The Ocean is My Temple: Communion With The Divine Through Wave Riding
“Communing with nature, dancing in the aquatic realm, immersed in the womb of Planet Earth, I have found the purest of joy while surfing.” – Shawn Zappo
I’ve been known to call myself a DIY World Religions major, always in a somewhat humorous manner of course. Truth be told, I have, over the span of many years, researched and practiced various religions and spiritual paths. Many times, my fanatical zeal led me to become burnt out and without the peace of mind that is normally promised by such practices.
I have found things that resonated with me in every so-called sacred text, things that I would call universal truths, and other things that made no sense at all. The fact that no particular religion ever fully made sense to me left me feeling “spiritually challenged” more often than not. Then one day I had a groundbreaking realization: surfing, the one thing I’ve loved almost my entire life, was my spiritual practice.
When surfing I’m fully present in the moment, I’m completely focused on what I’m doing. I’m not worrying about paying my rent this month, or working a 12 hour work day on Tuesday, or the innumerable forms of nonsense that pass though my head on the daily. I’m aware and awake, in the moment! I enter a state of what some would call meditation, one pointed focus, no-mind, and the like. In fact the title from the famous LSD-experimenting Harvard professor turned Western mystic of the 60s, Ram Dass’ book “BE HERE NOW” seems quite appropriate for the moments we experience while surfing. Being fully in the “now”, with no concept of past or future.
Surfing has the ability to take us to the quiet place in our mind, the space in between thoughts, that many mystics and sages spend a lifetime trying to access. We also become in tune with nature and her various modes, moods, and movements. As I think of the last swell that we just had here at home, it all becomes more apparent. The hard south winds that created the swell and chilled the water down, the varying tides that gave the waves different shapes throughout the day. At low tide, the waves were pitching fast and hollow. As the tide filled in, the faces became fatter, better for drawing out long turns as opposed to getting barreled. The offshore winds that groomed the waves from being a sloppy mess in the morning, to glassy peeling walls of water later in the afternoon. Spending time in the ocean riding waves, I find I’m in better tune with my internal state, while also gaining a greater understanding and appreciation of how Mother Nature works.
I started surfing sometime in the mid 80’s when the stereotype for surfers was Spicoli from “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”, the blonde haired, pot smoking, moronic half-wit that we all loved. Then came the rise of the jock-like professional surfer that was sold to us through the surf industry for years. Eventually, as my relationship with the ocean grew, I could not personally relate to either of these figures anymore. Surfing became something much deeper to me then summertime beach bum fun or aggressive competitive ferocity. The surf industry as it were could no longer define what surfing was supposed to be, because I had discovered for myself what surfing truly meant to me.
As I age and my relationship with surfing grows I gain a deeper understanding of the art itself as well as gaining insight into myself.
With the proper approach surf sessions can reveal much about what is going on inside us, as well as around us and sometimes even offer answers to the sometimes puzzling questions of life. Just as the bubbles of foam sit on top of the water as the waves churn the ocean, our subconscious thoughts come to the surface or forefront of our mind.
I find many times I recognize them, then they fade away and I’m mentally cleansed, as I immerse myself deeper in the session. The more focused I am on the experience of being in the water, life on the shore fades away, and then later as I rest afterwards, I may have gained some clarity.
If one were to ask me today what religion I practice today I may answer, the ocean is my temple, the wave is my deity, and riding waves is my act of worship or communion with the divine.
Now if that’s too deep, it’s ok. Just go surf, have fun, and enjoy the smile on your face.
All Photos: Fiona Mullen