Life Lessons from Between the Waves

For many, surfing evolves to more than a sport, more than a hobby. It becomes a way of life—one of many lenses through which to view the world.  

The specific reasons why are unique to the individual. But when surfing grabs hold of a person, it does not easily let go.

Perhaps one reason is that surfing teaches us several lessons we can apply to the part of our lives spent on land.

Enjoy the journey 

Much of surfing involves waiting. In a given session, we spend hours at a time sitting on our board, watching the swells roll in. And when we do catch a wave, it lasts only seconds.

The highlights are separated by long periods of waiting. Most of time we simply sit. Some days, that waiting yields only one or two good rides. We often go through session after session, or longer, to get one spectacular ride.

And yet, we continue to paddle out. We even do so on days when we know there will not be a great ride. It’s because we can enjoy the down time, the quiet moments. Our surfing life does not need to be filled with great wave after great wave.

So too goes life.

Life’s highlights accentuate the experience but do not define it. Most of life is spent between the waves.

How will we enjoy it?

Defeat leads to success

Some days the ocean wins. The paddle out hurts. The sets are difficult to read. The take-off is too steep. The wind howls on shore. Waves close out again and again.

Those days can be a challenge. Yet we return time and time again.

We learn from our mistakes and from the conditions. We adjust and we gain confidence. Each defeat, however minor, ultimately contributes to our greatest moments.

Perfection remains an illusion. Once we feel like we’ve reached it, we stumble again and the cycle repeats.

Life is the same.

As the saying goes, “What matters is not how many times you get knocked down, but how many times you get back up.”

As surfers, we know that. We can live it.

Control what you can

Surfing is special because it is entirely responsive to the natural environment.

We can navigate the waves and move under and through and across them—and not much else. When we ride a wave, we adapt to what the ocean provides.

No surfer falls under the notion that he or she controls the ocean. Instead, we relinquish the need to combat that which we cannot control. We remain flexible. We move within what is happening. We seek harmony with the rhythm of the sea.

Like the ocean, life can shift direction quickly.

Some things we control. Many things we do not.

Life presents gifts and challenges irrespective of our actions. If we can learn to slide through life as we do in the sea, perhaps we can better find peace with the unknown.

Be present 

The ocean commands our attention. Whether paddling out, scanning the horizon, or riding a wave, we must be focused on the present. During a surf session, there is no past to rue and no future to fret. The mind clears.

In day-to-day life, this concept allows us to focus on the here and now. How often do we disregard the current moment because we’re consumed by about another point in time?

Instead, we can cherish the now. No two surf sessions are the same, just as no two moments are the same. We can be curious, interested, engaged or excited, whether we’re working or playing or somewhere in between.

If we apply the surfing mindset to our lives, we might just stop to smell the roses.

And maybe that really is what life’s all about.

Well, that and surfing.


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