100 Surfers on Why They Surf: A Curiosity Project

 

Surfboard

(Image by Joschko Hammermann: https://unsplash.com/@hmmrmnn; https://twitter.com/HMMRMNN)

In Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Elizabeth Gilbert says, “I believe that curiosity is the secret. Curiosity is the truth and the way of creative living.”

She goes to say that curiosity asks if there’s anything, no matter how mundane or small, you’re interested in, and that the answer to that question “need not set your life on fire, or make you quit your job, or send you to change your religion, or send you into a fugue state; it just has to capture your attention for a moment,” and that if you can identify even “one tiny speck” of interest in something, to follow it, it’s a clue.

“Following that scavenger hunt of curiosity can lead you to amazing, unexpected places,” she promises.

That’s what this 100 Surfers on Why They Surf project is about, following my curiosity.

It’s about committing to a creative project that’s unrelated to my daily work, something that will light me up and make me feel alive again, that will jolt me out of this state of complacency and the lingering funk that’s been hanging around like an unwelcome guest for the last several months.

What I aim to do is ask the (admittedly few) surfers I know why they surf, and ask them to put me in touch with other surfers, and ask them the same, and troll social media and all my contacts for still others I can talk to, until I’ve asked 100 surfers why they surf.

Why this particular project?

It all started with a dream. 

HOW THIS WHOLE THING STARTED

Back in May of 2014, on Mother’s Day, I had a dream that I was to write a book about surfing.

Now, this was odd, since I don’t know thing one about surfing, and despite living in a town known as a southeastern destination for surfing, have never even been near a surfboard, unless you count the times I visited local surf shops with out-of-town friends here on vacation.

Heck, I can barely swim.

But once I had the dream, I fell down the surfing curiosity rabbit hole. I started researching the topic obsessively, reading about it online, watching videos, checking out footage from OBX and Wrightsville Beach surf cams, and looking into local surf lessons and surf camps. Then I read 4 surfing memoirs pretty much back to back, and bought a couple of print pubs on surfing too.

I was hooked. I wasn’t sure where all this was leading me, but I couldn’t deny my interest.

And because the dream came to me on Mother’s Day, it felt like it was a sign from my Mom, who passed away unexpectedly in 2009 at just 65. It felt like something I was meant to pay attention to, a message from Mom that would lead me somewhere I was meant to go.

And too, what I was finding in my research about the deeper transformational benefits of surfing, including benefits of the spiritual variety, definitely had me intrigued. That in itself made me want to know more, and to experience surfing for myself.

So I promised myself in the summer of 2014 I’d take surfing lessons. But I didn’t.

Then I promised myself again in the summer of 2015, yes, this is the summer I learn to surf. But it didn’t happen then either.

Now this year, in 2016, I say to myself again, I WILL take at least ONE surf lesson this year, come hell or high water.

THE PROJECT: 100 SURFERS ON WHY THEY SURF

Most online and print articles on I’ve read on surfing, and all the memoirs I read, allude to the transformational power that surfing seems to have, and speaks of its addictive qualities.

In Steven Kotler’s book West of Jesus: Surfing, Science, and the Origins of Belief, there’s this passage:

“But to ride a wave you have to completely forget yourself; you have to be absorbed in the moment, or you’ll fall off. So every wave is about union, it’s a momentary connection with something far beyond yourself, and that doesn’t happen very often. Surfing may be the easiest way to access this union; surfing is like a heroin injection of union.” (Told to Kotler by someone named Jim White)

William Finnegan’s Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life, is described as a “memoir of an obsession, a complex enchantment. Surfing looks like a sport, but that’s only to outsiders. To initiates, it is something else entirely: a beautiful addiction, a morally dangerous pastime, a way of life.”

In Kook: What Surfing Taught Me About Love, Life, and Catching the Perfect Wave, author Peter Heller says, “We need surf—or dance or yoga—because it reconnects us with our animal bodies. For a little while we practice moving through the world with rhythm, with an intention of efficiency and power. Without it, we become just a bunch of walking heads.”

And later, “Back on land, all I could think about was when we would get back in the water. I was lit up. It was like a drug. I kept reliving the feeling of catching a wave.”

One of my favorite writers, Pam Houston (no relation), says of the book, “Kook makes the dangerously unhip suggestion that it is still possible to find meaning — even transcendence — in the ever diminishing natural world.”

And in my favorite surf memoir of them all (probably because it’s the first one I read, and because I relate so well to the anxieties and stressors the author faces and his genuine search for something more), The Great Floodgates of the Wonderworld: A Memoir, Justin Hocking calls surfing his “aquaphiliac addiction.” He says, “Out here in the ocean, I’m totally in the moment, out of my head and in my body—meditation and water are wedded forever.”

I read all that and I think, man, I desperately need some of that balm in my life.

I want to have that feeling of being “absorbed in the moment,” and of a “connection with something far beyond yourself,” and I’ll definitely, definitely take some of that feeling of being “out of my head and in my body.”

I am far, far too into my head, and that place has become a tangled, scary mess lately, full of anxious thoughts and “I-know-something-bad-is-gonna-happen-any-minute” scenarios. Which I think is a result of too much time alone combined with too much time on the interwebs. Don’t try this at home, kids.

Really, I just want to feel alive again, fully, wholly, and completely. I need to snap out of this bad case of ennui I contracted a few months ago, and this project is going to help me do that.

And, if I will actually get my butt down to the beach and in the water, and take a surf lesson, even if it means flailing around looking like a complete fool, I’ll get back to feeling awake and alive and human again.

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I’ll be updating this category of the blog regularly as I begin talking to surfers. If you surf (or know someone who does) and you’d be willing to share why you surf for this project on the blog, feel free to email me at kimberly@kimberlydhouston.com.

Yes, I still offer copywriting and marketing services, this is just a side passion project. 🙂

Comments

  1. Good luck Kim on your surf scaping! It’s sounds like a zen endeavor and one that will add an inch of growth to your mind & body!

    • Kimberly says:

      Thanks, Diane! I sure hope so, I need something to pull me out of these doldrums I’ve been in! 🙂

  2. Howard Freeman says:

    At 53, I still skateboard (longboard) around Central Park, and my surf-style of riding gets me “out of my head and into my body.” These days, without the 3-4 hours at a clip to go to the beach and get in a surf session like when I was younger and lived closer to the ocean, it’s the best I can get. But it’s pretty damn good when I get it. The one key ingredient missing–and it is indeed key–is the ocean itself. I have Central Park’s roads wired; I know every bend and crack in the pavement around the loop. But the ocean: it is unknowable. It is untamable. And what I lack in skating is the thing that perhaps was most addicting about surfing: a healthy fear.

    • Kimberly says:

      Howard — this is beautiful, thanks so much for sharing.

      If you haven’t read it, you might enjoy one of the books I reference in the blog post here, The Great Floodgates of the Wonderworld: A Memoir, by Justin Hocking. During the time the book takes place, the author lived and worked in New York and trekked out to Rockaway Beach to surf whenever he could. Like you mention, it’s not easy from where you are to get out to the beach regularly, but it sounds like with skateboarding, at least you’re regularly practicing something that gets you “out of your head and into your body.”

      Thanks for stopping by to comment!

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