What is Surfing: Fifty Views

The Chant

The Chant

Each day lately, begins with me wading though the e mail file. Today I opened a newsletter from an organization which I support, by lending them usage of some of my images. The subject header was “International Surfing Day”.  A “Cool, we have our own day”  impulse when I pressed the “read” icon, rapidly transitioned to less than kind  post read thoughts.

The newsletter yielded the cyber floor to a new surf magazine editor from Orange County who I had never heard of, and who communicated his chronologically and geologically biased adolescent view of what Surfing is.

But it occurred to me, that maybe Surfing could be many unique things to a diverse cross section of humanity. It is something equally valid to an  OC based ex pro surfer, as well as a neophyte hick from Wisconsin. Each holds a view that could be considered authentic, when taken in the context of a more grand perspective of the sport.

But what is Surfing?  I mean at it’s core? In his youthful myopia the editor had innocently posed that question for me, even if my first response had been indignation.

So here goes. Fifty views of what Surfing is.

One: Surfing is old.  Surfing is actually not a young sport. It’s youth is only in relation to it’s existence in Western culture, where when compared to other sports, its age being within this century, it is relatively young. Surfing is ancient. It was part of the animistic religion of Polynesian culture, and when taken in it’s full context,  had several cultural purposes in addition to it’s spiritual parallels.

It was integral to the maintenance of an oligarchal social Caste system. Wave riding was used as a means of demonstrating skill, the end purpose being to establish dominance within the tribe and of course to that end, it was a means of courtship. When a woman chose to ride a wave with a man who had demonstrated his mastery, she in effect selected him as a sexual partner ( the Polynesians were polyamourous) and it was on, shortly thereafter. There you had it. The first surf contest, and the prize. One can see why Calvinist and Mormon Missionaries discouraged the pastime so fervently.

It always strikes me as humorous when I look at modern day professional surfing for those reasons. (Yes, I knew about this when I surfed for a living) It cracked me up then, too. My ex wife used to comment about modern pro surfing and the lack of women in the boys club,and always alluded to it being a guise for latent homosexual urges. (Hey don’t shoot me, we divorced, remember?)

Two: Surfing is Educational. By forcing one to become intimately acquainted with the sea, surfing places you in harms way. I love Darwinism. Natural selection is the best thing in the world in its equanimity. In the ocean you either begin to catch on right away, or you scurry out of that liquid embrace with all the speed of that cat you tossed in your parents bathtub. It has an interesting affect, the sea. It piques your curiousity and challenges, which causes one to acquire and marshal all the diverse talents needed to be a surfer, or it scares you, and you leave. Flight or fight. Facing fear. Seeking knowledge. Knowledge and its sibling, Understanding, work together to erase fear. Surfing teaches that lesson well.

I love teaching people to surf. Love it. What I do is remove the mystery. I make the person understand that there is nothing that can hurt them, then I stay with them. I make catching those first waves simple using an old push from behind trick where you push the neophyte rider into the wave, but implement a modern twist where you hold on to both rails of the board and stabilize it, all the while giving any direction necessary. I am always calm in the ocean, so that is what I communicate. I start out using my ability as their crutch but eventually the new surfer realizes they have a grip on it all and off they go.  The loss of me as crutch is seldom noticed as they glide along on their own. It is a happy moment when that occurs.

All surfers love communicating surfing. For us it is the golden handshake that we know can transform and beautify a life and translates back into a better social fabric ultimately.  One of my favorite students was a cowboy. Within ten minutes of instruction, I was back on the beach and watched this guy who had never been in the ocean before stand up, ride a wave to the sand, pick up the board, walk to where I stood and say: “Hey that was easy”   “Umm never in the ocean before ever?” I had asked again.  “Nope, but I did race supercross for a long time, and the balance thing is sorta like that, so I just did what you told me. Easy.” This cowboy was a master of motion balance. His name is Jeff Sober and he ran an oil company and hailed from Wyoming. The memory still gives me a smile.

Three: Surfing is expression. It can mean a myriad number of things and conforms to each person and where they are in their lives. It relates to a person spirit, soul and body as it challenges on all three levels. You confront the unknown with each go out. You learn a new world. Your experience is entirely unique and grows more rewarding continually as the accumulation of experience and knowledge begets understanding and allows you to go further eternally. It is the ultimate Pavlovian response example. Good doggie, here is your treat. Or bad doggie, back to the beach with you. It’s methods are basal. It is infinitely expressive.

Four: Surfing is addicting. The exhilaration of the chase, the acquisition and the ride,  yet all that is left as the wave ebbs is the knowledge you are left with. To get more, you must paddle back out. So you do, because you thirst for it.

Five: Surfing is giving. It defines that basic principal of the universe, it gives health, wisdom, understanding, compassion, judgement.  Surfing gives.The most easy going people that I know, albeit the most driven in other ways, are the best surfers. They know who and what they are and how they got there.
I have met and hung with a lot of the best. They really are.

I recently read a great book on a superior waterman. It is here at Legendary Surfers. I find it funny that he and I were both born in Milwaukee Wisconsin. Tom Blake got it. Do you?

A great example of surfing and surfers giving back is Paul Jenkin. His new film trailer Watershed Revolution is here. . Paul gets it. His blog is here.

Six: Surfing is funny. One of the most eloquent expressions of indignation at the rape of a sport that I ever viewed was in the master actor Sean Penn’s sarcastic portrayal of the San Fernando Valley surfer in the cult classic film Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

Sean, being from the Malibu- Santa Monica coast had grown up around surfing and had developed his character in the film to satirize all that irked him about the transient surf population which attempted to decide for him what was cool and what was out. His pot saturated idiotic innocent iconoclastic character, Jeff Spicoli, served for over a decade as popular mainstream cultures view of what a surfer was. The brilliance in this was not lost on real surfers. Something to be said for authenticity.

What the performance said was that surfers are idiots. They need to be medicated. They are hedonistic thrill seekers with no future. Sean being a brilliant student of his craft and a surfer,  had manipulated popular culture in his portrayal. Okay dude, cmon down to the beach, I am an idiot and I rock. It’s a funny baiting of popular culture. We all know how it ends when someone does come down to the beach. The education begins rather promptly. To me Sean is surfing and is likely still laughing. The uninitiated to this day still use the expletive “Dude” when attempting to communicate an understanding of surfing and popular culture.  Yes surfing is funny. So particularly are surfers.  If you want to see real practical jokes just hang with a surfer, or watch Sean Penn in that film. It is just who we are.

Seven: Surfing is brilliant. The light it shines on where you are in your life and what is important and it’s ability to reset and restore a person’s defaults thereby bringing them back to an equable place is genius. All you PC users should relate. System locks up? Turn it off. Then back on. It is the last ditch line of defense and can get you back in the game.

Eight: Surfing is smart. It encourages the ability to think laterally and come up with creative solutions. One of the first questions being: “How can I order my life so that I can stay near the ocean?” has given birth to the action sports industry, and countless successful small businesses. You would be surprised at who surfs, or is in some way forever married to the ocean by virtue of having at some point embraced the activity. A great example of lateral thinking as related to marketing is here by the folks from Rusty.

Nine: Surfing is eternal. It explains flow and the cyclical nature of life and ourselves. It speaks to the inner man of who and what we are and comforts us in the communication of the knowledge of our destination.

Ten: Surfing is bliss. Ask any surfer what his most amazing moment was and he will tell you about a wave. Look at them. You can see it in their eyes.

Eleven: Surfing is Understanding. It leads you to a higher intellectual and moral ground.

Twelve: Surfing is harmony. You understand harmonics and music after a while listening to an aqueous symphony. Popular culture is frequently steered by music. It is one of the fundamental occupations of tribal culture.

Thirteen: Surfing is color. Color indicates an energy signature. You really learn about what color temperature means as a photographer. But surfers see colors that the human eye, film and digital technology have the most difficult time expressing.

The remaining 37 views illustrate the old adage of a picture being worth a thousand words. Here are 37,000 words and an infinite number of emotions. When it comes right down to it, surfing is love.

The Bible of the sport these days is The Surfers Journal

What the US did in acquiring Hawaii is here It is educational in a painful way, but explains a lot about the cost of modern surfing.

Here is what surfing is to some lads in Ireland. Approximately 30 minutes of beauty: The Powers of Three from Relentless Films

My girlfriend Donna gets it. Here is an online video where she explains how a female surfer can contribute to social change through surfing and business. What do Holly Beck, Mary Osborne, Shawn Alladio, the Partridge twins, Zuri Star, Jeanette Ortiz, Asia Carpenter, and young Vanina Walsh all have in common? Betty B, Donna Von Hoesslin, the ocean.

U2 gets it. One love, one tribe, one world, one end.  An aqueous melody is here.

Seth Godin had this to say about mediocrity and boy does it apply to this post! I think that it is the issue which truly got my dander up in the first place. I am passionate about this sport my ancestors gave us. I have a low tolerance for mediocrity in it’s leaders. I am not mediocre, you are likely not either. Our leaders should be better than us.  Seth’s assessment is brilliant.

Click on any of the images within the gallery for a back story. The edit was done in ten minutes and signifies what surfing is to me, a hick from Milwaukee Wisconsin who just happens to have native blood in his veins and surfs.





Ikaika Kalama

Ikaika Kalama

Mary Osborne, Bliss

Mary Osborne, Bliss

Dan Moore, Challenge

Dan Moore, Challenge

Brendan White, Golden Carpet Ride

Brendan White, Golden Carpet Ride

Solitude in the Pulse

Solitude in the Pulse

Dane Reynolds, Phenom

Dane Reynolds, Phenom

Santa Ana Evening

Santa Ana Evening

Shane Dorian

Shane Dorian

Sean Tully, Homage

Sean Tully, Homage

Keith Malloy

Keith Malloy

Dino Ching Memorial

Dino Ching Memorial

Guy Quesada

Guy Quesada

The Boys and Jericho at Malibu

The Boys and Jericho at Malibu

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19 Responses to “What is Surfing: Fifty Views”

  1. That’s right, that’s right! clap clap clap in unison the readers said…
    Puubeck shines again.

  2. admin says:

    Thanks surfer girl :0)

  3. David J Gallagher says:

    simple inspiration and understanding of how it is……..

  4. “How can I order my life so that I can stay near the ocean?”
    Hits home, honey!

  5. admin says:

    Well you having a business within sight of the beach helps.

  6. Feargus says:

    That sure hits home alright guys its what I’m working to. Great Post as usual David.

  7. admin says:

    Thanks Feargus!

  8. So here we have the art of the photographer and the art of the surfer merging. Its a very powerful moment! I like to believe that my surfing is an art and that i’m the artist. Its all about drawing different lines when necessary to ride the wave successfully with your own personal style.

  9. admin says:

    And you teach surfing too? In Barbados! That is GREAT!

  10. admin says:

    Darned good point Bryan. If you drill down a bit you will see quite a few words and images about this very thing: connection to our environment.

  11. Tommy says:

    Big deal! I’m goin surfing NOW! haha

  12. Heather says:

    I am learning and trying. I have always had a connection to the water be it the ocean, inland fresh water lake or a simple backyeard pool. Without water there is no life and what a better way to connect than learning to surf.

  13. admin says:

    Your son has this way about him that always elicits chicken skin. First he blesses the board. Puts the tea leaves down. Steps on board. Walks to nose. Has a look around. Smiles. Talk about Wahine aloha. Hahahah. You can see your future. He communicates, that one.

    Completely agree about the Duke statue. My first reaction at this scene was outrage. But then I remembered. Giving is what Hawaiians do. It is how we win. We spread out seed and Mana and in the end we take over the ha’ole. Because ours connects to the source. George Orbelian always told me that the Hawaiians were a far more evolved race than Western man. I understand more about that now.

  14. Anne Stone says:

    {eye roll} ah yes my “Endless Lei of Love” already has a way about him. Good to know I’ll have grandchildren to comfort me in my old age ;).

  15. admin says:

    One thing for sure Anne. The behavior remains consistent. It is not only in Hawaii. Everyone does this, and it is very disrespectful. That thing, disrespect? Kapu. They just do not understand. No light. It is why they are called Ha ‘ole. Our task is to not become that. Not so easy.

  16. Jupe says:

    Hi Dave, Misa sent me to your blog……I like……talk again. Jupe

  17. admin says:

    Ah! Nice to see you here Jupe! Thanks for the read!

  18. julesgill says:

    Love your words and images very inspiring!!!LOVE IT!!

  19. admin says:

    Pretty amazing the world we live in eh Jules? Thanks for the read and your kind note.

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