Life Lessons Surfing Teaches Us – Part II

Surfing has so much to offer. There is endless wisdom to be learned from our time in nature and from overcoming whatever adversity life throws our way. Life lessons surfing teaches us are a beautiful outcome of the sport. 

In this blog, we will continue the discussion on the lessons learned from surfriding.

If you missed Part I of the series, you can read it here.

Less is More

If you have ever taken a fitness class, you likely have heard the trainer say something like “focus on your movement, not your speed.” This advice applies to surfing, too.

Itʻs about quality over quantity. Itʻs not about catching 20 waves a day. Itʻs not about working harder, harder, harder.

The life lessons surfing teaches us helps us understand the wisdom of working smarter, not harder. You get more out of your surf session by waiting for the right wave and conserving your energy so that you can perform optimally when the right wave comes along.

Life lessons surfing teaches us: Patience is a Virtue

Life lessons surfing teaches us include that good things come to those who wait patiently for their vision to manifest. 

An apt comparison can be made to the childrenʻs story about the tortoise and the hare – the hare charges ahead while the tortoise goes slow and steady, focused solely on the vision of getting across the finish line.

Eventually, the hare succumbs to exhaustion and takes a nap during the race. The hare went all out, ultimately doing more than necessary by running too hard, too fast. Meanwhile, the patient tortoise cruises past the sleeping hare, going slow and steady, eventually crossing the finish line first.

Obviously, surfing for beginners is not a competitive sport – at least not with others.

With surfing, like a lot of other personal adventures in life, we may feel the urge to go, go, go.

But if you ask any experienced surfer, they will confirm that catching one beautiful wave from the moment it breaks until it peters out onshore is way more worth it than trying to paddle for as many waves as possible just for the sake of it.

Donʻt Panic

Fear is the mind-killer. One of the important life lessons surfing teaches us.

Panic is overwhelming fear in the face of a perceived threat. For beginner surfers, always remember to stay calm. If you are faced with sudden danger, panic cripples your ability to react quickly.

Panic is never helpful, not with surfing and not with any other stressful event in life.

Sometimes You’re In Over Your Head

Eventually, there will come a day when you have enough experience catching waves, that you will want to take your surfing skills to the next level.

Beginners tend to learn how to surf on waves in the 1 – 3ʻ range. With time, experience, and consistent practice, beginners will start to feel more comfortable with the idea of paddling out to surf 3 – 5ʻ waves, and so on.

No matter how much time you spend reading the surf forecast or observing the waves before you paddle out, there will come a day when a surfer paddles out into what they feel are manageable waves, only to quickly find yourself on the outside with a rogue wave rolling in fast, doubling up as it gains momentum.

Reading the forecast and viewing the conditions from shore can tell you a lot about what kind of session youʻre in for. However, forecasts and observations can be misleading.

Wind strength and variations in groundswell patterns can cause waves to double up unexpectedly. When this happens, what you anticipated to be a fun, mellow surf session turns into an adrenaline-pumping fight or flight response.

When the fear hits, a surfer naturally falls back to their basic fundamental training (FYI, this is why we encourage beginner surfers to book a session on HOKALI with a personal surf coach who can have your back in the event of sudden rogue waves).

But itʻs not just surfing that can force us to face a challenge greater than anticipated.

In every part of life, a situation can arise where you are in over your head – maybe you’ve bitten off more than you can chew at work, school, with family or friend obligations, etc.

Surfing helps you understand the choices you are faced with in situations of sudden overwhelm. Doing nothing is not an option. There is really only one option. You have to deal with it.

Whether itʻs an ocean wave, an excessive workload, an overbooked schedule, or simply saying ʻyesʻ to every opportunity that comes your way, doing nothing is a bad choice.

Despite our fear or worries, the best path forward is to take responsibility for our actions. You decided to paddle out – now you have to make the best of it by taking the safest course of action available.

As the English like to remind us: stay calm and carry on.

Stay in Shape

Physically and mentally, surfing is an intense workout. Paddling can be exhausting, getting pounded can be traumatizing, and not having the strength to pop up on a fun-looking wave can be discouraging.

Endurance, strength, stamina, willpower – these are qualities that develop with consistent training and are extremely beneficial to every aspect of life, not just surfing.

Training yourself to remain calm under pressure is useful in the water and out.

By staying physically active inside and outside the water, you train your mind to keep your body ready for whatever comes next.

Whether that be surfing, helping a friend move, sitting at your desk with good back posture, or participating in a spontaneous arm wrestling match – being fit and strong helps you do everything better.

If you want to read more on health-related surfing topics for beginners, check out our blog!

Failure is Your Friend

Sometimes itʻs nice to remind yourself that even John John Florence used to suck at surfing. (You know when he was like 3, but thatʻs not the point here.)

Failure is a natural part of learning. If you are learning how to surf and determined to excel at it (or anything else in life), just remember the general rule of thumb: you are going to be bad before you get good. That is one of the most crucial life lessons surfing teaches us!

It does not matter how old you are or how bad you perceive yourself to be when it comes to learning how to surf.

As a beginner surfer, having expectations about how quickly you are able to improve your skills can backfire because you are not 100% in control.

That doesn’t mean that you should not set goals for yourself. It means that learning how to surf – learning how to do anything – requires you to try your best, and thatʻs it. Even when you do your best in life, failure is always a potential reality.

Embrace the attitude of learning from your mistakes. When you fall surfing, it is not the worst experience in the world so long as you fall gracefully (i.e., no face-plants and no diving off the wave head first). Don’t push yourself solely out of fear that youʻll have an embarrassing wipe out.

Friendly reminder: other surfers in the lineup are thinking about their own performance, so if you’re someone who is hesitant to try in front of a crowd, donʻt be. We all make mistakes. Itʻs what we do following those mistakes that determines the quality and level of achievement that we experience in life.

Failing allows you to learn how to do things differently.

When you let yourself try new things, make mistakes and learn from those mistakes, you are doing exactly what you should be doing. This is the path to self-mastery. It applies to every aspect of life. Success is so sweet because of all the failures we endured to get there.

When you see a path of least resistance, the easy road, see what itʻs like to head in the other direction. Give the harder path a try. Seek out a challenge, lean into it, and with time you will undoubtedly look back at those embarrassing public wipeouts with fondness, gratitude, and pride.

Donʻt Forget: Deep Inhales, Slow Exhales

Breathing is essential to everything we do, yet it’s easy to lose focus on breathing well, with intention. Although it is so basic to us, learning how to breathe helps us with surfing and with everything else in life that can cause a stress response in our body.

There are so many positive side-effects from doing regular breath-work that it is worth doing your own research.

The basic idea of breathing exercises is to breathe in deeply on the inhale and let go slowly on the exhale. When we exhale, we relax our muscles and loosen pent-up tension stored in the body.

If surfing (or anything) makes you nervous, try spending 5 minutes breathing on the beach before you paddle out. Notice if your nerves have quieted and if your body feels more relaxed. (P.S., I’m not preaching meditation here. Do your breathing while sitting on the couch watching Netflix if it pleases you – it still works.)

It is important to understand the benefits of breathing because when we forget to breathe, the body becomes more acidic which decreases energy levels and makes the body feel achy.

If our breaths are short and shallow, our hearts start racing and cortisol shoots through our system, making us feel stress. Deep breathing exercises can cause the reverse to happen – the body becomes more alkaline, meaning there is more oxygen reaching you at the cellular level, keeping you feeling strong, ready, and motivated for whatʻs next.

When you are surfing, breath holds are frequently necessary. As you progress as a surfer, the power of breathing becomes front and center.

It is difficult to duck dive waves deep enough or to manage being held under by the pounding white water if you are not taking in lots of oxygen above water as you paddle and wait in the lineup.

The longer you can hold your breath, the less stressed youʻll be getting thrown over the falls or getting caught inside the set. More breathing leads to more willpower to pursue your goals and ambitions, both on land and in the ocean.

So whatever you are doing right now, remember to breathe.

The Secret to Life Is…

42. Have fun figuring that one out.

What lessons has surfing taught you about life? Everyone has different experiences when surfing, different connections made between human nature and mother nature. If surfing has taught you an unforgettable life lesson not mentioned here, comment below!

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