by britt mattie
Life’s simplest pleasures lie within the 71% of wet euphoria making up Earth’s opalescent hydrosphere. There's indisputably nothing comparable to straddling a fiberglass floating device amongst cerulean waters—the same waters home to curious sea turtles who show up for dawn patrol with you to check out the golden ripe sunrise, or the playful dolphins who want a piece of the action, appearing suddenly, like holograms in the green room of a barreling tube.
Simply living near an ocean reaps rewards as boundless as the waves that inhabit them. Seriously, it’s science. Research shows that our physique and psyche tend to have a deep-seated personal and emotional relationship with water, known as “Blue Mind”, also the name of a book by marine biologist Wallace J. Nichols, describing the remarkable effects being near, in, on or under water has on our livelihoods. Revitalization, clarity, happiness, peace, connection—the ripple effects carry on like Slater's wave-pool ranch.
"If you've ever spent time near the ocean, you already know that she has a magnitude that can't be explained, only felt. Her vastness, melody and purity is sacred." -Jen Yih, artist, producer + explorer.
Oceanic addicts will testify, the perks of surfing fire on all cylinders—bringing both intrinsic and extrinsic benefits to a person’s well-being--pulsating from physical, mental + spiritual wellness gains. You can entertain your brain with virtual video games, but can you credit hunching over in gamer position, thumbs pressed to the jolt sticks the secret to those toned glutes of yours? Or maybe you’re off the coach, inflating your biceps with dumbbell weights at a 24 Hour Fitness, but can you really test your adrenaline and challenge your fears inside a selfie-fueled, sweaty gym?
Simply find yourself a sea-legged sensei and learn how to reach your zenith in every direction of your life compass. Surf Coach for Rincon Surf School, Whit Arnold injected himself into the world of surfing in California, then devoted his life to the pursuit of it—bouncing around Nicaragua, Panama and other islands before landing full-time in Puerto Rico--waking up to the sound of perfect reef breaks every damn day. “No matter where you live, the world is alive around you. But I notice it much more living by the ocean,” he says, “You can just feel the energy and excitement in town when there is swell.”
Surf Coach Whit Arnold sippin’ that gin and juice- Rincon, PR.
Owner and board shaper of One World Surf Designs, Juan Rodriguez has been “making dust” since '68. Rodriguez was totally dedicated to playing baseball as a kid, up until '63, when he got his hands on his first magazine—and not the excitable page turner you’d automatically expect from a 14 year-old boy. SURFER mag’s palpable pages showed him something he had never yet seen before. Throwing his baseball bat to the wind, Juan immediately found a board to borrow, skipped down to the beach and ate shit a bunch of times. “Finally I caught one, stood up and rode it straight in,” he describes. “Eventually I was able to grab a bit of an angle and go down the line. I was hooked.”
Then, a surf movie came out called Ride the Wild Surf in '64. “It was a totally stupid movie centered around these guys traveling to Hawaii to ride the biggest waves, but really there was about two minutes total of actual surfing in the movie,” he says. “But I remember it because it was the first time I ever saw guys in action, surfing monster waves—not just pictures. That really sunk the hook in deeper. I knew I needed to get my own board.” Juan saved up for his first stick by hustling in between periods, playing a swindling game of flip coin and taking his fellow classmates’ allowances for everything they got.
Now, with five decades centered around a passion for surfing and the sinuous build of surfboards, he notes, “Surfing to me, is really just a great way to waste your time. When you or one of your friends get a good ride, you cheer each other on. And when you or they wipe out and eat it, you’re all still coming up laughing.”
Board shaper Juan Rodriguez making dust in his Gulf Coast, FL studio.
LET'S GET PHYSICAL-
It’s no coincidence that many surfers don a lean, fit build, with the endurance and stamina to match to make it through long sessions while conditions are supreme. Surfing involves constant adaptations to waves in motion, dualed with ballerina-esque balance and technique. The cardiovascular fitness alone sets in—the human body is repeatedly invited to adjust to movements in all axis—providing as many physical health benefits as Home Depot provides paint colors.
“I don’t know a more physically demanding workout than surfing,” states Juan. “You’ve got to work through hours of paddling and building the muscles in your neck from holding your head up and the lats in your back from pulling through the water.”
While copious paddling is the name of the game, muscle memory builds in your shoulders and back from all the thrusting as you get raked over trying to get past the break, just to turn back around and dig hard again to get into a wave that’ll sweep you back towards shore. Arms strengthen gripping the rails while duck diving beneath waves, and legs become powerful anchors to keep you upright and sturdy as you get shacked. Meanwhile, your core becomes your strongest ally in the pop-up and take-off, and progresses through the trimming and maneuvering moments, balancing and billowing down the line.
“You also have to hold your breath and change your heart beat,” says Juan. “When you eat it on a big wave and hit the bottom, you get tumbled, rolled and dragged underwater for what seems like a half hour (but probably only 15 seconds). Even still, you have to be able to relax and embrace the pounding you’re taking because there’s nothing you can do about it. You’re completely at the mercy of the ocean and what’s going on around you, so eventually, you learn to enjoy the ride.”
Pro surfer Laura Enever duck-diving into the threshold and bracing for impact.
Luckily, you can “get your swell on” even if there is no actual swell. When the surf is sh*t, mix up your training and fitness regimen with simple land or pool exercises, to help prepare your body for unexpected circumstances when you do inevitably surf. Pull ups and push ups maximize your upper body for pop-up and paddling, planks and crunches build the foundation of your core, and squats/lunges help to keep your lower body steady on the board. Yoga also is a symbiotic complement to surfing—stretching sore muscles, elevating your flexibility and stabilizing your equilibrium.
Additionally, swimming proves to shape up all the important muscle groups, improve endurance and speed. Underwater laps are excellent for building lung capacity, which you'll need for very big hold downs and repeated duck dives. Treading water for as long as you can builds lower body strength and stamina—useful when separated from your leash or fighting a rip current. Here are a few surf-specific aquatic workouts in The Complete Guide to Swimming for Surfers from Surfer Today.
Ultimately, staying healthy and strong is a necessary vanguard for any frothy warrior, so the fuel you put in your body before and after a sess could mean the difference between pouring high-octane supreme gas in your performance vehicle and just dumping moonshine in your tank. Adopting a healthy diet means a solid nutritional foundation of wholesome foods with high protein, lean meats, organic fruits and veggies, low sugar intake, limiting refined carbs and optimizing on a ton of water—staying charged and hydrated is key with endless hours out in the unrelenting sun and salty sea. Here is The Ultimate Nutrition Guide for Surfers by Surfline to get your started on your journey of nutritious and delicious grinds for optimal performance.
Jack's Shack tests your decision making skills with its fresh-to-order menu- Rincon, PR
“It’s an individual sport, passion, endeavor—whatever you want to call it—you're not counting on anyone else but you.” Juan says. “You don't have a team to back you up, so you have to always be mentally in it. Even while you're waiting for waves to come your way, you're looking at the ones you can’t catch peel off in the distance. Mentally, you're surfing waves just by watching them.” As your brain switches to go-mode, you’re thinking and analyzing whether to hit the lip, do a wide cutback, get on the nose, get barreled, or just stand there and do nothing and have this really cool feeling wash over you.
Sometimes having to talk yourself into strapping the board to the car, taking a drive to see if there’s waves to be had, then lugging your rig up into your armpit and escorting it down to the beach, can seem like a lot of work. For the always-keen adventurers though, it’s not a question of if, but when and how. The dedication to get there and sometimes enter unchartered or unfavorable waters is the kind of internal challenge fervent surfers welcome. Some take chances to brush elbows with the gray men in suits preying on fatty seals nearby. Some slip into a 6/5 mm thick wetsuit, boots and gloves, just to submerge themselves in Titanic-temp waters.
“For me, surfing is everything,” shares Whit. “I’m addicted to the fear and excitement of that which you cannot control, the patience and adaptability that’s required. More often than not, conditions are different from the time you enter the water to the time you exit the water, and all you can do is work with it. The water sets the pace.”
Photographer Chris Burkard bundles up to go tubing in the Arctic.
Sure, you may tumble around like an unmatched sock in a washing machine of whitewash for the better half of a minute, flailing to catch a breath from the topside. You may even hobble out from the reef with a sea urchin in the foot or an unplanned eyebrow piercing from your center fin. Bruised muscles often match a bruised ego, because not every single session is going to be your best foot forward.
Psychologically though, what doesn’t kill you, kicks your ass, humbles you and makes you stronger for next time. No session is ever the same, nor can they be calculated and expected to be achieved. Rather than sulking out of the water with your tail between your legs (we've all fu*kin been there), remember it’s a game of poker and the ocean holds the upper hand. That said, you will have days where all the stars align—glassy peelers are rolling in and you’re on top of your game—riding playful peaks out the back and leaving the beach with a sneaky royal flush.
Surfers take the good with the bad—they know if they can make it through the lashings, there is treasure awaiting. And while many of us deal with daily anxieties, depression and societal pressures, surfing holds serious clout when it comes to keeping us sane--on the right wavelength, if you will. Check out the mental health impacts surfing can succor in Why Are Surfers So Chill? by Vice.
SPIRITUAL IMPACT ZONE-
Simply spending time outdoors, immersed in the natural environment, deems an invaluable outlet for alleviating stress and tension. The spiritual wellness of being out in the sunshine and fresh, open air is that healthful boost of Vitamin D that absorbs calcium into your body and breathes serotonin into your brain. That’s of course, with the appropriate UVA/B protection so you don’t end up a worn, russet leather bag. Be sure to check the label for the nasty stuff, and if you're unsure, here are a few Sunscreens Approved by Surfers from SeaJiggy—featuring specially-designed watersport potions, as chemically-safe for your skin as the ocean and reefs you wear them in.
Sunkissed beauty Kelia Moniz soaks it in in her SPF-50 wetsuit by Billabong.
Once you’re lathered in zinc and letting the saltwater heal any literal or figurative wounds you may have, the sense of place seems inexplicable, especially compared to the alternatives of rush hour traffic and sitting at the dining room table with your in-laws.
“It’s very difficult to describe the feeling that you get out there,” says Juan. “And that feeling doesn’t always have to come from a successful ride, or even a ride at all. There’s all these little magical vignettes that really give you a spiritual buzz for just being out in the water, and an uplifting thankfulness for being a surfer.”
It happens when you’re sitting astride and you see a half dozen pelicans swoop down in a row and peeling off in flight six inches above the water, riding the wind current of a wave. It happens when the wind is blowing perfectly offshore—causing a spindrift spray to come off every wave and rainbows to jut out across the nose of your board. It happens early, early, early in the morning, when it’s still kind of dark. When there is absolutely no wind, and the water is the color of lead because the sun isn’t up yet to turn it effervescent blue. And as you paddle out, your hand reaches out for the stroke, but not before you catch a glimpse of your reflection in the placid glass as your hand dips in to propel it away.
“If you’re standing on the beach, you don’t get to see any of that sh*t."
However sometimes, vexation can grow during flat periods between sets that can seem to drag like damn microwave minutes. Waiting for those pearly lips to rise and fall can wear on even the eternally stoked folk’s patience. As you await those peeling nugs to show face, Dad’s words ring aloud that, “patience is a virtue.” And the more time you spend out there, the more you come to sense those calm lulls are ample opportunities to take in the surrounding beauty and majesty of what lies beyond your field of vision, past the horizon plane, which deceptively shows the skyline and ocean colliding in all its linear glory.
Patiently idling in neutral whilst awaiting for a set in the Maldives.
In those moments, you realize you’re doing something that makes you feel so fragile and vulnerable, yet alive and invincible. You experience insurmountable stillness and silence in the serenity—perhaps introspectively conceiving the meaning of life (or contemplating what you’ll scarf down later). It’s a place to X out of too many tabs open in your brain and simply be. Florida-based documentary cameraman and shortboard rider, says being out surfing helps him clear his head and “sort through the chaos in his life”. New Jersey schoolteacher, longboarder and new to motherhood, describes it as a time for her to briefly escape from adulting, and simply “live in the moment.”
“In this day and age, where people are constantly on their phones, I like that surfing still doesn’t allow for that,” Whit is keen to note. “It requires so much physical and mental concentration already—it’s best to leave any other problems and distractions on shore.”
Whether it was the Hawaiians or Peruvians who first originated the art of surfing, these days it pretty much expands to every geographical nook and cranny of the world—at least wherever there is an undulating oscillation of alkali-flavored H2O.
From the exotic archipelago of Sumatra to hippy paradise Byron Bay, to Cape Town, Patagonia, Montauk, Malibu and the remote, iced island of Tofino—as long as there is wind caressing the tides, and a gravitational pull of the sun and moon to arouse the waves—there will always be an intrepid daredevil, looking to catch the “best ride of their life”. So long as you're cognizant of your surroundings, prepared for the conditions, abide by local beach rules and surf wetiquette, you’re golden.
That being said, never get too cocky with Mother Nature. It goes without saying—tread water lightly with her—she may not have brought us into this world, she can certainly take us out of it if she wanted to. This one's for you, rebels- 10 Ways to Stay Safe While Surfing from Surfd.
Big Wave rider Tom Dosland lost his footing in the wipeout heard 'round the world- Jaws, Maui
As the universality and traction to learn how to surf burgeons, so does the generation of backpacker travel that yields from the desire to “chase waves” like a cheeky game of tag. Surf trips can be true testaments to pioneering some worldly comrades serendipitously frolicking the same piece of the abyss as you—people you may never have met had you stayed on dry land like a hodad on spring break. The lineup can weirdly be an organic setup—finding other like-minded souls with shared interests and insta feeds.
For a waterlogged retreat for your next overseas holiday, Barefoot Surf + Travel curates trips to worldwide destinations, to link up with certified surf coaches. Jump on a solo or group expedition to surf breaks as far-flung as they are coveted, and experience worldly waves with stoke-worthy experts.
The party's just getting started at Selina Surf Camp- Santa Teresa, Costa Rica.
For your every day however, having the dedication really makes it an all-encompassing lifestyle—from the diet and exercise, to forcing yourself vertical at the butt crack of dawn to snag untouched goodies before they’re stolen by encroaching crowds.
“Most people immediately become very humbled once they realize how demanding surfing really is,” says Whit. And squeezing that slice of time and energy out of your hectic schedule is the type of commitment us Millennials are scaredy cats of. Dude puts it in perspective though, “Those who surf have chosen to do so,” Juan states. Whether you’re an attorney making excuses about getting to the courtroom on time or a bartender writhing in agony from a hangover of tequila shots the night before, remember you’ll only regret not going.
But if nothing else, remember why you started surfing in the first place—it reeks of fun—whether you’re gracefully hanging ten on a nine foot log, or fiercely bottom turning a fishtail. Even if you score a killer ride and nobody else is around to see or snap it...it’s worth it.
Catch you at the peak friends.
A feel good Shaka, wherever you want it to be.