6 Life Lessons You Can Learn From Surfing

April 19, 2017

Surfing is one of those activities that is really idealized in popular culture (Blue Crush anyone?) as being sexy, adventurous, set in exotic locales like Costa Rica and the coast of Portugal, with local instructors with golden tans and more abs than Angelina Jolie has children. While those things are all true, what isn’t depicted is all the times you almost lose your bathing suit, get hit in the head with your board, and end up with enough sand up your butt to build a castle.

Even though I’ve had my fair share of sand in places sand ought not to be, by no means do I consider myself a good enough surfer to impart any kind of advice. However, technical skills aside, my experience has led me to pick up lessons from surfing that can easily be applied to life:


As with yoga and meditation, there is no quick “hack” to surfing. You can’t expect to be super flexible and do handstands in your first yoga session without dedicated practice. With meditation, only through consistency will you be able to calm the violent thrashing of your thoughts. When you surf, it’s not only about developing muscle memory and skill over time but being able to judge when a good wave is coming which only comes with experience. It’s a good reminder to apply to other life pursuits that even if the beginning is rough, over time, you’ll make progress.


Sometimes there will be five awesome waves in succession and at other times you can be waiting ages to catch a good one. You have no more control over the elements than you do over life. All you can do is keep your eyes on the horizon and get ready to paddle your ass off when you spot a promising crest in the distance. We can’t force things to happen just because we want it to or because we feel that we’re ready (new job, relationship, etc…). All we can do is be ready to scramble through the the door of opportunity when it opens.


In a Washington Post article, Eve Fairbanks writes “Surfing distills into a pure physical moment the usually drawn-out, intellectual, complex challenge of simultaneously accepting what life throws at you and making the best of it.” Sometimes you’ll push your arms to the limit – paddling while your shoulders burn in agony – to catch what looks like a promising wave, only for it to fall flat, levelling out a second after you stand up. No point dwelling on it so just enjoy the ride and catch the next one.


When you surf, it’s not a question of IF you’re going to fall but WHEN but either way, you wet. It’s part of the sport that no matter how good you are, inevitably what goes up, must fall down. The only recourse is to get back up, get out, or get eaten by sharks! Surfing exemplifies how failure is a necessary step along the path to success and what’s really important is how we react to it. Perfectly articulated by Confucius: “Our greatest glory is not in never falling but in rising every time we fall.”


Surfing isn’t all about the precious couple of minutes that you spend swept away, riding an epic wave, but the entire, holistic experience. You learn to appreciate all the moments that lead up to the finale from prepping your board with wax, to paddling past the break, to revelling in the sun on your face and the sea salt air. Surfing reminds me not to just live for that fleeting period when I achieve my goals but to be present in my body and enjoy the process of getting there.


My favourite takeaway from surfing that can be applied to life was imparted by the instructor Eve Fairbanks references in her article. At some point, we have to “decide to stay on the board.” We think that we require all these specific skills to be a good surfer – balance, core, experience – but sometimes whether we succeed or fail is determined by sheer will and commitment to a decision. Whether your metaphorical, life-equivalent to a board is sticking to a project past the dynamic brainstorming stage through to the tedious logistical tasks or committing to a relationship, choosing to see it through manifests the confidence that you will be successful.

Where are you favourite spots in the world to surf? Maybe on a remote beach off the Nicoya Coast in Costa Rica or at a surf camp in Nicaragua?