The term surfing refers to the act of riding a wave, regardless of whether the wave is ridden with a board or without a board, and regardless of the stance used. Surfers represent a diverse culture based on riding the waves. Some people practice surfing as a recreational activity while others make it the central focus of their lives. Surfing is many things at the same time – indescribable feelings, joy, friendships, a source fear, a spiritual connection, and a path to self-discovery. Many surfers claim to have a spiritual connection with the ocean, describing surfing, the surfing experience, both in and out of the water, as a type of spiritual experience or a religion.[1]

When the waves were flat, surfers persevered with sidewalk surfing, which is now called skateboarding. There are many other ways the surfing culture has cross fertilized the mainstream cultural thinking process and they can be summarized as follows;

  1. Surfing gets you onto natural time. When we go by the human-devised clock and calendar, we lose touch of that natural rhythm and get into a routine that is not harmonious with the world around us. Also a person’s life is influenced by rhythmic biological cycles that affect his or her ability in various domains, such as mental, physical and emotional activity.
  2. Surfers taught us how to discover and handle the vortex. A vortex is a whirling mass that can be fire, air, water, information or any other medium that can ~whirl~ on its own. Psychology and self-help books give you a Stoic picture, where flow is a state of “optimal experience” that you get into by controlling your mind from within, by sheer self-discipline. Yet any surfer will tell you that flow isn’t mainly about the experiential states inside. It’s more about letting go of control.
  3. You won’t catch a wave by staring at it. The point is that unless you are lined up in the direction of whatever is coming your way, it will either casually pass underneath you or come down crashing hard. But, if your effort is aligned with the force coming at you, you’ll be able to stand up and ride alongside whatever may come
  4. Life is a dance with nature. When you are surfing a wave in life, you aren’t riding the medium but its energy. The free human slides above material reality, while still being free to determine his destiny.
  5. Not all hard work earns you a paycheck. There are jobs related to surfing that allows you the freedom to surf, but you will find very few people who make a living simply for going out and surfing. The magic ingredient for success and satisfaction in life is self-determination.
  6. Surfing is really fun. If your life isn’t fun, you are wasting your time.

UC Irvine philosophy professor, author of the book Surfing with Sartre: An Aquatic Inquiry into a Life of Meaning. In his book, James explores how we might find true purpose in life through surfing and why the requirements of finely “attuned” surfing just might improve social, economic, and ecological conditions on our planet. James uses Jean-Paul Sartre’s ideas about radical self-determinism and mixes it with high-energy descriptions of riding waves to give us a rich description of why we’re so compelled to keep paddling out to catch a wave.


[1]  “The Spirituality Of Surfing: Finding Religion Riding The Waves”.

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