Monday, March 25, 2024

Is Surfing a Subversive Activity?

With a full day ahead of me, I realized if I was going to get any exercise in for the day it would need to be early. I decided I should beat the traffic and arrived at the office, aka, school early. I put on my walking shoes and head phones a little annoyed that I didn't have enough time to walk the loop in my neighborhood. Full disclosure: the walk near work offers me an unadulterated view of the Pacific Ocean. I remind myself of that fact on a regular basis and yet—there's something to be said for creature comforts—or in this case, my signature stroll.

I made my way toward Ocean Beach with 30 minutes to spare. It was slightly gray and a little cold, with no wind to be found. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught sight of something I had never seen before: a surfer with a board attached to his bicycle. Riding his bi-ped in a wet suit, I found the physics of this feat to be one of the coolest things I've ever seen. I thought to myself,  Nice. What a perfect way to start the day. I envy this man. Freedom and fun. Let's go!

Later in the day, I walked behind the school building; from this perch one can still see the Pacific. For some reason, that surfer came to mind. A burning question popped into my head. I needed an answer. I wondered, Is surfing a subversive activity?

I started to consider the ways I think it might be. You're going to tell me that a human being can enter into that vast pull and power of the ocean and work with it for no other purpose than enjoyment. Seems daring. Pretty ridiculous. Totally scary. Rather improbable and yet magnificent.

Let me be clear, no government is or ever will be overthrown by surfers or an organized union of them. Why not? Because part of surfing is that its very nature defies organization. For example, the name of the popular movie "Soul Surfer" actually describes philosophical and spiritual concept first developed and introduced in the 1960s to define the sport - or activity - in its purest form.

As written in "Twelve Signs You Know You're a Soul Surfer," 

As with many other sports, there is always an innate drive to seek and find the original and unadulterated values, virtues, and essence of something simultaneously special and fragile.

The roots of surfing are rich and culturally significant.

The practice of riding waves blends utility and pleasure, necessity and joy, and has been socially adopted by Polynesian and Peruvian societies for thousands of years.

So, when the sport of surfing became a commercial hit in the Southern California beach culture, some felt the need to detach themselves from the profit-oriented side that quickly emerged from it.

Surfing purists are often called soul surfers.

The expression "soul surfer" was first used to name a song by Johnny Fortune (1943-2006), a surf guitar hero from Warren, Ohio.

Soul surfers are the guardians of the ultimate joy of walking on water.

They (aim to) represent the sport's counterculture; they're an informal army of unarmed soldiers or missionaries that remind us of what, in the end, surfing is all about.

"Never defined by tenets or principles, soul surfing nonetheless came into its own in the mid-and late-1970s as the catchall opposition philosophy to professional surfing, which encompassed not only prize money competition but much of the surf industry and surf media," notes Matt Warshaw, author of "The Encyclopedia of Surfing."

Whether or not that man with the board on a bike is a full fledged soul surfer, in the Outer Sunset, there is the sent that surfers surf for joy, to connect to nature. They surf to be part of a community, to live a life less ordinary. As written in Soul & Surf, "They don’t surf as a sport to win prizes... it's a little bit more spiritual than that. It is a complete and consuming immersion in nature, a submission to the whims of a set of corduroy lines determined by a pressure system in a faraway ocean. It is soul and life and compassion and style – and a glimmer of connection to the present moment that is addictive and extraordinary and essential." In short, they surf for the stoke.

Ocean Beach, San Francisco

And this is what I find subversive. In a culture obsessed with measurement and gain, rankings and titles, surfing stands somewhat singular. It says "try me" on a whim and a dare. It brings a man or woman, teen and a few elders into the chilly ocean—saltwater and all—offrring but a  simple message: enjoy. You may or may not agree with my deducction, but it's hard to deny: surfing certainly is spiritual.

I can't join these soul surfers (I did ask my caridologist) but please know, I nod and bow to those of you looking for but one thing on a Monday, Wednesday or Saturday morning: the perfect wave. 

I'll end with the closure of a former surfing club president wrote on his emails: stay stoked. I mean it.

Photo Credits
Ocean Beach
Local Surfers

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