Surfing is Nice, Not Nice – Here’s the Difference

In short, surf for pure pleasure. Photo: Jeremy Bishop//Unsplash

Surfers all have different answers to the question “why do you surf?” Whether it’s escaping the mundane, challenging yourself, or immersing yourself in nature, the common theme running through all of these responses is that no matter what, the pursuit of surfing is over. for himself. The progress that takes place with each completed session only benefits you, the best sessions are often those with the fewest people around, and the happy feelings one experiences coming out of the ocean, it affects, well, that surfer alone. But the reality is that it’s very simple: people surf because surfing is good.

But it seems that surfing (along with most things that make people feel good) has been considered a waste of time since at least the 60s, even during the golden years of surfing. In a scene from Pacific vibes, an iconic film by none other than John Severson, a surfer lying on the beach laments, “Surfing is a wacky thing. It’s the only thing I like to do, but my parents know that and so if I don’t get a good grade on my report card, they won’t let me surf until I talk about it, and if I don’t get a job, they’ll use it against me, I can’t surf. If I wasn’t surfing, I don’t know what they would do, they wouldn’t have anything to blame me for! (Watch the clip here at 15:52)

The oldest cliche in the book is that surfing is hedonistic and selfish. Sessions are “ruined” by the presence of other people in the water, surfers throw away just to catch a few waves, and the most “core” surfers of all shirk responsibility, never get married, never ever get a real job… the list goes on, endlessly. An extreme example of this type of hedonism comes in the form of, perhaps, the most infamous rebel surfer of all time, Miki Dora, who embodied this notion to such an extent that he even earned the title “The Black Knight” and is often referred to as the ultimate maverick. Miki isn’t exactly considered a role model. In fact, it’s a bit seen as a threat.

But anything done in excess can be harmful. So just because some people, like Miki, throw everything away to surf, doesn’t mean the surf itself is the problem. But all of this just begs the question: should we feel guilty about surfing? Just because surfing tends to take us away from more traditional responsibilities, the way 9am to 5pm work schedules take us away from our families, our hobbies and our healthy lives, it begs the question: just because something is fun don’t do it wrong?

On a flight to Australia, while pondering this question, I read the book Flow: the psychology of optimal experience, by the late psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. I thought I was just killing time on the plane, but in doing so I found my answer: we don’t need to feel guilty about surfing at all. In fact, surfing is more than just a “distant” activity. It’s a valid pursuit.

In To flow, Csikszentmihalyi details the exact science of achieving an optimal experience, or being in”the flow state.” At its most basic, flow state is the state of mind one has when one is totally and completely immersed in an activity to the point where everything else disappears. The state of flow is desirable, not only because it leads to greater happiness, but because it represents the time when energy is exercised with intention and we experience life to the fullest. Most of our greatest memories involve flow state – flow state moments are the ones we will remember and wish we had more of. So these moments are surely not a waste of time.

And, no surprise here, but the surf checks all the boxes of being in “flow state”. A demanding activity that requires skills? Wave reading, balance, paddle strength, footwork. The fusion of action and awareness? Surfing in a nutshell. Clear objectives and feedback? Everytime. Concentration on the task at hand? On a good day. The paradox of control? Check. Loss of self-awareness? If the waves are good. The transformation – and the lost notion – of time? Absolutely.

All of this makes surfing enjoyable, and not just enjoyable. What is the difference? Fun is something to aim for, while fun is just something that is, well, enjoyable. Pleasure is comparable to the sensation we feel when eating a cookie. Or, to use a more daring example, take drugs. And when the cookie is gone, or the chemicals wear off, the feeling goes too, and we’re no better off. The fun, however, comes from the conscious culture of specific experiences, and when the experience is gone, we still benefit from it. Take your pick: a quick sugar rush or a lasting, uplifted mood from the memory of a good session? I know what I would choose.

This analysis by Csikszentmihalyi also helps us to understand Why surfing makes us happy. It’s not just because there’s a chance to score every time we paddle. This is because we devote our attention to a specific goal and usually make progress towards it. Putting all our effort into things is good, especially when we do it for ourselves, there is an immediate return on our performance, and our concentration not only benefits us, but helps us forget the rest of our daily problems. .

What I’m trying to say is go surfing, and don’t feel so guilty. While chasing perfect lefts makes you dodge a few responsibilities once in a while, as long as you don’t run into anyone, bring a large group of people to a local spot, or launch your board, the surf is a great use of your time. And maybe, just maybe, surfing can even be a way to find and create happiness.

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