Surfing Lessons: Teachings on Patience, Balance, Meditation, and Fear
Throughout its history, surfing—or he’e nalu, wave-sliding—has never been just one thing. Since its inception roughly 3,500 years ago surfing has been a means of transportation, an art form, a diversion, a sport, and, for some twentieth-century Hawaiians, a form of colonial resistance.
It is also, for those who seek it, a practice in patience. Surfing is a lesson in the art of balance, an invaluable tool for overcoming fear, a way to befriend failure, and a floating form of meditation.
Even if you’ve never paddled out, the lessons of surfing still translate to life on dry land, though most surfers would argue you’re missing the point.
Seize the Wave
Never was the adage good things come to those who wait more apropos than in surfing. Much of surfing is waiting—often even before putting on a wetsuit. Surfers wait for the wind to change, for a set to roll in, for the swell to pick up, or for the crowds to die down. Once in the water, a surfer must sit patiently on her board, waiting for an opportunity to catch a wave before it literally rolls by. Waiting with patience is how surfers stay focused, calm, and seize the wave. Carpe diem!
Surfing is a circus trick—three balancing acts in one. The first is finding your center. Being out on the water, scanning the horizon, is a hard place to hide from your thoughts; there are no text messages to read or feeds to scan. To surf, your physical body and your emotional body must come into alignment. If you’re frustrated, angry, or ecstatic, chances are that’s going to show up in your surfing.
The second balancing act is more literal: Standing on a floating slab of foam. And the third balancing act, riding that slab of foam on a fast-moving wave, is much easier when your whole self is in harmony.
Balancing on a board can be learned, with patience, over time. What holds us back is fear. In surfing there are a limited amount of optimal waves per session—sometimes only one. If you miss it, there’s no going back. As such, waves are in extremely high demand. If you pass on a wave due to indecisiveness or fear, your fellow surfers will likely pick up on your hesitation and block you from trying again, lest you waste another wave.
Become Friends with Failure
In surfing, as in life, failure is inevitable. Wiping out is a great way to learn how to fall, only to rise again. Commitment is the more important part of wiping out. When someone commits to a wave his instincts take over and help him navigate. Commitment is a learned skill. It involves breaking down mental barriers and building muscle memory. When we embrace failure and remove fear, we’re left feeling stronger and with a body pumping dopamine and adrenaline.
During wave-catching stints, learning how to meditate is an ancillary benefit. There can be many distractions while surfing; shutting your eyes, relaxing, and breathing between sets takes surfing to another level. During these moments of calm, a surfer learns to recognize opportunity, enjoy downtime, and be one with the ocean.
It is in these moments, floating peacefully with all the other creatures of the ocean, that we learn to enjoy the little things, one of the keys to happiness. The smile on the face of a surfer after connecting with the ocean is the greatest reward of all.
- Self Cultivation,