Surfing with Debra Rose

Surfing for Resilience

Debra Rose

We all know the surfer stereotype, the caricature of what your “typical” surfer wears, drives and says. Luckily that has given way to a more refined, accurate perception of those that surf. Without fitting into a particular mold, there is consistency in a commonality they share; having a spirit of true grit, in and out of the water.

We think of grit as more scrappy than savvy, having inner courage and strength to pursue our goals. While the goals may include riding the biggest, fastest or longest wave, it can take heaps of passion and perseverance to achieve it. Surfing in any season, let alone the added obstacles of winter surfing, requires rising at dawn, parsing through surf websites and asking friends about conditions, taking rides to the ocean, tracking weather predictions and storms, dropping what you are doing to catch waves at any given moment. There is equipment to buy, maintain, carry around and differentiate among the many choices for different conditions and temperatures. This is all before even entering the water.

Next is the paddle out through white water, other surfers, strong currents and big waves (hopefully) just to get in place to attempt to catch and ride a wave of pure bliss. Catching a wave successfully, staying on the wave and having a long, fast ride is the product of not giving up, mentally or physically.

The more we surf, the more we can cultivate grit, as a correlation forms between the reward of the wave and the hard work needed to earn it. Imagine other sports requiring this type of conscientiousness? (And when is the last time “surfers” were associated with being conscientious)? Would you go through this much trouble for a few sets of tennis? Or stare at a basketball court for stretches of time to assess whether and when you can play? Even skiing is more consistent as the snow and light may vary but the mountain isn’t moving or changing on a minute-by minute basis. Every run is exactly the same. You will never surf the same wave twice. Ever.

Many surfers will tell you that part of the fun is going through the rituals and behaviors associated with preparing to paddle out, increasing the sense of purpose and dedication to the main goal of catching a great wave. On days when there are only one or two so-so waves to catch, it is worth the effort, especially because surfing is always unpredictable. You may have the best session or an uneventful one, but it keeps us going back for more; we know you can never achieve perfection but its almost addictive to keep trying.

“Think of it as similar to the obsession people have with golf, you will ferociously pursue hitting that little ball each time, because you know you never will hit it perfectly,” one fellow surfer commented.
We may fight change but we love variety, and surfing offers anything but consistency. When you do achieve something like a perfect wave or a many-wave session, there’s a sense of accomplishment for not giving up. Its even more meaningful because it can produce the feeling of pure joy, which also keeps us paddling out again and again, even through the most ridiculous weather and conditions. A surfer with perfect skills, timing, style and endurance does not exist, but its always possible to get better and closer to conquering the ocean and its challenges. And we know we never will, yet we do not give up, a true hallmark of grit.

And in the middle of it all, there are these peaceful moments of sitting on your board, waiting for a wave, a built in time of reflection. This translates out of the water, as it is an indicator of how much character and spirit is built through surfing. Surfing and high-achieving may sound counterintuitive, but if you look closely, those values and abilities are within all of us.