10 life lessons learned from surfing – Episode 9 – Simplify

Life is Complicated, Dumb it Down

Surf as an inoculation to bigger emotional distress

Last week I talked about surfing as a discipline, this week I’ll talk about it as my own personal canary in a coal mine

Just like last week, this week doesn’t come with a neat anecdote but rather is something that surfing has taught me over the long haul.

A basic fact of surfing is that even though the conditions are never the same, they’re like people, rarely perfect, but always with something to teach.

Especially in the beginning when one is pretty much clueless, it can definitely feel like a battle against the elements, almost every time. As I alluded to last week, how one reacts to getting slapped in the face or having their butt handed to them for the duration of a surf session is largely an issue in shifting attitudes, and it’s the same for the regular-life-type-stuff.

Assuming that every surf session should and will be a challenge, if I start my day out surfing and I come out of the water feeling accomplished and motivated.. I can assume I’m generally in a good mood. If I start my day out surfing and I come out of the water feeling frustrated, angry, defeated, or otherwise upset I should assume there’s something bothering me and keeping me from successfully shifting my attitude with regards to the situation.

Surfing is a simple metaphor for life.

Maybe I just had an argument with my mom, maybe my new project isn’t moving along as well as I’d hoped, maybe a friend decided to start some drama, maybe the significant other isn’t treating my emotions with enough importance, maybe it’s something even more subtle and complicated.

Some people like to use their surf time as an escape from those everyday issues, that peace in the water where your brain shuts off and it’s just you and the ocean.

I’d love to, but my brain never seems to want to shut up, so I have to get creative with the way I look at my time in the water. I see it as a reflection of my everyday issues. The ocean becomes a giant metaphor. It can morph in shape physically, but it can also morph in shape emotionally.

For me, it becomes a catch all, a blank, for whatever’s pissing me off or troubling me right now. It’s my friends, it’s my mom, it’s my dad, it’s my boyfriend, it’s my health, it’s humanity, it’s the earth, it’s death, it’s life, it’s the void. It’s a metaphor for anything and everything and the way I react to it is a direct reflection of the way I am reacting to whatever is weighing most on my mind right now.

What if what’s on my mind is really subconscious and I have no idea what it stems from? That’s where surf helps the most, because even complicated deep issues change your behavior, and a behavioral change is easy to identify.

Having a simple metaphor for life allows you to identify issues faster

Once I identify how I am reacting to the ocean, all I have to do is think of who or what in my real life is making me feel that way.

I’m frustrated because I can’t paddle back in and I feel defeated… must have something to do with not moving forward in life, or not feeling good enough to overcome my current challenge.

I’m angry at other people for their lack of consideration when dropping in on everyone’s waves… must have something to do with feeling disrespected.

I’m scared to drop in because I might get hurt… maybe i’m having health issues that are worrying me more than I realized.

I keep getting stuck on the lip and I’m taking as a personal rejection from mother nature… must have something to do with … oh I don’t know, feeling rejected maybe?

You get the picture, I could go on and on.

The point is that even though conditions are always different, the constant is that they’re always tough. There are always people being assholes in the water, but there are also always people being cool, maybe it wasn’t so hard to paddle in yesterday, but it was harder to catch a wave.

Which issue my subconscious chose to focus on, and why it’s a problem is one indication of what’s concerning me.
How I react to it is the second.

The faster you identify issues the quicker you fix them.

Sometimes I go about my day not even realizing there’s anything on my mind and reacting poorly to the plethora of stressors thrown at me.

I don’t realize I snapped back at the waitress for no good reason, I don’t realize I was being short with my boyfriend, I don’t realize I’m stubbornly ramming my head into this design project to no avail when taking a break might be more productive, or maybe I do, but I assume it’s because of this particular issue right now. The waitress is taking forever and was rude, my boyfriend is asking stupid questions, this design project has a tight deadline and I’m not sure I can reach it… whatever.

Probably, there’s something bigger happening, because if there weren’t I’d have no problem putting up my “anti-obnoxiousness force field barrier” and let all those little things just bounce right off it.

If it weren’t for surfing, which takes all complicated factors out of life and dumbs it all down for me into one neatly packaged metaphor, I would probably continue to approach life with an awful attitude, projecting my crap unto unrelated and inappropriate parts of my life, and it would build and build over hours, days, or months, until I snapped and had a breakdown and finally figured out what was the root of all this drama.

With surfing, I can’t do that.

Usually one surf session is enough to draw my attention to potential issue, sometimes it takes a couple more to weed out mixed signals, but usually, it doesn’t take more than a couple of days to get to the root of my bitchiness.

Sure, fixing it is another problem altogether, but If I know exactly what the problem is, I can nip it in the bud, before I cause too much damage.

In conclusion:

I know I should leave each surf session feeling like it was the best session of my life and I learned something new I didn’t know before, or overcame some barrier that was holding me back. So if I get out of the water feeling anything other than a positive emotion, I know there’s trouble.

I know the ocean does not have a mind of its own and is not out to personally hurt my feelings. So there’s no way for me to blame my crap mood on external factors. Yeah, sometimes it’s windy and the waves are shit, sometimes it’s really tough, sometimes it’s flat… yup, the conditions are never perfect, but theres’s also always something to learn from them, and every hour spent out there is a learning experience I should be grateful for.

Surf shows me the cracks in my force field barrier, and tells me if I need to check myself before I wreck myself.

Next week is our very last lesson!!!!


      1. ibii is a symbol I created that empowers purpose, and inspiration. Its a movement that I would like to spread to those looking for motivation and reason to be creative, and unique. Do you like it? feel free to email me for more info. craig@ibiiworld.com

  1. This is probably one of the first traveling blogs that I’ve come across that’s quite good, the thing about making traveling blogs is that you got to travel aha ;)

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