Opinion Piece: Competitive surfing v. soul surfing

Courtesy Creative Commons

In surfing, the normally apparent social boundaries of race, politics, economics and gender are blurred, for the most part. The biggest distinction that sets surfers apart today is their attitude out in the water, which is usually categorized by the labels of competitive/aggressive surfer and soul surfer.

The steady rise in popularity of surfing has come to mean a more crowded line-up and ultimately, fewer waves to go around at the popular surf spots. Soul surfers are known for their ability to share waves and share stoke with those around them, overly-competitive surfers let their frustration burn out of control when they get dropped-in on and spread it to the rest of the line-up.

The term Soul Surfer “refers to the guys and girls out there who just enjoy the wave,” said Jefferson Wagner, lifelong Malibu surfer and owner of Zuma Jay’s Surf Shop on PCH. “That’s the true joy and fulfillment in surfing whereas for others it’s the image. The soul surfers are the ones who are out there just for the purity of the sport and don’t worry about the color of their surf board, or the name brand of their wetsuit, or what pair of sunglasses they’re wearing…If you can get away from that, that’s the core of the sport.”

Surfing is something you do to get away from the busyness of life and the distractions of this world or even your own head. But yet every time I get out in the water, I find people who aren’t doing any of those things and don’t even seem to be having fun. Rather than enjoying the waves for whatever condition they are in (for there is nothing that they could do to change it), they are angry and frustrated and throwing tantrums because the line-up isn’t going their way. They may have been dropped in on or some kook did something to mess up one of the few waves they were able to muscle their way into, but even though that situation warrants an understandable annoyance, no reasonable adult should be allowed to act like a bratty bully.

Nowadays we mostly see this bad attitude coming forth in the form of curse words and verbal threats. Wagner said that before lawsuits became such a popular weapon, bloody fistfights occurred regularly in the water and often in parking lots as well — over something meant to promote peace and good vibes! The problem is that regardless of how enraged surfers get, those kooky drop-ins and interferences will continue to happen.

What those aggressive surfers don’t get, is that the biggest part of surfing is the feeling you get from the overall experience, not just your performance on the waves you ride. When surfers continually let themselves get worked up over the conditions they have no control over, they are ruining their own experiences as well as those of the surfers around them.

“Yes, it’s really annoying when someone drops in on you, but you know what’s worse? Spending the rest of your surf session, and in some cases even, the rest of your day, angry because of the actions of one person,” said Chantell Glenville, writer for The Inertia.com. “Especially when the whole point in the activity in the first place was to have fun and get away from the stress and strain of daily life.”

The soul surfer, on the other hand, knows that getting angry simply wastes the time and energy she could be spending on enjoying the waves and working on her own surfing. The soul surfer understands that the essence of surfing means letting go of the ability to control and going with the flow of the waves. That surfer can apply the same ideology to their surfing practice by learning how to let go of the conflicting interactions around them and go with the flow of whatever the ocean and their surf session has to offer them.

As the timeless saying goes, “The best surfer out there is the one having the most fun,” said Duke Kahanamoku, the recognized father of modern day surfing.

I vote that we confine all the overly competitive surfers to taking turns in a wave pool so they can keep all their waves (and bad energies) to themselves and the soul surfers can maximize their fun.

Akela Newman completed this opinion piece in Dr. Ken Waters spring 2016 Jour 590 course on sports journalism.