Surfing: Temporal Escapism or Transcendent Arrival

"Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world." -John Milton

“Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.” -John Milton

“When we recognise the virtues, the talent, the beauty of Mother Earth, something is born in us, some kind of connection, love is born.” -Thich Nhat Hanh

I spend a great deal of time thinking, which I don’t think is anything special or extraordinary. In fact it can oftentimes be a torturous experience. Thoughts come, thoughts go, and sometimes they like to buzz around in my head for a while like a fly that bites you over and over. Funny thing is, when you swat this fly, it doesn’t die, it multiplies in intensity and annoyance. Clinically speaking I’ve been diagnosed with a classic case of pure obsessional OCD. It’s repetitive rumination, usually on some irrational fear or uncomfortable visualization. I file these types of thoughts that pass through my head on any given day under the category labeled “utter shit”. They tend to be negative, self-defeating, and overly analytical. I’ve suffered on and off with this affliction since I was 8 years old. Now at 40, I can navigate through the trenches within the battlefield of my mind with a greater ease then I had even imagined. I’ve even found I can utilize my meticulous thinking and actions for the positive.

As the OCD has waxed and waned throughout my life, while manifesting in various forms, I have sought therapy to help manage it and equip myself with tools to overcome its debilitating power. Recently I was speaking with my therapist, going into this deep dialog about my personal philosophy on surfing, explaining how I find it to be a purging experience and a spiritual ceremony of sorts. Describing it as a prayer in motion upon a rolling wall of saltwater or the reentrance into the womb of all life on earth, bathing in the amniotic fluid of the planet. Somewhere along the way I’m sure I was getting a little overly poetic and “out there” with all my magical surf talk. Eventually I was stopped in my tracks when my therapist said, “Surfing must be a great escape for you.”

My initial response was a defensive feeling, as I felt the term “escape” was a huge downplay of what surfing actually is, or at least what it is to me. I gave myself a moment to think before I responded – something I have to practice as not to sound like an idiot on a regular basis.

After some digesting of the reference to surfing as an escape, I offered my reply.

“I think surfing is the opposite of an escape. Much of what we do in our day-to-day life is an escape in my opinion. It’s an escape from the unarguable fact that we are part and parcel of nature. We knowingly or unknowingly disconnect ourselves from our roots every day. Surfing, as simple of an act as it may seem, brings me into direct contact and communion with that which I’m intrinsically connected to and an integral part: Mother Nature. Even when I’m sitting waiting for waves (and there’s a good amount of sitting), I’m with my thoughts. Although I must admit the entire surfing practice almost always eases stress and anxiety, nonetheless, thoughts are coming and going. So just like a mindful meditation practice, I observe and simply need not attach myself to them. Then when the time is ripe, I catch a wave, plunging myself into the moment, and delving deep into the beautiful essence of the human “being”.”

Surfers throughout modern history, especially before the explosion of professional surfing, have been viewed as escape artists of sorts. Beach bums, vagabonds, and societal drop-outs. I like to see the surfer as the contemporary mystic, transcending the mundane aspects of so-called civilized life, ever arriving to the innate state of human existence.

All Photos: Chris Kinsel

Surfer: Shawn Zappo

Surfcraft: Album Surfboards 


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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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