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Mindful Surfing

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Staring out to sea is like holding out a mirror to our consciousness. All thoughts cease for a moment, even in the most brooding soul. Once out there, we are all teabags steeping in the brew. So steep with us, and let the waves of awareness flush over you as we explore surfing and mindfulness. 

This exploration is coming from someone who is notoriously stoked. I am a self-professed frother and surf addict. Sometimes, this stoke gets too much, and I need to take a minute to calm down and take stock of my surroundings. Otherwise, in my haste, I might make a bad decision such as going for a wave that is closing-out or trying to force a maneuver when I'm not well set up for it. Good surfing requires being utterly calm and focused in situations that often induce the opposite state of being. Here’s where the mindfulness comes in.

(Photo: Kait Rogers) 

The Breath

Surfing engages a mixture of Aerobic and Anaerobic respiration. The anaerobic stage kicks in when we paddle hard to catch the wave, followed by the explosive movements of the take-off and subsequent surfing, and then fighting through the waves to get back out there for the next one. If we are mouth breathing, our recovery will be inefficient, and we will get back out gasping for air, our muscles feeling noticeably weaker. 

Focus on controlled nasal breathing (Inhale through the nose, exhale through the mouth), and breathe into your belly, imagining you are filling up a balloon in there. This gets your diaphragm working. To keep your heart rate low, you’ll want your exhale for twice as long as you inhale. For example, inhale for three seconds and exhale for six.

Remember to breathe when you're surfing! Once up and riding, we often tense up and forget to breathe. If you are finding this happening to you, try saying out loud to yourself “Breathe!” just as you take off on the wave. A simple 1 - 3 word verbal command like this can be a great way to ingrain a habit or new movement.

(Photo: Kait Rogers) 

Bring Awareness to Frustration

Frustration is a key part of surfing. Some say that it is even more frustrating than golf. That’s because if you blow it on a wave, there will never be another one like it; that, and being stuck in the impact zone getting thrashed by waves is demoralizing. Ask yourself, what is the situation that is causing you to get frustrated? Examples might be that you keep on paddling for waves that you don't get into, and then you are trapped in the impact zone by the bigger sets. Maybe you are repeatedly falling on at the same spot. Hone in on the issue and plan how to get through it. This might require some dry land training in between sessions or maybe implementing a change of strategy in the water. 

Practicing Gratitude in the Surf

A degree of frustration indicates that we are motivated to improve our surfing, and we want to balance it with the practice of gratitude. If you ding that frustration scale tipping towards the red, take a moment to pick something you are grateful for. Some things that I am grateful for in surfing are:

  • It’s a great opportunity to have quality time with friends.
  • Waves are beautiful gifts, rolling towards us.
  • Floating in the water is a glorious feeling.
  • I feel lucky to have the free time to surf today.

The stereotype of the zen surfer probably comes from the fact that after a good session, one feels in a state of bliss to the point that the stresses of everyday life wash away. There is some truth to it. The act of surfing is not inherently mindful, rather, the goal is to engage with it mindfully, to be fully present and engaged, appreciating every moment. 

(Photo: Cristina Gareau) 

Blog written by Adam Tory

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