Everyone’s talking about it.
It’s trendy, its fun, you don’t have to be rich and you look good. The beach lifestyle, the laid-back attitude and the golden tans appeal to almost everyone, and, get this; you don’t even have to actually bother learning to surf to join in. Just buy the clothes, learn the lingo, dye your hair and bingo, you’re a surfer.
The trendy surfing image and lifestyle is great, but it all stems from something unique, and more and more people are wondering if it might be worth finding out what this is.
Maybe it is worth the effort. Maybe it’s worth learning to surf.
The weak will drop out straight away. Surfing is hard – mentally and physically – and survival of the fittest reigns. It’s obvious the first time you set foot in the water with a board. When you stagger back out, hobbling, exhausted and beaten, people will nod their heads sagely and tell you it’s the hardest sport in the world. It is. It’s also the most rewarding, the most fabulous, the most exhilarating experience you can ever grant yourself. But you’d better be tough.
Surfers are often instantly recognisable. Toned muscles, sleek physiques, a relaxed attitude, visible confidence – it’s a cliché, it’s enviable, and it isn’t bought - it’s earned. Earned through months and years in the water, with only yourself to both overcome and to rely on. And it’s hard. You have to be resolute, single-minded, and willing to pull on a cold, damp wetsuit and paddle out into a grey ocean at the crack of dawn in mid-January. You have to be competitive, with yourself more than anyone, be willing to test yourself time and time again, be willing to look and feel stupid while you learn, and you have to be brave, fit, flexible and strong. Years down the line you may still have days where you can’t catch a thing and it all feels hopeless – you’ll have to take it on the chin and wake up positive and determined to succeed the next day.
You don’t learn to surf in a week. You can’t short-cut the hard work – good surfing needs good instincts, and instincts aren’t taught, they evolve. Time in the water is money in the bank to a surfer, and even a disastrous surf – which will happen – has taught you things you aren’t even aware you’ve learned. Sensing how water moves, how a certain wave will break, how to spot danger and what to do when a dark stripe fills the horizon – these are all examples of knowledge that will become instinct the more you surf.
But what this means is that surfing isn’t a holiday pursuit that you’ll master before its time to pack up the sunshade. It’s a choice that will actually change your life. Start at sixteen and you’ll still be surfing when you’re sixty. Remember the Channel 4 series ‘Faking It’? People had to learn a new skill in a month and trick a panel of judges into believing they were experts. One episode featured a city lawyer who had to learn to surf, enter a competition and perform well enough to convince the judges he was at competitive level. Of course, the poor guy failed to convince anyone – he only had a month to learn – but the follow-up show was where the story really began. After the challenge was over he jacked in his job at a top law firm, finished with his fiancé, sold his London townhouse, emigrated to Australia to live on a beach – all because he was determined to learn to surf. He was addicted.
Its powerful stuff.
It’s partly because it’s the biggest buzz you can get. Everything suddenly comes together and suddenly, you’re riding a wave. You’re doing it! The wind’s blowing your hair, you’re moving with the ocean, and all that hard work and graft fades into insignificance. It’s all worth it! You could fly to the moon! Then all too soon it’s over, leaving you knowing you want, and can achieve, more. As one friend put it, ‘Chemical high? Forget it. As soon as I got into surfing I lost all desire for drug-induced highs. It seemed boring and pointless compared to surfing.’
Surfing will get you fit like nothing else – its one of those rare addictions where the side effects are actually good for you. An afternoon in the gym just doesn’t compare to an afternoon in the water for feeling like you’ve had a workout. You know it – your muscles ache where you didn’t know you had muscles, you’re tired to your bones and you’re ravenous. And you can eat what you like because you’ve earned it – free calories! It’s the best workout in the world, and its fun.
And you’re not stuck in some sweaty gym or sports hall or breathing air conditioned air with countless other sweaty individuals. You’re not staring at a concrete wall. You’re out on the water, looking at the horizon, feeling the planet breathe beneath you. You won’t believe how many colours the ocean can turn. Even when the weather is bad and the sky is grey and cold, the water will still be darkly beautiful. It’s spectacular and always changing, and at times you can believe you are in any country on earth. All you need is for the ocean to decide to dish up some swell and you’re good to go. No stacks of equipment, no complicated machinery, not even another person; all you need is you and your board - and probably a wetsuit if you surf in the UK! – and that’s it. Magic.
The ocean is a great leveller. It puts things in perspective and you in your place – you are really very little – and your problems are minor in the greater scheme of things. Being out on the ocean helps unwind your mind and clear your thoughts without trying - troubles fade away while you concentrate on the here and now. You are very definitely not in charge, you can’t make the waves bigger, smaller or gentler – you have to adapt, to shape up, and learn to deal with whatever’s thrown at you. Its good mental training for life – and it works.