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29 May

A Place Together

by Sam Bleakley

Surfing is not all go-it-alone, but usually a social activity where sharing space is demanded. Of course a lot of surfers crave an uncrowded break and talk of sessions where ‘no one was out’ and ‘I had it all to myself’. But surfing is never ‘alone’ if your mindset is one of connections. You are always surfing within nature, a living environment made up of many components that wash around you, move about with you and fly above you. Surfing with others multiplies up the need for a social outlook, and this demands awareness and tolerance.

Through surfing we can, and must, learn from our watery and rhythmic environment to be mindful. A great way to cope with a surfing crowd is to fully immerse yourself in it. This sets the tone for collaboration. For many surfers, feeding off the energy of a group can be exhilarating. A mindless immersion rattles the nerves, leading to resentment, while a mindful immersion demands generosity and hospitality. The ancient Greeks did not surf, but as surfers we can be inspired with how they placed hospitality at the top of a hierarchy of social ‘musts’. So hospitality in the water is an important aspect of mindful surfing. Why be hostile? This is not your property. It is part of our shared planet. Your energy will just dissipate worrying about territory and ownership. Relax.

Waves come in sets and dolphins in pods. They are communities. Dolphins work in groups to create underwater vortices that help to propel a single dolphin in a leap out of the water. This is brilliant team work. And surfing is so often part of a group. Enjoy the energy and movement of people around you, recognising all the joy, all the wipeouts, and all the successes. Celebrate this because we are in a place together. Laugh and cheer out aloud. Just don’t laugh underwater! You emerge more humble, aware of your surroundings, and respectful of the places and people we interact with, open to the water as a great leveller, a teacher.

Another mindful approach to surfing in groups is one of helpful sharing. Sharing is not easy where we grow up in competitive rather than collaborative climates. But sharing is the first thing kids have to learn. Mindfulness in surfing may, in essence, be a return to the innocence of the child, where surfing is play. Watching kids surf is infectious. Even if a successful ride is only seconds long, those intense moments of pleasure are etched across their faces. We cannot be children again as adults, but surfing as play can recapture the spontaneity, imagination and freshness of the child discovering the world.

It’s no surprise that water particularly appeals to children. Adult bodies are 50-65 per cent water, while infant bodies are 75-78 per cent water. Of course, before birth, as embryos we have all been suspended in amniotic fluid, swimming in the womb for nine months. We are nascent bodysurfers even if our first ocean is compact. So, when a baby is born in a water bath, they will naturally hold their breath. This is called the infant diving reflex - breathing ceases, the heart rate slows automatically and the eyes open - lasting until six months of age. It is strange that, as we grow into children, we have to learn to swim again.

Many kids will naturally be frightened of waves. So it’s crucial to deal with this fear respectfully and gently. Surfing can take a long time to gain confidence and proficiency, so you have to make sure that children enjoy the process. Riding waves provides a magical window of opportunity for anyone suffering from anxiety. Kids experience these emotions in many parts of their lives and playing in water can provide a safety valve. Most importantly, every child must be treated as an individual with capability, and every child can be encouraged to help another. Surfing gives all of us pride as we identify with a community. To say ‘I am a surfer’, whatever challenges you face, is to have worth and belonging in a place together. The moment children hit the water you can see tensions dissolve into the blue.