Coming back from Afghanistan, surfing saved my life about as many times that the ocean tried to take it. I didn’t realize it then but it is more than an active meditation, it served as an allegory for how to overcome hardship, how to be present in the moment when times become less turbulent and seem stagnant, and how to take advantage of momentum when it’s afforded to you.
Entering the ocean and that initial shock of cold water on your back is much like how I imagine a child feels entering this world. Equal parts amazing and scary. That initial shock wears off quickly as you realize that line-up is forty meters away through a gauntlet of breakers that are doing their best to push you back to shore. Throughout this crusade to paddle past wave after wave you are are always faced with two options; allow the overwhelming force and seemingly insurmountable distance to overcome you and push you back to shore, or tuck your chin, focus on the six inches of water in front of you that you have to travel, and pull with all your strength. In these times an indomitable will and physical strength are crucial to your survival.
If you chose to power through the adversity, congratulations! On the other side of that conflict you will find yourself amongst a brave group of primates removed from their comfort zone but at peace with their environment. That physical strength and power of will that served you in the breakers are not needed here. They will actually destroy if you rely on them at this juncture. What worked for you before no longer works to sustain you. Now, you must be present and be patient. Enjoy the view and the enormity of the ocean. Pay close attention to which way the tide pulls you and be aware of the rolling water that quickly approaches, it will soon transform into roaring waves. You never know which one is yours. You could chase every wave but that would leave you physical wasted and unprepared for when your set arrives. No, it is better to wait and watch. Build your strength for the right moment, and when it comes, you better pull.
The next wave is yours and it’s time to commit. You turn your board around to face the shore and begin paddling. Don’t get anxious and over pull, the wave will be where it needs to be, when it needs to be, and trust me you want to be there too. Take your time and build momentum. I know the anxiety is building and you want to look back to see where it is, but don’t worry, it’s there. You will feel it when you need to. And when it takes you and propels you forward, stand and ride that thing baby! It’s yours, own it! Ride with all the joy, excitement and creativity that you can muster! Ride that thing all the way to the end. When it’s time to hop off, stick that dismount with panache.
As you swim back to your board take a moment to appreciate the ride. Now get back on and start paddling back to the line-up, the next set is on the horizon and you are in the breakers.