Ruminations: Pondering The Soul of Surfing

"Your life, right now, today, is exploding with energy and power and detail and dimension, better than the best movie you have ever seen." -Shauna Niequist

“Your life, right now, today, is exploding with energy and power and detail and dimension, better than the best movie you have ever seen.” -Shauna Niequist. Surfer: Shawn Zappo. Photo: Christor Lukasiewicz

“When I was a young man I fell from social grace, or rather was pushed into deep water. Thereafter I became a rebel of the society that had so taken advantage of a well-meaning youth. I soon found that even deep water supports a rebel, if he has the will and abilities to swim, regardless of race, color or creed. At times I found the water good, better than the land I was cut off from. The blessings of nature, superior and more honest and productive to happiness than the need to conform, and it’s in this that I came to know my God.” -Tom Blake 1968

The above quote from one of the most prolific foundational figures in surfing, Tom Blake, simply and yet quite thoroughly expresses how I feel about a life based around the pursuit of riding waves. Surfing means different things to different people, but I believe for even the most frothing, aggressive surfer, there is a deeper meaning to what they are doing than what resides on the surface. It is a path that we initially tread without understanding the gifts and realizations that will be bestowed upon on us as we further travel on the journey. You can say you get out of it what you put into it, but I tend to think surfing gives us so much more than we could ever give back. Continue to follow the path, weathering the tides of time, and we slowly begin to reap from the harvest that is the innermost “self” or what some like to call the soul.

I came into surfing in the mid 1980’s when competitive surfing was practically the total focus of the surf media, which meant as a young kid it was just about the only side I was seeing. Like most kids that really loved surfing and wanted to progress, I quickly started surfing contests, trying my best to emulate my idols I gazed upon for hours in the magazines. “Soul-Surfing” was considered a corny catch phrase for old guys who couldn’t fall in line with the direction modern surfing was going. The term tended to describe the approach of those who the youth of the day considered “washed up”.

Pondering this it can’t help but spring the question from my thought streams, “What is surfing without the soul”?

We would all answer this question in our own way and I do present this as a question everyone should ask and answer themselves. Personally, my answer seems to be best expressed in metaphor. If surfing is the body, the various maneuvers and approaches performed while surfing are simply the clothing that covers or beautifies the body. Yet beyond the body (surfing) and the clothing (the maneuvering and approach), resides the animating factor of an otherwise lifeless corpse, that my friend is the soul. So it seems to me surfing bereft of soul, no matter how you “dress” it, is a corpse awaiting burial.

No matter what your approach to surfing is, always stay close to the soul, as it is the life giving energy of the very thing we love. Now celebrate the day and go surf!

For more on how you can give back to surfing, visit the Surfrider Foundation

For more about Tom Blake: Surfing With Tom

Tom Blake

Tom Blake

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Growing up in New Jersey, Shawn discovered and quickly immersed himself in the sub-culture of surfing and skateboarding in the mid 80’s. With a diverse and eclectic background, Shawn has walked the path of a competitive surfer, Hare Krsna monk, action sports industry player in NYC, DIY theology and religions major, and a touring punk rock musician. Now a father and self-proclaimed seeker of the “soul” of surfing, Shawn enjoys sessions with friends at uncrowded peaks along his home state’s shoreline and writing about his surf related experiences.

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