The Bucket List, Surfing, and Zen

I recently returned from my first trip to Hawaii…Aloha! I went with my family and had a wonderful time. It is truly magical there…I can see why everyone I’ve ever talked to who has visited there touts her beauty.
We stayed in Waikiki on Ohau for about a week…it was too difficult to make an adventure vacation out of it and travel between islands with a 6-year-old and a 3-year-old in tow. Nevertheless, it was fabulous.
Now, I don’t have an “official” bucket list. You know, the list of things you are supposed to do before you “kick the bucket”? But, IF I did do one, surfing would be at the top of my list. I’ve always heard great things about surfing…how entrancing it can be…and addictive. Growing up in Houston, well, there’s no surf in Houston. I went to Galveston a lot growing up but I can’t ever recall seeing surfers in Galveston. I think you would be hard-pressed to get favorable surf conditions in Galveston. I’m sure there are some opportunities there, but I missed them.
I’ve seen a few surfing documentaries that really stuck with me – Endless Summer, Stepping into Liquid, and Riding Giants. Now, I have NO desire to “ride giants” a la Laird Hamilton, but even clips of surfers riding small waves captivated me. Even more so, to hear how surfers would talk of their experiences had me saying to myself, “Whoa! I want to try THAT!”

I’ve heard that Hawaii is a great place to learn to surf, especially in areas along Waikiki. So, when my family planned this trip, I was excited to finally have a chance to give it a go.
For $30, I got a one hour surf lesson and a chance to live my dream. There were easy waves on that day…probably 4-5 feet tall that broke cleanly. My instructor was a Hawaiian native and I have absolutely no chance of spelling his name correctly, but it was pronounced “Kay-a-LEE-ee.” He was a nice guy and kept telling me to relax and slow down because I was acting like a dog in a butcher shop. I couldn’t help myself – this is finally IT!
As the first good wave approached, KayaLEEee calmly said, “Okay, there’s a good one coming. I’m going to give a push and when I say paddle, paddle. When I say get up, get up.”
Easy enough and he did just that. I paddled into a nice wave and felt myself rise up with it.  When I heard him tell me, I quickly but carefully pushed myself up. Although I wobbled a bit, the beginner board supported me well and I had my first ride, and one that I’ll never forget. I felt a wonderful connection to the wave and the greater ocean. All my cares were a million miles away.
To me, surfing lived up to the hype. I totally loved it. I rode several more waves that day, giddy with excitement all the while. I was able to go surfing two other days and I did these solo. It was tiring but oh so fun! The last wave I caught was probably around 6′ tall, and I timed it just right (a very challenging thing to do!) and fought hard to keep standing. I almost “ate it.” But I regained my balance and rode it as far as it would take me and then slid off my board into the ocean with an ear-to-ear grin on my face.
Even before I went surfing, I always noticed that it seems to have an almost meditative or Zen-like effect on the people who do it.  You have the beauty of nature, the hypnotic sound of the rolling waves, and a chance to become part of a wave and the ocean that you and it are within, if only for a short while.
I’ve blogged quite a bit about mindfulness – the idea of living in the present moment non-judgmentally. There is a lot of research that indicates that living mindfully engenders a sense of well-being. On a related note, there is the concept of getting into a state of “flow” (or “in the zone”) that also creates a sense of deep-rooted happiness. This occurs when we are completed engaged in an activity because the challenge of the activity requires our complete attention. During these states of flow, we lose track of time and ourselves in these activities.
Although many activities pull us into the present moment and get help us get into a state of flow (e.g., playing a musical instrument, sports, or a video game, acting, rock climbing, sparring in martial arts), there is something inherent, and perhaps rather unique, to surfing that I think elicits this state. To catch and ride a wave, you have to be completely focused and “living in the moment.” If you don’t give it your complete attention, you will lose your balance or even miss the wave entirely. Then you are also on the ocean, watching carefully for the “right” wave, listening to the sounds of the rolling and crashing waves, and so on. Finally, you can’t think about the wave that you missed because that would keep you from catching that next wave – and it is coming right at you! If you mess up, you always have another chance. But you have to “let go” of the missed wave and turn your attention to what lies just  ahead.
If you’ve never surfed before but it sounds interesting to you (and you are a strong swimmer), I highly recommend it. Make sure you take a lesson and only try it when conditions are favorable. The surf can be brutal. I definitely plan to go surfing again as soon as I have the opportunity. Come to think of it, I’ll MAKE the opportunity happen.

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