If you mention the movie Point Break to almost any surfer worth his sex wax, he’s likely to either start cussing as he explains how Hollywood never gets surfing right, or she might tell you how she’d also love to rob banks and travel the world, or they might just do a shitty impression of Keanu Reeves.
“I am an F.B.I. agent!”
Sometimes I do all three. I won’t lie. And I’ll admit it- I surf and I like Point Break. Kathryn Bigelow directed it. As if that somehow might make it all okay. But you gotta understand, I grew up skateboarding in Northern California, I’m expected to have terrible taste in movies. Skaters are notorious for their strange taste in films. Or in my case, bad taste. When I finally moved to the beach, I started surfing. Just as I always assumed, I’d been in the wrong place the whole time. I converted immediately to the First Church of Sand and Waves.
As a convert, not born-and-raised, I get why surfing is doomed to be popular. It’s way too photogenic. It sells too well to ever be left alone. People do it in the most beautiful parts of the world. It’s physically graceful to watch or film. It especially looks good in slo-mo, which is critical. Just ask professional bowling. Surfing is also a lifestyle that comes with a travel habit. There are lots of reasons why surfing gets so glorified in our popular imagination. But we’re overlooking the most obvious one- it’s a rad way to spend your time.
Life is hectic and replete with bullshit. To relax, recharge and regain focus, some folks turn to meditation, or yoga, or perhaps afternoon chess matches in a park, it doesn’t matter what you choose, as long as it works for you- the key is you find your zen habit. For me, it’s surfing. And I’ve learned there’s so much more to surfing that standing up.
1. SURFING IS LIKE MEDITATION …GOOD SEX
When you’re on a board in the ocean, you feel like you’re floating on top of freight train pulses of energy that rumble and roll through the water below you. Waiting for your wave, slows down your thinking. It’s like how those deep-throated Buddhist chants sound, everything slows way down and kinda stretches out. The blue horizon is one limit, the green continent is the other, and you’re in the middle, where waves crash like wet explosions against the sand. Just like with good sex, when you’re balanced, in-sync and moving at the pace of your partner, when you’re following and yet also predicting the pattern of their crests and valleys, when that rising and falling frequency is the only thing you’re focusing on, you can quickly lose yourself in that moment. You can just be. Surfing offers these little moments of transcendence. And you can transfer that approach to the bedroom. I’m just saying.
2. IT’S A TERRIFIC EXCUSE TO TRAVEL MORE
This blue marble we call home is stocked silly with places you won’t believe actually exist. Surfing encourages a certain amount of wanderlust. Balancing out the territorial nature of most surfers, there’s an equal compulsion to roam. You want to find new spots when your local ones are flat or uninspiring. It’s rather stupidly obvious to say, but it still must be said, travel is one of the best ways to enjoy your time under the sun. And yet, for some reason, most folks tend to delay traveling. As if it’s a damn good idea, but not a priority. Wanderlust is one of my priorities. It works way better than Botox if you wanna stay youthful. Travel keeps your mind curious and open. It keeps your tastes varied and adventurous. When you feel the pull, it’s always good to indulge a tendency to wander. Who looks happier- old surfers or old dentists?
3. YOU LEARN TO BE PATIENT BECAUSE THE OCEAN DOESN’T OWE YOU SHIT
Sure, you put gas in your car, you got up with the sun, you ate a cold breakfast so you wouldn’t wake up your roommates, and you paddled out when it was still glassy, but then… there are NO WAVES. It looks like the Pacific was replaced with Lake Michigan, and you watch little crumbly things lap against the wet edge of the continent. Some mornings, that’s just how it goes. Soon as you learn not to let that shit make you mad or sad, you’ll start enjoying a better brand of life. Bad shit happens. But it’s not happening to you. It’s just happening… and you’re involved. It’s not personal. I never get mad at the ocean when it’s flat. Just have to wait and paddle out when the waves return. I imagine this is the same wisdom used car salesmen must learn.
4. SOMETIMES BEING COLD/UNCOMFORTABLE IS TOTALLY WORTH IT
I hate to be cold. I hate it more than cats hate bathtubs. Every time I first step into the ocean, part of my body violently objects. Like my legs are screaming inside, “No good can come from this!” Without a wetsuit, there’s no way I could swim in the Pacific for an hour without dying. Wouldn’t even take that long. I’d be blue-faced shark food in about thirty minutes. But the ocean is where the waves are, so every single time I must overcome my hatred of being cold and promise my body it’ll warm up as I paddle. For all those moments in life when you realize exactly how uncomfortable you are, it really helps if you love what you’re doing. Surfing and sleeping children seem to be two of the best reminders why personal discomfort is totally worth it, sometimes.
5. IT’S COOL TO PISS ON YOURSELF ( …it reminds you life is filled with exceptions to the rules)
Yes, surfers sometimes piss in their wetsuits. It’s not like a thing you always do. Some never do it. I’ve never asked if women do it. Personally, if I’m not right in the middle of a pack of other surfers in the lineup, I’ll warm up the water rather than go to the bathroom. It’s not as gross as it sounds. That floating sun-warmed seaweed scum is way grosser. The thing about pissing in your wetsuit is, it kinda feels wrong and right at the same time. You might remember how gold-medalist Michael Phelps admitted swimmers piss in the pool. What are you gonna do? It diffuses instantly. I think. We’ve all pissed on ourselves in a pool, …right? And yes, even though surfers basically get an exemption, when you piss in your wetsuit, a small part of you still thinks- What the hell are we doing? And for that reason alone, I argue it’s good to piss on yourself. Life is filled with exceptions to the rule. Best to use them from time to time.
6. ALMOST EVERYONE IS HAPPIER AFTER SOME BEACH-TIME
Pediatricians will tell you one way to soothe a crying baby is to put the child in water. There’s some thing about water that calms us faster than any pharmaceutical. And not only will it make you calmer, a trip to the beach makes a person feel better. There’s the increased vitamin D production from sunlight, there’s the negative ions from the crashing waves, there’s the white noise of the wind and the surf and the seabirds, there’s the benefit of seeing others enjoying themselves, there’s the clock-less-ness of life, it all combines to transport one to a calmer mental state. It’s hard to leave a beach pissed-off; they are the world’s cheapest, most reliable bad mood-elevator.
7. FLIP-FLOPS ARE AN AWESOME WAY OF LIFE… I DON’T CARE WHAT ANYONE/EVERYONE IN NEW YORK SAYS
I don’t get it. How can anyone hate on flip-flops? They do have an unfortunate association to bro-culture. They’re way too easy to make fun of, but c’mon, hate the player, don’t hate the flip-flops. As someone who owns an equal number of flip-flops as dress shoes, possibly a few more, I gotta stand-up for the footwear of casual living. They may scream “frathead” and be as cliché as a goatee. And they may reveal toes you’d rather not lay eyes on. But once again- you gotta hate the player not the super-relaxed sandals.
From February to December, flip-flops are my preferred footwear. You will run the risk of looking like you’re unemployed and don’t really care about that fact, and if you pair your flip-flops with sweatpants, I hope you enjoy wearing your uniform from Camp I-Don’t-Give-A-Shit. Most serious-minded folks will treat you like your slow-moving way of life is not only an irritation but it’s a visual affront. Dealing with all those folks and their accusatory stares and mean eyes, you’ll probably think to yourself… but flip-flops are soooo comfortable. And you’re right. They’re like beach parties for your feet. Just trim your toenails and lets the haters hate.
8. BEING INSIDE TOO MUCH KILLS YOU!
There’s a growing accepted scientific opinion that sitting all the time is as dangerous for your health as smoking. I’d go one further and say mixed with all the chemicals in that recycled, air-conditioned stew they call office air, spending too much of your life inside is guaranteed boring slow death. Whenever you get out in the ocean, it makes an office look like a machine designed to reduce a person to a sad grey mass of wrinkles with a spastic colon. Surfing is that fun constant reminder: GET OUTSIDE!
9. WHEN YOU DON’T DIE… LIFE FEELS PRETTY FUCKING AWESOME
Getting tumbled, tossed, battered, bruised, broken and nearly-drowned going after what you want makes moments like a perfect wave just that much sweeter. Life is gonna chop you off at the knees sometimes, you’re gonna go down, but long as you keep popping back up, paddling back out and doing it all over again… life will also never fail to surprise you. I get tossed a lot because I’m ambitious and try to do stuff I haven’t figured out how to do. Rather than stay content in my comfort zone, I push to find where the line is between pulling off some move and violently crashing. It’s kinda the same in life. But for all the times, I’ve been swallowed by a crashing wave, I keep charging back out because the ocean will make you a convert to optimism. Ask any fisherman and they’ll tell you the same.
10. YOU SHARE THE WORLD WITH OTHERS- BE SMART AND DON’T BE A DICK
At some beaches, you still sometimes see locals who act like gorillas from the San Diego Zoo. Like, I’ve seen a dude throw his own shit at another dude’s car. Yes, I laughed. But it’s silly and embarrassing that feeling territorial about some waves can knock us that far back down our family tree. But “Locals Only” is totally still alive and well. Recently, in Santa Cruz, surfers put up fake shark warnings and beach closure signs to keep non-locals away. So… yeah. And not all surfers are mellow dudes. In fact, Santa Cruz used to be much worse. The beach once had the reputation of a being great place to get a black eye. Locals have mellowed. Eventually everyone learns to shrug off bullshit.
It’s more important to remember you’re sharing the ocean with super-friendly seals and playful dolphins, as well as curious sharks. And that’s the same as anywhere, from your dorm, to your office, to your favorite club. Try to know what creatures you’re sharing your world with. That way you don’t get to play catch with a fist. And you don’t sucker-punch a dolphin just because their fin surprises you. This hasn’t happened to me, but dolphins will sneak up on you. It’s the sharks you rarely see.
Life may be like a box of chocolates, but it’s way more like surfing. You face your fears in a beautiful place as you chase some joy, and sometimes you might piss yourself.