I've met enough dedicated surfers who are absolute jerks to know that surfing alone cannot save humanity. However, after spending nearly 15 years immersed in the sport, I believe elements of surfing have the potential to ground human beings in a uniquely meaningful way. Below are 10 of them. Don't take it from me, though. Get out there. If not for you, then for the rest of us. And, please, add your own reasons below!
1. You will care about our planet, because you'll understand it better. When is the last time your life revolved around the weather? When could you recite, down to the minute, the time of the sunrise, sunset, high tide, or low tide? My guess is not recently. As mindless as one might consider the stereotypical surfer, there are an infinite number of variables that contribute to creating perfect waves. All of those variables are rooted in the ebb and flow of the earth, and restoring an intimate connection between human behavior and the natural world can only improve our Google Glass-wearing, iPhone-fixated psyches. Seriously, unplug once in a while.
2. You will be happier. Sun is good. Real good. Did you know that nearly 18 million Americans suffer from seasonal depression due partially to the fact that they don't get enough sun? Not to mention, they're pale. Obviously, there are dangers. Nearly 3.5 million incidences of skin cancer are diagnosed in the US each year, but if you cover up, chances are you'll be happier, tanner, and better looking than you used to be.
3. You will be healthier. Aside from getting tanner and blonder (See #2), your body will reap the benefits of a highly active lifestyle. All that calorie-burning you could endure in a stuffy gym you'll enjoy while bobbing on the ocean at sunrise or sunset. Win: Surfing.
4. You will be more flexible. Figuratively and literally. In surfing, the playing field constantly changes. From wind to weather to tide, the conditions are in perpetual motion. Your success is dictated entirely by your ability to adapt to your environment. Sound like anything else? Like... life?
5. You will get sick because of pollution. Not in a figurative, tree-hugging way. Literally, if you surf after it rains in Southern California, you will get sick. Fevers, stomach, rash, Hepatitis etc... can be a direct consequence of contact with disgusting runoff from public drainage systems. As a result, you will think twice about littering. Eventually, it all ends up in the ocean. And if you're a surfer, it might put you in a hospital.
6. You will be humbled. Talk about perspective. As individuals, we consistently lack the ability to contextualize our place on this planet. In the ocean, that is not a problem. The moment you confront a building-size wall of ocean energy crashing on your head, that self-awareness disintegrates. We are small.
7. You will learn the meaning of community. Few communities self-regulate as successfully as surfing does. Over the years, surfing has developed a set of unwritten rules that enable all comers to catch waves safely and equitably. Granted, pockets of unfriendly localism exist at more dangerous breaks, but, in general, if a surfer offers respect and makes a sincere effort to abide etiquette, she will receive respect in return.
8. You will become more patient. You cannot will perfect waves to appear. You cannot learn to surf in a week - or really even a year. Both take time and are beyond your control. A willingness to accept the things you cannot change will bleed into other elements of life.
9. You will gain a new appreciation for spirituality. Consider this thought from musician and surfer Jim White, taken from West of Jesus, a novel by Steven Kotler: "You catch a wave at the apex of its life, at the moment it begins to fulfill its final destiny, and the ride ends when that wave has fulfilled that destiny. What's really going on when surfing is actually a kind of shared death dance." Mind blown? You're welcome.
10. You will make unlikely friends. Believe it or not, there are places in Gaza where Israelis and Palestinians surf together. They share waves. They laugh. They set aside millennia of blood-drawing religious differences in order to surf. "Surfing is such an equalizer," said Tony Corley, President of the Black Surfing Association. "You can go out and have the best time of your life or you can die. Mother Ocean knows no bounds."
So shut this thing off and make the world a better place. Go surf!