “learning?” Let’s face it, if you have ever seen a dolphin or seal surf a wave, we really have to recognize that we are woefully inadequate when it comes to being built to effortlessly glide in the water. With insulating blubber, powerful flippers, and a natural sense of where the ocean’s wave power comes from these animals just amaze me with their ability to surf. The good news is that with better teaching techniques and new surfboard and wetsuit technology we at least have a chance to catch a wave and stay comfortable doing it!
As with anything, the key to getting good (or at least being able to enjoy the journey in getting better) is to have good instruction, a healthy respect for the medium in which you are learning, and a good dose of humility (the wipeouts in surfing can be notoriously humbling)! These are all key factors to progressing from a land-lubbing novice to a wave shredding pro. As a long-time surfer wannabe (and FD director), I have had the pleasure of watching our First Descents participants learn from incredibly talented and passionate instructors at great beginner breaks and watched them make amazing strides in only a few days to becoming much better surfers that understand wind, water, currents, and tides (W.W.T.C.) and actually stand up on a surfboard and ride down the line. I contrast that with my own learning which came from years of no instruction, no knowledge of WWTC, poor equipment, and usually freezing-cold water! Because I am stubborn, however, I managed to stick with it and now enjoy the amazing world of surfing as I strive to get my face on the cover of Longboard Magazine before the age of 50. While that may never happen, I am STOKED when it comes to surfing and even more stoked to watch our illustrious FD participants learn to surf and respect the ocean as much as me!
Our first surf lesson can be summed up briefly by saying that surfing is a lifestyle that includes recognizing the beauty of the ocean, admitting that it might be downright humbling as we start down the road of surfing, and checking our egos at the door in order to be the best surfers we can be. This seems like a lot of rhetoric before we even step foot in the water but I have learned the hard way that coming into this amazing sport (or any of the activities that FD engages in with participants) without the right attitude and preparation only make for a long and sometimes humiliating start to our pro-surfer careers!
Next up, what made the movie, Point Break so cool and how to be our own Boddhisattvas on the water!
Photo: Corey Nielsen, aka Daryl, trying to look good for the Longboard Magazine cover photo at the First Descents FDX in Costa Rica this past spring (photo by Tony Czech)