Life Lessons from Surfers

The week of Labor Day, I went on a business trip with my husband. To southern California. It was awesome. The view. The weather. The sound of the surf on the sand. But maybe the most significant thing that happened to me on that trip happened the first morning we were there.

I went to the hotel gym.

Nothing unusual about that. I’ve learned to do that pretty consistently when we travel. But this exercise facility had two story high windows overlooking the beach. And not just the ocean and the sand, rimmed by green grass and palm trees. These windows looked right out into a little cove filled with surfers waiting on the next wave. (Apparently a storm farther out resulted in higher than usual waves.)

I usually read while on the treadmill, but this machine one didn’t have a little shelf for my ipad, so I had nothing to do except watch all the wet suit-clad dots bobbing in the water. I’d never really watched surfers before. Never realized all the waiting they do–and the community they have in the waiting. You see, you have to be in the right place at the right time to catch a wave to ride. (Or so I learned.) Two people sitting on their boards beside one another probably won’t be able to ride the same wave simply because of where it chooses to break. And even if they do, then new issues appear–like staying out of one another’s way!

I spent about a half hour walking and watching, and I gleaned several life lessons from surfing:

  • You have to work to get out to the place where you can have the thrill of riding a wave in–going into the deep water to find the best ones. This reminded me that as we go deeper, as we mature, we put ourselves in a position that is both exciting and vulnerable. Exciting when you hit the wave that takes you on a good ride. And vulnerable when that wave propels you forward and out of control, then sucks you under.
  • You have to wait for exactly the right moment–for the wave to break, for you to get to your feet. Timing is everything–in surfing and in life. Sometimes it is the timing of the wave, something we have no control over. But God does. Sometimes it’s the timing of rising to our feet to ride that wave, something that takes practice to learn. And lots of spills before you get it right.
  • There is community in the waiting. We forget to see the people around us, sometimes, focused instead on when our adventure will start. But there are people all around us who will help us, cheer us on. They will also watch out for us, help us if we get in a situation we can’t handle. And we can do the same for them.
  • Sometimes you miss the wave, sometimes you fall before you get far, sometimes you have an amazing ride. Waves in surfing and in life can be exhilarating or devastating. Sometimes both! But as in life, waves have a beginning and an ending. Life, like surfing, isn’t one continuous high. Or low. There is time to catch our breath between the ups and downs, though sometimes the stretch is longer or shorter than we would like!
  • You always find yourself in the water at the end–whether intentionally or not. No one escapes being wet. Sometimes, in life, I forget this. We all go through rough times. We all come back to the mundane, whether after a good ride or a hard one. We all start and end in the water of life together.
  • The wave doesn’t take you straight forward, you ride across it as it curls. How many times do I look for forward progress in my life and get discouraged? But the truth is that whatever my “wave” is, it has taken me further down the beach. That can be progress, too. And even when I am moving sideways, I’m also still inching forward, like the surfers. There is progress with each wave I ride, whether I see the progress from my perspective or not.

(I hope you can see this guy’s great ride from the video I took later out on the beach!)

I think God uses so many things as metaphors for our journey through this life. Now I can add surfing to that list

So you surfers out there–what other life lessons you see in your sport? (I realize these paltry examples are from the perspective of a only a spectator!)