Three Life Lessons I Learned from Surfing

James Ward shredding the waves.
James Ward shredding the waves.

To be fair, I had no idea what I was getting into when I picked up surfing.  The first time a six foot wave slapped my face, it was enough to make me reconsider my commitment to my new hobby.  After all, getting up at the crack of dawn, paddling out into the chilly waters of Santa Cruz would test most peoples’ resolve.  I’m happy to say that I stayed with it.  Surfing is a great metaphor for life.  I took some time between sets to share three life lessons I’ve learned while surfing:

1. Worrying does not change anything: We can’t control life, so worrying is a waste of time.  It’s like putting a bet on a team you want to lose.  I don’t want to find a shark under my board, but what would worrying do to stop that?  Sure I could stay out of the water to mitigate this, but my chances of getting hit by a bus are far more likely.  I have no control over this and worrying about it won’t help. It is wasting time to think about all the things that could go wrong; failure, accidents, illness.  Worrying about these things won’t actually prevent them from happening.  Don’t get me wrong, I do check the local surf report to see if sharks have been in the area.  I also took several water safety classes to learn about the ocean.  But being smart doesn’t mean you worry about things you can’t control.  Surfing is about how you react to what the ocean throws your way. Life is similar.

2. “Patience is bitter but its fruit is sweet”– Aristotle. Surfing has taught me that with life you must have restraint.  I can always tell a new surfer in the ocean.  The first wave they see they attack without any hesitation.  It usually leaves them forced closer to shore, cutting off a fellow surfer or at worst wiping out.  I used to do the same, but after many failed attempts, I learned to be patient.  Surfing is about being composed and finding the right wave for you.  I often wait it out and let the first wave go by knowing a better and bigger wave is coming just for me.  Good things come to those who wait and are prepared.  This is true in surfing and in life.

3. Overcoming Fear: “Waves are not measured in feet and inches, they are measured in increments of fear”-Buzzy Trent, big wave rider from the 1960’s.  Buzzy had it right.  Most likely I will not ride the massive waves Buzzy did.  I can tell you that the wipeout can challenge you to your core.  At some point in your surfing life, the ocean will give you a beating that will make you question your commitment to surfing.  So what does a wipeout feel like?  It’s kind of what you would imagine would happen if you spent 30 seconds in the spin cycle of a washing machine.  It can be an unnerving experience to say the least.  The ocean will take you in its lovely water and embrace without any regard to your wants or plans.  After my first wipeout on an eight foot wave, I paddled right out of that darn ocean never to return.  Just when I got to my car, a very good local surfer sat me down and gave me advice: “Whatever you do, don’t stop surfing dude.”  What?!?!?  Clearly he must have missed my wipeout.  Trust me, it wasn’t a pretty sight.  “My advice is that you need to learn the ocean doesn’t care about you.  It was here before us and will be here after we are gone.  Take some time to learn about the ocean and you’ll be okay.”

Over the next few months, I read and watched everything about surfing and wave science I could get my hands on.  I was going to fight back!  As you might have guessed, my fighting was no match for the sea.  I lost over and over again.  Then something clicked during this frightening and daunting experience: I got over my fear.  I simply let go of this silly illusion of control.  I told myself if I was going to fail, then I’d might as well do it the way I was taught.  I just started to go for it without any hesitation.  I started to have a fair amount of success.  Then one day an eight foot wave came right at me.  I was in the perfect position for it.  I started to paddle and was looking forward.   I was quick to catch the wave before it broke.  It picked me up, I popped up to my feel, and dropped in on the biggest wave of my young surfing life.  I was in total disbelief!  Heck yaaaaa!!!  I’m up now on the top of the world!!!!  It was like I was floating on air.  I was one with the wave.  I never wanted it to end.  I thought to myself, did I just do that?  We are often taught today that if something is scary, you should avoid it.  Surfing teaches you that fear is good.  After all, fear is what led me to spend hours on my pop up, visit local surf camps, and practice over and over on how to judge waves properly.  I’ve learned to use fear as motivation.

I can now focus on putting my energy on putting my best foot forward in surfing and in life.  My biggest fear now is the fear of missing out.  What if I had never come back after my first setback?  I shudder at the thought.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestGoogle+Email to someone
James Ward

Written by James Ward

James Ward is a Master Trainer at the Oshman Family JCC Goldman Sports & Wellness Complex. A former Marine with a background in Sports Science, James is dedicated to motivating people to achieve their goals. While an accomplished collegiate athlete, James recently discovered a passion for surfing up and down the Pacific Coast.

Comments are moderated and will not appear immediately.