Surfing is very different to other sports. It’s not dependent on a quantifiable outcome. In sports like tennis or squash you’re required to play against an opponent in a binary environment of either win or lose. In sports like running or cycling, although you may not choose to compete, the desired outcome is often based on metrics. How many minutes per kilometre did I run? What was my power output on the bike today?
Although there is nothing wrong measuring our sporting ability against metrics, the downside to this is that it can often place unnecessary expectation on us, which in turn can very quickly take the fun out of doing a particular sport. Which is the very reason we started doing the sport in the first place, no?
Did I win or lose? Did I get a PB (Personal Best)? Did I beat so-and-so on Strava? It’s this competition mindset that has become all too pervasive in sport, clouding our vision to appreciate that sport should fundamentally be about having fun and enjoying the activity of whichever sport we choose to do.
Surfing wholeheartedly embodies this ethos. The ethos of pure bliss, enjoyment and fun. I strongly believe this is because there is no quantifiable way to measure “success” in surfing. There is no win or lose. There is no PB or beating another person in the lineup. And that is the beauty of surfing. The only way to measure your “success” in surfing is to reflect on your level of stoke or happiness (for non-surfers). As the famous saying goes, the best surfer in the water is the person having the most fun.
The sheer amount of variables involved in surfing only magnify its splendour and our ability to appreciate why we keep returning this sport. Besides the main event of paddling into and popping up on a wave, there are a plethora of sideshows which make every surf session unpredictable and for that reason really cool.
Warming up on the beach. What do you see on the sand or rocks as you’re warming up. A crab? Seaweed? A white mussel? The list goes on. Then it’s the paddle out. How are the waves going to treat you today. Will it be a seamless paddle out arriving at the backline relatively unscathed. Or do you end up taking a pounding based on unlucky positioning or a poor duck-diving technique.
Once you’re in the lineup, how are the sets rolling through. In tight or large intervals. Is it low, mid or high tide, and how does that affect the shape of the waves. Is the water temperature cold, moderate or warm. When you catch a wave how does your first bottom turn of the day feel? Smooth and flowing or a little rigid?
Are you the only one out? How are the other surfers in the water performing. I sometimes get just as stoked seeing another surfer make a critical manoeuvre or get spat out of a barrel than doing it myself. Living that moment vicariously through them. POV or point-of-view isn’t always the best angle.
What about the moments in between the sets. The sounds of the birds flying overhead or catching fish in the water. Perhaps you’re on a reef with an abundance of marine life. So abundant, that fish intermittently jump out of the water. I got to witness this surfing in a nature reserve in Nicaragua some years ago. Perhaps you’re surfing a point break and a pod of dolphins announce their arrival sharing the first wave of a new set with you. Or maybe it’s late in the day and the lulls between sets allow you to marvel at the setting sun.
Finally, it’s the paddle back in after a solid sesh in the water. That feeling of fulfilment. Contentment. Stoke. Fatigue. You get back onto shore and the first thing you do is look back to see if there are any good sets rolling in. There are. You watch a surfer drop into a pearler and you mind-surf the wave with them knowing it was you just a few ticks before.
Surfing. Ahh, the joys it brings. All for free. There is no cost to access the beach, ocean, waves, marine life and beautiful sunsets. There is no obligation to try and quantify your surfing experience. The qualitative and subjective approach will more than suffice. There are enough adjectives in any language to give each session its own unique synopsis. One word however will always remain constant during and after each surf session – STOKED!