I would like to talk today about something I call surf realization: the relationship between surfing and yoga and how it has played a big part in my life. I began surfing when I was 10 years old and I started my yoga practice ten years after that and in all those years since then I have really thought a lot about both subjects like yin and yang. Yoga and surfing really totally complement each other in ways that I’m still discovering and there’s also a little bit of one always in the other. The level, or maybe I should say the depth, of focus necessary to surf successfully is similar to the concentration required in sitting zazen or in any advanced meditation practice. I know that is a bold and maybe outrageous statement when you compare a Zen monk or a yoga master to some long-hair surfer, the headphones clamped on, rocking out to heaven knows what music. It is however quite true that high-level surfing is only possible with a Zen empty mind, with an acute, very acute state of awareness, a deep connection to the immediate environment, and the ability to be totally and absolutely in the present. That is the only way it can happen. “Ridiculous”, you might say, the years of training and dedication that it takes to become an adept, you can’t compare that to some young surfer who may not yet even be a teenager, so while the similarities between a yoga adept and a surfer may not at first be self-evident as we get deeper into this subject matter I think you’ll begin to grasp where I am going with this.
There is a difference, a tremendous difference: on one hand the Zen monk, on the other hand, smartass punk surfer, but the similarity is real and it begins with what the surfing experience has to offer right from that very first wave. As every surfer in the audience knows, the attraction of surfing is the glide, I mean, there is a sensation that one feels from that first time, from that very first wave. It is really as close to flying as humans can ever get. This feeling, this feeling is fiercely intense but so fleeting that it compels most people to completely rearrange their entire lives and further pursuit recapturing this moment. This addiction to the glide never diminishes but, kind of like drugs, it never lasts long enough. So for most surfers, life becomes all about that next wave. So what is it about this feeling that makes it so compelling? is it just a hedonistic addiction, one might think?
Given the seemingly endless sex, drugs and rock and roll lifestyle that surfers claim to enjoy, after more than 50 years of contemplation on this, I mean this has really been my sound of one hand clapping question, I am certain that this simple sensation of gliding, this feeling of unbridled emancipated freedom, for that is surely what it is, somehow unlocks or opens a door right into our heart and right into our soul. All of us have felt, perhaps during a particularly brilliant sunset or maybe at the sight of some stunning vista or maybe a moment of complete love with the newborn child, felt an awareness of something divine or holy or just shining special. I mean maybe if you’ve had a strong religious upbringing or beliefs you might not label it quite this way but I’m talking about those moments that take the breath away, that leave our emotions just in a twister where we are not really sure exactly what it is that we are feeling. This is when our souls are bared, this is when we are truly, maybe only momentarily, open and in touch with our inner self.
For surfers this moment is never so poignant as at the very first time, that first glide. Inevitably the magic of this special moment diminishes with the passage of time and in spite of our best efforts to replicate it, it becomes boring, buried very deeply under the burdensome efforts of avoiding at all costs the requisites of a normal life, with real responsibilities, real relationships, real employment, real schedules, so on and so on until a surfer is faced with asking himself: “Why am I doing this?” if he is unable to recall that first time, that first feeling, he may just quit and try another path. However, if he is one of the fortunate ones and he can still recapture that initial memory, he then advances his practice to a higher level.
At this level, recognition and appreciation of these special moments become a much greater part of the experience. Our practice of yoga is generally not quite so simple in the beginning; oftentimes it’s our ego that takes that first step. We want our bodies to look beautiful like our young yoga instructor, we want our bodies to feel better because a friend told us, we’ll cure a sore back or tight hips and a hamstring or stressed-out life, but ultimately Yoga comes into our life when it is the right time to become part of our life. That is the way of it, that is exactly how it is supposed to be and like surfing it can be a lot of hard work with little reward and oftentimes what seems like no improvement.
Surfing is 90% paddling which is just gut-busting work, hour upon hour, and all for this brief ride that’s like only seconds long. Similarly, yoga is class after class, where it seems like there is little or no progress and then there is that comparison to these persons who hardly ever comes and they make it look so easy and like they are having fun while we struggle, but this is life: there isn’t anything easy about it. If we believe in the concept of reincarnation we do it over and over again, wondering why and for what purpose we submit to this pain, to the suffering and fear of old age and death, until we cross the path of yoga. For many of us, we must criss-cross this path many times because at first it only appears like this very faint trail until finally, we recognize that there is a superhighway.