Life Lessons Surfing Teaches Us – Part I

Surf long enough throughout your life and you will be able to glean life lessons surfing teaches us from your time in the water.

Simply put, learning how to surf and sticking with it as you journey through life ultimately teaches you how to live in a way that is full of meaning, wisdom, joy, and grace.

Confront Fear

Whether itʻs the swimming, the cold water, the unknown creatures watching you from the depths, or the pounding surf – it is perfectly normal to have fear.

But what we do with our fear – that is what determines the kind of person we are and the quality of life that we lead. This is a life lesson surfing teaches us. 

Identify your surfing fears. Donʻt dwell on them but commit to gradually exposing yourself to whatever it is, step by step.

When you tell your fear to take a hike when you commit to surfing in freezing Icelandic waters when you force your arms to paddle for a wave that is bigger than any wave you have surfed before, itʻs really no longer about the thing you fear, and more about your willpower taking control back from the fear that has taken up residence in your mind.

Always remember -fear is the mind-killer. Only you choose to liberate yourself from that fear and that is one of the life lessons surfing teaches us.

Get Up & Get Out

Have you ever tried dawn patrol – a.k.a. waking up before the sun to go surf? If you havenʻt, it should be added to your bucket list.

Waking up when it’s dark out, pulling into the beach park before anyone else, paddling out as the sky turns from indigo to pinkish/orange, to the light blue of the day is a truly amazing experience to behold. Surfing early for dawn patrol means the wind should be at its lightest and the crowd nonexistent (depending on where you live).

Getting into this habit lets you get in a surf session before itʻs time to start work for the day. While most people are still asleep, you’re satisfying that human desire to do something fun and for you, before you have to go spend the rest of the day working for someone else.

A good dawn patrol surf does so much to help you feel calm, content, joyful, and ready for a productive day. These truly important life lessons surfing teaches us to get the most out of what we love.

Be Neither a Turkey, Nor a Shark are key life lessons surfing teaches us

This lesson is all about learning to respect others and play fair.

A good general rule of thumb is to treat others how you want to be treated.

Donʻt paddle for any and every wave. Donʻt try and impress surfers you can tell are even less experienced than you.

Have empathy for people in the process of learning new skills. Donʻt be afraid to apologize to other surfers if you accidentally drop in on their wave.

If you are visiting as a tourist, observe how the locals do things. All places have their own vibe that you should try not to disrupt if you are learning. It’s better to make moves that foster friendliness rather than make moves that foster frustration. These are essential life lessons surfing teaches us which can be applied anywhere. 

No Risk, No Reward

Taking the easy road in life has no value in the long run.

Does that mean you should be on the next flight to Vegas to see if you can double your retirement savings? Thatʻs a hard no.

However, the greatest sense of self-pride and accomplishment that we experience in life comes after we have made an intentional, calculated decision to take on risk.

Reckless risks may bring reward, but it is the calculated risks – the ones that are made in the face of great uncertainty – that yield the biggest rewards.


The Scam of Materialism & Consumer Culture

Nothing in life is free, right? Yet, I have never been charged a fee for surfing waves.

People buy stuff in order to feel better. Then a couple years go by and we start to run out of room in our house to put all our cool toys that are supposed to make our life easier and more enjoyable. If that’s the case, why is there always a line of people at Goodwillʻs donation center? People are constantly spending their money on extraneous items that make us feel a sense of self, a sense of connection to something outside of us that is supposed to help us be who we think we are meant to be. These are some life lessons surfing teaches us.

With surfing, that sense of ego fades quickly because of the fact that you are surrounded by the ocean, where suddenly all of the comforts of our consumer culture are inaccessible. They’re irrelevant. Itʻs just you and nature. She doesnʻt charge you to connect with her. She doesnʻt sell you anything. Surfers do not pay a surcharge for each wave they ride. The truth is, surfers are called to the ocean because of that feeling of being a part of something greater than themself. When you connect with a wave, when you harness the energy of the ocean, it makes you realize how so much of our consumer culture is truly a distraction from what is real and genuine in life. Surfers need only their mind, body, ocean, and surfboard. It is a beautiful fact of reality and a beautiful life lesson surfing teaches us!

Small Steps, Giant Leaps

Learning how to surf is all about taking small, deliberate steps, day after day, month after month, until you have reached the point of exponential growth.

We all plateau at some point in our life. We all have “the wall” in our head, blocking us from making further progress. Donʻt be discouraged. It is normal – natural, even.

Nothing great is accomplished overnight. Greatness takes time. By committing to consistent practice, we can rest assured knowing that eventually, sooner or later, we’ll be dropping in on waves that we never even dreamed we were capable of doing.

Surfing, just like life, is a journey. Commit to your journey.

Leave Your Ego at Home

Your sick cutback move definitely caused a huge spray and looked super cool. And paddling for every wave that rolls in – impressive athleticism, indeed.

But on 2-3ʻ day with long waits between sets and a bunch of people also trying to catch waves that are few and far in between… suddenly your style is more irritating than impressive.

Big egos can definitely cause conflict out in the water. Yelling at a kook for dropping in on “your” wave, while you may have indeed had the right of way, just isnʻt necessary.

Surfing is about having fun, being fair to others, and trying to push yourself to achieve your goals. Surfers work with the waves, not the other way around.

This principle applies to other aspects of our lives as well. Learning when to be patient and let others have a chance, versus learning when to capitalize on opportunities for yourself is important because in life, we get respect when we give respect.

Give more than you take and life has a habit of returning the favor eventually.

Exponential Progress

Learning how to surf is similar to learning how to ride a bicycle.

Keep doing it and you will get better and better, until eventually, it comes so naturally to you that it is second nature. Donʻt be mistaken, beginner surfers can certainly hit plateaus as they are attempting to progress.

But so too can beginner surfers experience quantum leaps in improving their surf strength, athleticism, breath-work, and surf style.

With consistent practice and time spent in the waves, there is no doubt about a surfer being able to progress from novice to beginner, beginner to intermediate, and intermediate to advanced.

Be Willing to Learn from People with More Experience

Just because it’s a beginner surf spot, that doesn’t mean a beginner surfer can paddle out, get in front of people, and paddle after every wave they want.

When we are new to something in life, we ask questions. We need information in order to achieve our intended purpose.

While surfing can be a solo sport, it is rarely done alone. You will see other surfers out in the water with you.

And when you are new to surfing, it is helpful to have someone tell you about the unique qualities of the spot you’re surfing at.

To figure out the vibe of the particular beach you’re at, get comfortable with the idea of looking for local surfers to make small talk with. Ask questions like “where is the best spot to paddle out; what should I watch out for; or what are the dangers that I should be aware of out there?” If they are coming out of the water, ask them how the waves were. “Did you catch any fun ones?” – this line will never fail you.

We all need human connection. Being able to have a friendly conversation with a total stranger is a skill that is slowly fading as we become more and more of a technology-dependent society.

Befriending fellow surfers helps you grow your network of acquaintances, meet new friends, and work on your people skills. Surfers are typically the type of people who are willing to stop and chat, even with people they’ve never met. Starting a dialogue and making small talk are two good habits to practice when you are learning how to surf and for everything else we do in life.

Winter is Coming…

Live close to the equator?

If you are learning how to surf on Oahu, Hawaii, it’s important to remember how the swell changes from pumping on the south shore during the summer months to pumping (XL kine) on north shore during the winter months.

Why is this a life lesson?

Well, obviously, when you’re making plans for that dream surf trip to Oahu and booking your surf lessons on HOKALI, you should be aware of which season brings the most beginner-friendly waves. If you are a beginner surfer, and if winter is coming, that is a fantastic time for your surf trip to Oahuʻs south shore!

Now that, my friends, is a solid life lesson that you can pass on to your children, your childrenʻs children, and your childrenʻs childrenʻs children. No need to thank me.

But for real, being aware of the seasons as they change keeps us humans grounded in our natural environment. It gives us that reminder to keep training, practicing, preparing for an event that comes only once a year. That is why surfing teaches us to never forget… winter is coming.

What lessons has surfing taught you about life? If surfing has taught you an unforgettable life lesson not mentioned here, comment below! We would love to hear from you – beginner surfers and experienced surfers alike.

Keep reading for more life lessons in Part II of the series (coming soon).

Feel like you have had enough experience practicing your basic surf skills and are ready to take it to the next level?

When you book a surf lesson on HOKALI, you will get connected to a professional surf coach who will help you take your surfing to the next level by giving you customized pointers and unique insights into the mind of an advanced surfer.

Book your lesson now


If you want to know more about surfing and nature, check out this article!

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