Life’s a Wave: Surfing as a Metaphor for Life

Facing life head-on with purpose, poise and a few surfing tips, you’ll be flying in no time.

25 February 2024 / Published on Medium
Photo credits / Adam Leverett

Hell, I might never be a great surfer. I probably started too late in the game. I didn’t grow up in Hawaii, Australia or Morocco. Barcelona and the Mediterranean — where I live — often don’t provide the most ideal conditions. But over time, I’ve realized that the challenges of surfing — no matter where you are — are great metaphors for life.

Hell, I might never be a great surfer. I probably started too late in the game. I didn’t grow up in Hawaii, Australia or Morocco. Barcelona and the Mediterranean — where I live — often don’t provide the most ideal conditions. But over time, I’ve realized that the challenges of surfing — no matter where you are — are great metaphors for life.

And on some days, the sea and the wind work their magic and the waves begin to swell. And then it’s just time to throw away your doubt and take the plunge, head first.

So read on and then get out there!

Choose your ride

Surfboards come in all shapes and sizes, but in general they’re either wide and long or skinny and short. If you’re starting out, go for the former. You’ll be less mobile at first, but this will give you the stability and confidence to keep going. You can always switch to the shorter, less stable ride in the future once you’ve gained some technique and confidence.

Know where (and when) to start

One wise surf instructor once told me: “When you enter a house, do you go through a window or a wall?”

Okay, so you’re ready to begin something new. You’ve chosen your board. You’re looking out across the water and all you see are waves crashing onto the shore. Intimidating, right? Think logically for a moment. Get a feeling for the character of the sea. The waves may be crashing in, but if you connect with the rhythm, you’ll start to see patterns — opportunities to enter between the waves. Wait for a quieter moment, then take your chance.

Gain momentum

At first, just even paddling out of the surf crashing onto the shore can be exhausting. There is some degree of blowback that you’re going to experience. But if you keep the faith, soon enough, you’ll be in calmer waters and able to catch your breath and get your bearings after the initial phase.

And if the waves hit you as you’re going out, you don’t have to take it lying down. Push down with the board when you reach the crest of the wave. Push back. You will soon learn that you are an energy and a counterforce, too. And eventually, you’ll learn how to duck dive under the waves. In other words, you’re not a passive observer. Driven by your desire to reach calmer waters, you also become an outward-moving force.

Keep a wide perspective

So you’ve made it out of the initial phase. Time to reassess. Take a look around. Start to feel the conditions as you’re swaying up and down on the bosom of the sea. And always have a reference point on land. Sometimes, you can literally get carried away, far from your starting point. In other words, it’s always good to remember where you started from.

Find your mind-body balance

With surfing, if you’re too much into the technical details — you won’t get to where you want to go. You’re too rigid and you’re not feeling enough. As with other sports, you have to find the balance between being ready and relaxed. Too ready and you get tangled up in your mind. Too relaxed and you’re thrown around like flotsam. As with dance, there is an initial phase when you’re just learning the steps — the bare essentials. But once you learn the base technique or the choreography, that’s when you can add yourself to the mix. Add what makes this your unique experience with your body and your mind.

Hone your skills

There are a million factors that can influence your ride. If you’re too far forward on the board, you’ll take a nosedive. If you’re too far back, you’ll flip like a pancake. There is no magic formula. It’s just constant trial and error. And the weather conditions change every time you get out there, too. It’s a constant interplay between board, rider and sea.

But every time you take a wave, you’re moulding your intuition — sharpening your blade. Honing your skills.

Know what you’re getting into

You see an oncoming wave and you know you will catch it when it’s too strong and you’re going to be thrown around. Or maybe you caught it too late and will have to paddle harder to catch up to it. Maybe you should wait, but you’re just impatiently chomping at the bit because you haven’t surfed anything in a while, and you go for it anyway, just to feel something.

No matter what type of wave it is — and where you are in relation to it — if you take the wave, just know what you’re getting into. After a while, you’ll gain a sort of sixth sense about which waves are worth the time and effort and which ones will leave you banged up and exhausted.

Don’t forget where you want to go

Whatever type of wave you catch, never look at your feet. They will eventually know what to do in time. Looking down at where you currently are will keep you there. So, trust your body and look confidently at where you want to go. The board will follow your gaze and you will fly.

Revel in the experience

Whether you’ve just been spit out of the sea and you’re coming up for air or you’re bobbing up and down on calm waters, enjoy it all. You’re in the game now and at least you‘re feeling something. At least you feel alive. Even when you’re waiting for your moment, it’s beautiful.

Reassess and try again

You’ve just caught your first wave. What did you learn? What could you have done differently? Was it your position on the board? Was it the moment that you caught the wave? Remember that the outcome is not always due to what we did or didn’t do. Sometimes, it was simply the type of wave that was offered to us and it wasn’t us at all. The important thing is to know the difference, learn from it all and then try again.

Let others have their moment

Once you’ve had your try, get out of the way of the other surfers so they can enjoy the experience, too. If you paddle back out to sea in front of everyone else, you piss everyone off — and you can get hit too. This is a solo sport, but it’s about being aware of your community, too.

I have some friends who think that surfing is too boring. I know that sometimes there’s a lot of waiting around and the great moments are few and far between. But I’ll tell you, when the moment comes and all things line up, it’s like you witnessed magic. You became magic. For a brief moment, you had a perfect communion with nature and felt what it was like to be the ocean.

At the end of the day, you may have a few scratches. Your body may be sore, tired or cold. But as your sun sets and you paddle back to shore — baptized by sea, salt, and sand — at least you know you went for it. At least you know that you got out there instead of standing on the shore wondering and forever waiting for the perfect moment in order to begin.

And that is the greatest gift of all.

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