Since mid 2017, I base the choice of my next travel destination largely on how much I can surf there. This is because learning to surf has had an almost miraculous healing effect on every bit of my body and my mind. And my life feels incomplete without that cathartic element. I haven’t been a sporty person for the first 30 years of my existence, and for the 9 that followed all I did was dabbling in swimming, running a bit, doing weight training (a bit) at the gym. Without any real enjoyment of the process. I did it only because I knew that my body needed exercise to keep functioning optimally. Surfing is completely different. The moment I catched my first puny white wave I knew that I would want to do that again, and again, and again, probably for every day for the rest of my life. I knew that I would be a better version of myself if I incorporated it into my days.
I detest doing those five minutes of warming up exercises that it’s a very good idea to do before getting on the board, as they quickly make me feel fatigued and claustrophobic because of how tight the wetsuit is. But the moment I hit the water, everything flips inside me. I am still a total beginner and I’ll probably call myself one for several more years, but the stamina that I can display paddling to catch waves and walking back in the water after a ride has left more than one instructor speechless. I am speechless myself honestly, for being able, as a not particularly sporty looking man, to spend up to 220 consecutive minutes (that’s my record I believe) inside the water, being slammed hard by waves which are often too much of a handful for my level. Without stopping for a sip of water, or a banana. I wouldn’t recommend anyone to do it the way I do it, but there’s clearly something going on inside me if I can do it (even if I don’t do it well by any means). I am incredibly clumsy and impulsive, and I tend to miss the good waves and go for the wrong ones, but my body tells me in a hundred different ways that I must keep going. The release of happy chemicals inside me is beyond words, the improvement in my posture is almost instantaneous, and the very special type of hunger that I have the privilege to satisfy after three hours in the water connects me with a sort of warrior like archetype. Seriously, if you haven’t experienced what it feels like to eat the amount of food that normally a family of four would eat, after starving yourself in cold water for hours, you are missing on a whole dimension from life. I won’t say that it’s better than sex, but it is just as much worth living for. Just like good sex with the right person, surfing can fix a whole range of issues, from anxiety and social media addiction to chronic tension headaches. I guess it’s due to its simplicity (it’s one of the most minimalistic sports you can practice) blended with its primordial nature of letting yourself go to something over which you have absolutely no power. About entering an element which is very close to us (we walk by the sea all the time) but at the same time is governed by completely different rules, and can easily punish us if we forget to respect it. About trying to tame the fear of the unknown, and more trivially, about burning a million calories and rebuilding every piece of your body after smashing it.
I grew up close to the Mediterranean, which for the vast majority is a limpid, warm-ish swimming pool in which you can sip a cocktail during the summer months. And if you want to swim in it, you can do it for hours without risking that a 20 cm wave will put some drops of water in your snorkel. On most summer days at least. So the first time that I saw the ocean, and waves that you’re supposed to surf, I felt a tingling all over my spine. A part of me was terrified. Those perfect but ominous peaks evoked tales about sunken ships and the Kraken, and the magnitude of the current combined with the cold of the water was the distillation of all that I’ve been taught to avoid as a young fellow living by the Mediterranean. “You’ve got to wait three hours after eating before entering the water”, mama said. Yeah, right.
I bet he did not wait three hours after eating
A different part of me was magnetically attracted though. I knew that people could surf those peaks, I had seen it countless times, on tv mostly. And I knew that I might be brutally rewarded if I dared to try. Brutally because surfing doesn’t just teaches you to balance your body on a piece of polystyrene/fibreglass while a moving surface changes shape beneath your feet. There’s way more than that. It also shows you that on a stormy day it’s actually possible to sit on the board, 200 meters from the shore, and almost feel the air moving from the wings of a seagull passing over, with an endless array of creatures going on with their business below the surface of the water, none of which is minimally interested in negatively interfering with my sporty intentions. It also teaches you to look at life as a stream of opportunities that sometimes we should definitely go for, regardless of the remote but existing possibility that we’ll be crushed by the events. That’s what life is, and it’s not about building the possible safest environment around you in which the only thing that could kill you is old age. That’s a delusion, sorry.