I Surf, Therefore I Am

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You surf. Your family is worried. Your parents, siblings, aunts and uncles whisper suggestions amongst themselves, eager to get you back on track. How about an unpaid internship? Have they applied there? What about networking?

While the workforce wakes up to an alarm your body clock is set to the earth’s natural rhythms: tides and moons. The office worker shoots emails and kills time while you find peace in the turbulence of waves. As the commuter takes the long train home, you face your surfboard due west and paddle straight for the sunset.

Surfing has long been an emblem of the slacker lifestyle. In this case, what society fails to see is that the drop-out is a hero. Like the heroes of our story books, the surfer questions the values of society, they are the individual against the masses, David vs. Goliath. The surfer is also a philosopher: they find their own value and meaning in their environment.

Surfers have a unique connection to their environment. Surfing developed from an island culture with a distinct natural philosophy. Today’s surf culture continues this tradition. When you surf, you become aware of the sheer force and power of nature.

Here are three surfer-philosophers who live out this truth in other aspects of their lives.

The Saltwater Buddha

Jaimal Yogis is your classic drop-out. As a teenager he dropped out of society in a literal way, fleeing the suburbs for Hawaii. In his pocket he carried a book called Siddhartha and just enough cash for a surfboard.

Since then he has chased both the perfect wave and enlightenment. It is often said that not all who wander are lost. Jaimal wandered in search of something. His search took him from coast to coast, with detours via monasteries in France and the heart of Hawaiian culture. His surf philosophy takes on many aspects of Zen Buddhism. Ultimately, he sees his journey as a spiritual one. For him, surf and serenity are entwined.

His message: live a good life, seek out what you live, keep paddling.

The Kook

Peter Heller set himself a challenge to go from kook (beginner) to shredder (expert) within a single year. In this time he learnt to surf. He also learnt how to seek adventure whilst crafting a meaningful life - a lesson that he claims is by far the most important.

Heller’s philosophy revolves around this idea. His life story also mirrors it. In middle age, he left his life in Denver and moved to California, as his desire to learn to surf slipped into obsession. He became a drop-out, a surfer and a philosopher within the space of a year.

In his philosophy the surfer is also a hero. ‘People admire surfers so much’, he argues, ‘because they have bowed to a force greater than themselves—the wave—and have transformed themselves into beings who can respond to such power with grace, humility, and beauty.’

The Perfect Wave

Bradley Hook’s philosophy is centered on every surfer’s obsession: waves. He sees the world around him in waves: light, sound and the quantum waves that underpin reality.

He compares the waves of the ocean to the wave of life, which is what he calls the opportunities that color our existence. His worldview is a turbulent one. Hook claims that waves of opportunity - for happiness, love and adventure - constantly swell, swirl and break around us.

In this view, the role of the surfer is paramount. The surfer has the ability to navigate life’s ebb and flow. Hook borrows from Taoist philosophy to illustrate that the art of surfing is as close to becoming one with nature as possible. His approach to life is about aligning yourself with the universe. Essentially, his philosophy boils down to going with the flow. Which, after all, is what surfing is all about.

These three surfers have three similar stories, of going against the grain to find meaning within their life and their surfing. The meanings that they found, however, were different: from surfing they came to value Zen philosophy, Taoist tradition, or simply, adventure.

Of course, not all drop-outs are surfers and not all surfers are philosophers. But the surfer is in unique position to view life, looking back on the land from the water. Removed from the conventions of society the surfer is able to look at them from afar. What you see will depend on your worldview. Your philosophy will be entirely your own.


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Stephan Aarstol is an American internet entrepreneur and author of the book The Five Hour Workday, which is based on Tower Paddle Boards' invention of the 5-hour workday in 2015 that would eventually spread the idea to over 10 million people worldwide. Since founding Tower in 2010, it has gone on to become one of America's fastest growing companies and Mark Cuban's best investment in the history of Shark Tank. Tower has diversified into a direct to consumer electric bike company called Tower Electric Bikes, a beachfront event venue called Tower Beach Club, and NoMiddleman.com, where consumers can shop all the world's finest direct to consumer brands from one easy place.