Freedom by any other name...

I often see, hear and read people connecting surfing with freedom;

Surfing makes me feel free.

Surfing can be described by one word: freedom.

Surfing is freedom.

And I understand where they're coming from. Surfing, going surfing, wave riding is a wide space of choice and movement and rhythms and experience and connection and physicality unconstrained by the explicit organisation and rules that tend to define playing sports. Surfing takes you places, asks you questions, opens up possibilities and shows you things you didn't expect. Surfing connects you back to yourself through oceanic ideas, challenges and experiences and describing all of this as freedom certainly makes poetic sense.

But then, sometimes I feel differently.

We stand on the sand and survey the break,

"Do you wanna go out?"

I wrinkle my nose - it's really small. In fact, it's barely breaking.

"Well, what else are we gonna do?"

I think, shrug and turn around. He's got a good point. We walk back to the car to get our boards...

Sometimes I feel like surfing becomes so central, so definitional and so all-consuming that it puts limits on my life, that it constrains me.

When I'm surfing a lot it fills my days from when I wake up until the sun goes down. It cancels appointments, skips meals, and runs late for dinner with friends. It ignores work and runs to the rhythms of the tides, winds and swells.

When I'm drawn away from the beach, or when there's no swell, it sits in the front of my mind, screaming at me to get in the water, to find a wave, to find a way! At these times, my body feels tight and close and aches for the ocean and for the monotony of paddling through the water.

And when I choose to take some time away from surfing - when I make a conscious decision to focus on other things - it sits on my shoulder, whispering in my ear, nagging me, asking questions and making demands. It fashions my vision so that with every step there is something to remind me of the things I know, the things that I should have and the things that I am avoiding.

At times like this I think perhaps we've all been fooled... Surfing isn't freedom - it's a trap! A beautiful, balletic, musical trap but a trap nonetheless.


And it's not just me...

Without aspiring to necessarily agree with me in any way, Stuart Nettle wrote a delightful ode to the connection of swell charts to his sense of self and purpose.

And this awesome, original, thoughtful and beautiful film, Lapsed Catholics, describes the feelings of loss and humiliation that arise from realising that you've become a surfer who no longer surfs.


  1. Well written and poignant. I really resonate with this. And brave to offer a dialogue on the psychological 'dark side' of surfing.

  2. Soul - Life
    Love - Surf

  3. I know where you're coming from Bec. Years ago I gave up surfing because it was taking over my life. And most of the time I wasn't even surfing! Driving to one break, looking at waves, driving to another, looking at more waves. Driving back to the first break. Deciding 'the wind had got into it', 'the tide was wrong' or whatever other lame excuse. Driving home hair still dry. Work still undone.

    These days I try to just go. But still spend hours looking at waves without going out.

    I blame the internet for that.

  4. Indeed. Surfing is what happens between waves, really. What happens on a wave is so magical as to be other completely.

    Thanks for the mention as well! soon I think the thing will be up on some downloadable site.

  5. Wow, this is really thought provoking, Bec - a great post. Lately I haven't been able to surf much at all, so I am always thinking of it as freedom. It almost seems impossible for me to think of it as a trap, because I'm always longing for it. But I see exactly what you mean. You are so smart!


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