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“Surf”-ival skills: Life lessons taught through surfing, part 1

Surfing is more than just the adrenaline rush of catching a wave, (as breathtakingly wonderful as that is), those moments of riding the wave are just the tip of the iceberg of what surfers experience. The ocean is a magnificent classroom in which to develop skills to survive life.

Going surfing? Throw on a bikini, grab a board, that’s it, right? Wrong. There’s a little more to do and it all depends on the weather conditions. As an Irish girl in the Caribbean, the afternoon sun and turns me into a beetroot. Layers and layers of sun cream are required, my face is whiter than milk by the time I hit the ocean, but the alternative, tomato red face (and future skin cancer) is not an option. And if I’m surfing in the cold water, wearing a wetsuit, I kind of look like one of my parents was a penguin. I mean, of course I could still style it up, but ultimately function takes priority.

Life lesson? Who cares what you look like… just have fun!

To get to the waves you first have to paddle out through them. Sound easy? Honestly, sometimes I feel like a hamster on a wheel paddling as hard and as fast as I can but getting nowhere (sometimes even getting dragged back when a wave crashes over me). Instead, it is important to assess the situation: if it looks like a break is coming, I might stop and wait for it for pass, but if the waves are consistent I focus on where I want to be and keep battling through no matter how many times I get hit. If you are in this situation, give yourself a pep talk; if you don’t believe you will make it, well, you probably won’t! I remind myself that I have been through all of this before, so if I keep paddling, it will soon be over. I mean it has to be; you can’t stay in one position in the ocean forever!

Now there are two major lessons from in this scenario. Perseverance, dedication and focus is how you reach your destination. You have to look in the direction you want to go (which coincidentally is how you ‘steer’ on a wave). The other lesson, is as what Gotama the Buddah describes as the law of nature, everything is always changing. Nothing is permanent.

Now, not making it out to the waves can be a blessing in disguise. Sometimes I am all pumped up ready for a surf but the ocean has other ideas. One time a friend was teaching me how to jump off the rocks into a certain spot, I was finding it quite tricky, especially because the waves were a lot bigger. I was a apprehensive and the guy called me out for being a chicken. Thankfully I think chickens are quite cute, and I sat myself down to watch instead. When he was finished and climbing up the rocks, the ocean decided he needed a massage from the rocks and he broke his board (fortunately he’s ok – just cuts and a bruised ego).

Life lesson? Leave your ego at the door.

To catch a wave you must paddle to reach a speed which puts you at the same momentum as the wave. As soon as you catch the wave you jump to your feet and boom you’re Keanu Reeves in Point Break propelling along the face of he wave. These few seconds are the most critical; if you hesitate for even a millisecond, there’s a high probability you’re getting left behind.

Life lesson: Trust in your judgement and fully commit with confidence in whatever you do; any shred of doubt will unbalance you.

So far, you may be thinking, why go through all of that just to catch a wave? Here’s why. When you catch a really nice wave, suddenly everything goes quiet. It’s just you and the wave entwined in a mesmerising dance, time stands still because it no longer exists. Eckhart Tolle states that adrenaline seekers seek out these moments to become fully immersed in the now; during these intense or potentially dangerous situations, an extreme level of focus is attained, you reach a level beyond thinking, of no mind, you just be. I will never disagree with Mr Tolle, I could never imagine a thinking about that guy who is pissing me off, or thinking about what I’m going to cook for dinner whilst riding a wave.

Life lesson: Be fully present in every single moment the past is a memory and the future is merely your imagination.

To catch a wave you have to be in exactly the right spot at the right time. I bet you’re thinking, I’ll skip this one cause I got it…. the lesson is ‘timing is everything’. Well yes, that’s true, but that’s too obvious. How do you get to the right spot at the right time? Seasoned surfers can read the ocean like a book. They see the seemingly invisible signs and shoot off and end up being in exactly the right place at exactly the right time. I once read something that Kelly Slater, in the last minutes of a surfing contest wwas neck to neck with his nearest competitor when a pod of dolphins surfaced beside him and swam further out to sea. He followed them, and out of nowhere a wave appeared. That wave won him the competition.

The life lessons here are to watch out and follow the subtle signs of the universe to lead you on your path. Like in the book the Alchemist, when the boy becomes the wind, you must become the ocean and follow your intuition.

I would say for most surfers, (like most things in life!), there will be someone out there who can do it better than you. There is an expression, the best surfer in the line up is the one who is having the most fun. I don’t really need to elaborate on this one, so ladies and gentlemen what’s the

Life lesson? Comparison is the thief of joy.

Check in next week for more life lessons from surfing.

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