*The following is Part 1 of a 3-part series called “Surfing Lessons that Have Nothing to Do with Catching Waves. Read it, love it, live it!
It doesn’t take many trips to Tamarindo before it feels like a second home. Suddenly you’re not arriving at a hotel, but rather back to your friends, to your family, and to the perfect waves. You’ve already mapped out a plan for which board you’ll take out first, and within seconds of arriving you’re on the beach with fingers crossed, hoping for a sunset surf. FINALLY, you’re back to the place where you can devote as much time as you choose to a sport in which there’s always more to learn.
I’m excited to write this three-part series because I often hear guests discussing how incredible the life here is, yet I never really hear the conversation dig deep enough to analyze just how much there is to learn from a surfing community. And I’m not talking about the ACT of catching waves, I’m talking about the LIFE of catching waves.
I’m pretty sure nobody will read a 6,368 page blog post, so for the next three days I’ll be posting a different lesson I’ve learned since I’ve started surfing. Each one has enriched my life, and I hope will enrich yours too.
LESSON ONE: YOUR ENERGY HAS POWER
I don’t mean to get all Zen here, but you can’t deny that every person carries an energy within them that’s projected onto others. If it’s positive, people are drawn to you – I am drawn to you. But if it’s negative… well, you probably don’t get invited to many parties. Maybe you get fired from jobs a lot. Probably had to take your cousin to your high school prom as well. That’s because nobody wants to be around the negative ones.
We’ve all met people like this: The “No” People. Obviously I know a few (I lived in NYC for 3 years, don’t forget). But here’s the thing that’s different in a surfing community:
Your energy is intensified in the water.
When you’re surfing, you have the power to shape the mood of the surfer next to you. Don’t believe me? Go surfing with your friends. It’s super fun, right? Now try surfing next to someone dropping F-Bombs at people for trying to snake their waves. Or witness an advanced surfer screaming at a beginner for accidentally dropping in on them. Try going surfing with one of THOSE SURFERS and tell me they don’t affect your session. You can’t.
At the risk of sounding hateful, umm, I HATE THOSE SURFERS. What kills me is how much power they have over us. If I’m at a Starbucks in the city and someone is causing a scene, I simply leave the Starbucks (and just move to either the Starbucks across the street or the other Starbucks next door). But in the water, there’s no escape. You either endure their negativity, or you don’t surf. For me, surfing is the most fun when I’m out there with a good group. But it takes just ONE negative surfer to throw the whole thing out of whack. Just one.
I should mention that Tamarindo is special because the locals are aware so many people are learning. They’re patient when you interfere, and seem genuinely stoked for you when you catch even the tiniest ripple. In fact, I’ve never witnessed a Tico being one of the jerky surfers I’m talking about. Embarrassingly, they’re usually from the U.S.A. I wish this weren’t true, but it is.
A few months ago we were out surfing around 6:30am. It was a beautiful morning, and the waves were greeted with tranquil smiles. That is, until some angry dude paddled out and started complaining about everyone trying to snake his waves (which, I assure you, NOBODY was doing). At one point I heard him raise his voice to Flash. WHAT? Flash is one of the most easy going surfers out there! In the blink of an eye, my mood flipped the switch and I paddled over, ready to throw blows like some kind of juice monkey.
When I got close, I did nothing but listen (I know, I know – all talk and no action). Flash remained remarkably calm, and apologized even though he’d done nothing wrong. He handled it way better than I would have. Clearly this was not his first rodeo.
Determined to find a fight, the man paddled to another unlucky victim and began arguing with him. I stared in disbelief as the grown man slapped the water and shouted filthy words at his peer. What the hell? It wasn’t even 7am! Quietly, I wished for a shark.
Jerkface mouthed off to a few more surfers and eventually got out of the water. Now, you’d think we would all cheer and get back to our fun, but that’s not what happened. Not even close. Instead, nobody spoke. We didn’t even look at each other; we each just focused on the horizon in silence.
Just like that, the power of one man’s negative energy had shifted the group’s mood from a happy one, to a depressing silence. ONE MAN DID THAT TO ALL OF US. I was so shocked I couldn’t even surf – I just sat there mad, sad, and confused.
Flash paddled over to me, “Forget about that guy Sara. Get him out of your head, and let’s focus on surfing.” But it was game over. I tried for a few more, and then went in.
In the days after this episode, I looked for that man so I could talk to him. I wanted to clue him in on what he did to us, but I never saw him again. (If you’re reading this and you ARE that man – please email me so we can discuss ways in which you might be able to suck less.)
I’ve since thought about that day more than I’d like to admit. In every aspect of our lives, whether we want it to or not, our energy infects strangers. We can use it to make people’s days better (and therefore, lives better)… or we can carelessly chuck angry hand grenades all over town.
And the power works both ways:
About nine months ago I was surfing mid-afternoon all alone. I was upset about something and – full disclosure – was shedding a few pathetic tears in the water. I don’t even think I was surfing, I was just sitting on my board frowning, like a loser. Carlos Arias paddled out and could see that I was upset. He asked if I was okay. I said I was (I wasn’t). There was no mistaking that I didn’t want to talk about it. And here’s the awesome thing that happened: If you know Carlos, you know that on smaller longboarding days, he surfs with the playful attitude of a four year old. You know, he rocks headstands, surfs backwards…that sort of stuff. So rather than pry, he just started surfing like that around me. And you know what? I quit feeling sorry for myself and I started having fun surfing with him. When I got out of the water, I felt happy. It was a complete 180º from how I felt when I entered. Just like that, Carlos’ positive energy had fixed me, and I was good as new.
We really should all strive to be Glass Half-Full Humans.
Before I started surfing, I don’t think I ever sat down and consciously had this thought. Let’s promise each other to never be THAT guy. Not in the office, not on the street, and please – not EVER in the water. We each have the power. So lets be Jedis, not Siths.
Sara is a freelance writer and surfing addict. See her portfolio at www.meetsarashelton.com, and if you’re interested in working with her or want to say hi, shoot her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.