Surfing holds a special mystique in our culture, a cache that has been commercialized and parodied ad nauseum, beyond the stereotypes and media images exists one of the most unique and fulfilling life experiences. Here are 10 reasons to learn to surf:
1 - Fitness - Surfing is a physically demanding sport, that will build and motivate a level of physical fitness at every level of the learning process. Any given surf session will provide a full body work-out. From paddling, to pop-ups to carving wave faces, a surfer will come out of the water having worked upper body and core strength, hips and mobility, and increased stamina. A greater lung capacity will result from duck-dives and hold downs. As you continue to learn to surf, the desire to progress will also act as a motivation to maintain a higher level of physical fitness and potentially make healthier life choices. There is definitely some truth behind the stereotype of the ripped surfer.
2 - Confidence - Along with physical fitness comes confidence. However the confidence that comes with surfing is not necessarily rooted in vanity or ego. Learning to surf is not easy. Sure, learning anything is not easy. But when you are learning to surf, you need to build courage. At times surfing involves fear and even physical pain. You can't press pause on waves. When you are learning to play tennis there isn't a wave coming over-head that can lift you up and hold you down. Building this kind of confidence is one of the most beautiful skills that you can take out of the water into other areas of your life. Knowing that you just rode unadulterated natural energy on moving pieces of water, while make you glow when doing regular bullshit human activities like sitting on the subway or getting fired much more bearable.
*Side note, changing in and out of wetsuits in parking lots and public beaches will definitely make you more comfortable with nudity!
3 - Respect for Nature - Surfing has no court, no rink, no field. Surfing happens on beaches, in oceans, lakes, rivers, (and yes a few artificial waves). Learning to surf often opens people up to a newfound respect for their environment, and even necessitates an awareness of one's surroundings. Surfing allows one to experience a new perspective on the natural world. While some might see surfing as a way of challenging or conquering big waves, most surfers I have spoken with see it more as participation with their environment. A way of physically, mentally and dare-i-say spiritually connecting with the natural world.
While you may not necessarily feel completely at one with nature after your first surf lesson, enough time staring at horizons, feeling changes in wind direction, and navigating coast lines will definitely bring about a healthy dose of granola-birkenstock vibes. It's no wonder so many surfers are involved in environmental stewardship such as the meet-up-clean-ups. Besides who wants to dodge plastic bags and used jimmies when they are out in the lineup.
4 - Surfing is a great release - In surf-lore sometimes the sea is called the great equalizer. Meaning it doesn't matter who you are, how much money you have, who you love, or what happened at the office. When you surf you learn to appreciate something greater than you - yet you are still connected. Surfing is a great opportunity to leave you baggage on shore, and involve yourself in a holistic release. One of the best bits of advice I got while learning to surf was 'drop your shit.' After getting frustrated and struggling while being 'caught inside' my teacher/mentor/guru advised me to take a look at the coastline, get out of my own head and get over myself. It worked. See how you feel after a little wave therapy.
I'm sure there is a great cocktail of adrenaline and endorphins brewing after a good session..
5 - Culture - While surfing has always had a bizarre relationship with hollywood and the world of commerce (for some reason the word surf appears on like 90% of the worlds t-shirts) surfing has a rich and varied history and contemporary culture.
Rooted in the traditional sport of Hawaiian royalty, and lesser known ancient history of Peruvian fisherman, surfing has blossomed into a global community with a multitude of subcultures. Driving down the California coastline you may find a different vibe and style of surfing from one break to the next, different waves, different boards, different styles, different attitudes. Take that concept and extend it to the far flung regions of the globe, and less obvious surf communities, like Munich's urban river surfers, surfing in the Amazon or even surfing on the great lakes, you will find an endless amount of interesting communities full of surfers with unique character defects.
6 - Travel - For some a luxury, for others the only way to score waves. Surfing often precipitates travel. Waves are flat? Gas up the Dodge Caravan, hit google flights, it's time to find some waveage. Learning to surf is a great excuse to escape to some tropical paradise and get wet for a few weeks in Costa Rica or drive for the night to Montauk. Start learning to surf and you may accidentally see the world. The uninitiated usually associate surfing with Hawaii and California, but as we hit on in point 5, the search for waves can definitely take you off the beaten path... Anyone fancy a cold water surf trip to Iceland? Sometimes I don't even feel like I have been somewhere unless I have bobbed up and down in the local lineup.
7 - Friendship - Learning to do something alongside others builds a shared sense of achievement, the same can be said of surfing. And let's face it, with surfing we are always learning. Being a surfer, means being part of a community, on a local and global scale, and it often means sharing experiences with others. Becoming part of a surf community takes respect, attention and sometimes thick skin, but sharing surf trips to foreign shores, 5am dawn patrols, perfect sunset sessions, to stormy winter surfs, it is no wonder that surfers have a tribe mentality. Crack open a case of Shlitz ale post surf, and start talking bout that wave that Kevin dropped in on. Let the good times roll. Party wave.
8 - Solitude - Wait. Didn't I just say that friendship is a great reason to learn to surf? Yep, but so is being alone. Everything is possible. Deal with it. Sure, you can surf in a contest for points, but the activity of surfing at its core is not a team sport and it is not about winning or losing. It is about something a little deeper. It can be meditative. While you may spend a lot of time surfing with friends and hooting and hollering down the lineup, a fair deal of time spent in the surf is spent sitting, attentively and looking out at the water. I don't mean to sound all Tony Robbins, but surfing can be about personal growth.
9 - We're all gonna die one day - Sorry to harsh your groove there. But it is true (unless any of you scientists out there are working on a cure for death). Surfing is about life, it is about trying to squeeze every drop of life out of each moment and feel what it is like to be a real, genuine human being here on planet crazy. While the act of surfing is like an involuntary live-in-the-moment switch, forcing one into the present situation, most surfers have an NSA-sized mental archive of memories stored away in the ol' surf spank bank, reserved for dentists' waiting rooms, math class and lonely nights (;
10 - Fun - Learning to surf is fun. Surfing feels good. Real good. It feels the way Marvin Gaye sounds.
You ain't gonna see it on your screen. Go surfing.
Words by Elie Landesberg. Photos by Lucas Murnaghan and Nat Kuleba.