A common conception of surfing is that it’s all about chasing down the perfect wave and using it as a platform to exhibit skill and satisfy adrenaline cravings.
However, a lot of people, myself included, find that surfing is much more than that — or perhaps much less than that. It can be defined simply as a ridiculously fun way to observe and experience the existence of something greater than ourselves. Surfing should be recognized as more than just the interaction of waves of energy with a surfer on a hydrodynamic board. Surfing is an opportunity for the development of faith.
The multifaceted, mysterious personality of water inspires poets, writers, musicians, scientists, theologians, philosophers — individuals and groups of all ages and occupations. People have found that the ability to interact in such an impactful way with the ocean draws their attention to the essence of what they believe life to be about: God. Being in nature, and especially being in water, cannot help but point toward the Creator of the universe.
“Surfing is the most blissful experience you can have on this planet, a taste of heaven,” said Irish professional surfer and surf instructor John McCarthy in an interview about his conversion to Christianity.
A large part of surfing involves waiting for a wave — bobbing on the swells and searching the horizon for any potential action. Time is spent trying to anticipate something that is very predictably unpredictable. No two waves are exactly the same, wind and weather conditions can change in a matter of minutes, hidden rip tides and currents can carry you miles out to sea, and if you’re not paying attention, a harmless surf session could quickly become life threatening.
I didn’t write any of that so you would freak out and not want to try surfing (or maybe you’re just thinking you’ve found the next outlet for your adrenaline addiction). I just want to illustrate the similarities between surfing and faith in God.
One of those similarities is the fact that surfing can remain tame and you can have a lot of fun within your comfort zone no matter how narrow that zone may be. But if you never push yourself to go deeper and ride bigger waves, you will not become a better surfer and your experiences and abilities could become stagnant, or at the very least, fall short of potential. In the same way, if you never decide to paddle out into “deeper water and bigger waves” or greater challenges in your faith you will not see growth in your relationship with God. There is a verse in Psalms that refer to being held under large waves and talks about remaining joyful and thankful toward God despite circumstances. Psalm 42:7b says, “all your waves and breakers have swept over me.”
“[Surfing is] for those searching for something more than just the norm. We lay it all down, including what others call sanity, for just a few moments on waves larger than life. We do this because we know there is still something greater than all of us. Something that inspires us spiritually. We start going downhill when we stop taking risks,” said big wave surfer Laird Hamilton in an interview with Surfer magazine.
In a life of faith and in the life of a surfer you need three things: the willingness to take risks, the motivation to pursue knowledge and a combination of love and courage.
The unpredictability of life as well as of the ocean means that there will constantly be opportunities where you have to choose to put yourself in danger to pursue a great reward at a potentially great cost. Following Jesus isn’t always riding a nine-foot-long board on gentle knee-high waves over a sandy ocean bottom. A lot of times it’s more like plunging down a triple-overhead wall of water at a reef break where one mistake could cost you your life. You’ve got to decide if it’s worth the risk to experience something greater instead of getting stuck in your comfort zone.
Second, you need to develop a knowledge of the sea so you are prepared to overcome those risks; be aware of the characteristics and potential dangers of whatever location toward which you are paddling out.
“Learn to read the ocean better. A big part of my success has been wave knowledge,” said 11-time world surfing champion Kelly Slater. For surfing we have tide charts, data about currents, weather alerts, special training regimens, informative apps and advanced watches. For life we have a relationship with Jesus and the Bible. That’s really all you need.
Lastly, you need love and courage. Courage is something that most people have somewhere within them, but it usually needs to be developed. Love for something cannot be forced, but has to be nurtured. Those two attributes are what will keep you going when you’ve gotten caught on the inside of a large set or held under the pounding surf more times than you think you can handle. They’re what keep you going in your surf session with God when you’ve “fallen off the wave” and are tired of trying to get back out past the white wash. You can’t stop the waves from coming, and you can’t stop life from happening, but you can learn how to surf and exercise your faith at every opportunity to trust God. Then you will see your challenges become your joy.
Follow Akela Newman on Twitter: @AkelaRenae