"I will know that there will always be another wave … "
- Shaun Tomson, Surfer's Code: 12 Simple Lessons for Riding Through Life
Most of you know that, despite the frequent subject matter of my images, I am not a surfer. I have assumed the calm, the zen, the appreciation of the environment, the "stoke", the sense of community - these are the sentiments that, in passivity, I have imbued upon the sport. On Thursday, as promised, I finally got in my 1 hour surfing lesson together with a friend and her two girls visiting from the East Coast (thank you, Surf Diva).
In his essay, Tomson takes basic mantras of surfing and applies them as broader life philosophies or guide posts. As a pre-novice, I can only aspire to absorb each of those mantras one day. That said, during my own zen experience of being tossed around under crashing waves, squealing with mixed anticipation and fear, and snorting copious amounts of sea water, I came up with a few lessons of my own:
- Go for it. This is not just about catching the wave. For the beginner, the journey starts when you set your mind to do The Thing - the combined process of intention, mental preparation & negotiation, and follow-through. Take all of the imagined reasons to not do something, and turn them on their heads. The water is not as cold as you believe, you can fall and emerge from under your foam board without permanent injury, and you are not the only one over 40 in a neon training rash guard. Know that learning at 40 still leaves a good 20+ years of stoke if that's what you want.
- Take your time. Take a moment. Or two. Think about what you want to do. Don't rush. Break it up into small steps. Make sure you're on the board - don't let your feet hang off the end. Paddle. Paddle. Paddle. Paddle. Paddle. Paddle. Wait for it. Paddle. Feel the lift. Hands close to your chest. Push up. Right foot forward (if you're goofy, like me). Lunge. Stand up. Stay low. Look forward. Ride.
- But don't hesitate too long. Don't over think it. Don't be afraid to fall. You can go to your knees, but that's where you'll stay. If you wait on your hands, your wave will finish that way.
- Stay centered. Surfboards have a center line - the stringer - that gives the board its strength. Center your mass along the line. Find your balance. Tilt too much to the left or right, and that's where the board (and you) tip.
- "Stoke" happens. The lift of the wave, the water parting around the tip of the board and flaring out the sides. The power and grace of nature. Don't give up. You can't be perfect on day one. Or two. Or even year one. The accomplishment is in the fun and frustration of the process. The stoke is there.
In between tumbles and shaking water out of my ear, I looked out further into the ocean - towards the next set where the "real" surfers gathered. They wait. I see new images and know I will need to be in the water to capture those feelings: the calm, the zen, the appreciation of the environment, the "stoke", the sense of community.
And I also know that for me, there will be another wave.
A modified version of this blog post can be found on The Inertia. I'm honored to be one of their newest contributors!