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12 Things Surfing Can Teach You About Life

When it comes to the thalassophile's good life - living in boardies and bikinis by the beach, chilling out with an acoustic guitar, enjoying a cold beverage and a hearty meal after a day spent splashing around in the ocean, feeling at one with nature, being happy with the simpler things in life, and seeing the sunrise or sunset every day - surfers have got the formula down pat, according to many stereotypes anyway.

And while to a certain extent, the subculture that surrounds this awesome sport is actually pretty accurate when it comes to those cliches - I mean, I love slurping down a post-surf acai bowl while listening to Jack Johnson as much as the next ocean-lover does (and yes, a majority of my surfer-for-life friends - the men in particular - do have an affinity for Hawaiian-print shirts), when it comes to being a grown-up about life's more mundane or ambitious responsibilities, surfers often get a bad rap. Blame Bill and Ted if you will, but unless you're picturing the grimy post-robbery shoot-out scenes from Point Break (and even then, their intelligence and financial savvy is marred by the unpleasant light of criminalism), when you say "I'm a surfer" to the uninformed or unfamiliar, it can conjure up mental imagery of rippling muscles, tanned skin, and salty, sun-kissed locks, followed by the phrases "Totally rad," "That's gnarly," "What a dude," or "I'm so stoked." (For the record, I'd like to state that I have uttered all of those phrases, both ironically and un-ironically, and there's nothing wrong with using language and the right vernacular to express how you feel in a certain moment or environment! Time and a place, people).

And when you think about it, to imagine that surfers are all just a bunch of overtly laid-back simpleton stoners with no life smarts is not only unfair, it's utterly ridiculous - Dubai's small surfing community alone is made up of successful entrepreneurs, lawyers, media hotshots, filmmakers, photographers, architects; the list goes on. Just look at professional athlete and one of the most famous surfers of all time, Kelly Slater. Not only was the man listed among the 10 highest-earning athletes in the world for years - his combined earnings were reported to be a whopping $75 million between June 2016 to June 2017 alone, and he has an estimated net worth of $20-25 million - he didn't just make all of his money from being exceptional at his sport, either. Outside of being a highly skilled professional athlete, he's also made his fortune through substantial amounts of property, stock investments, lucrative endorsement deals, his own restaurants and products (yes, he actually has a perfume too - move over, J.Lo), and I don't even need to tell you that he was once on Baywatch because admit it, we've all watched it. He's also the founder of The Kelly Slater Wave Company, which has amassed a team of businessmen, scientists, engineers, and geniuses who are using cutting-edge technology to create their own wave pools that will produce the perfect, endless, wave that's as close as possible to any surfer's ocean of dreams.

The irony is that one of the reasons that surfers are often so laid-back is that the sport has driven home one of the most important lessons in life - that at the end of the day, it's the most simple things in life that will bring about sustainable, genuine happiness, and that most of the things we tend to get our panties in a twist about really aren't worth expending that much energy over, since you'll spend more time fretting over them than they're worth. By keeping a level head about the stuff that really doesn't matter that much in the bigger picture, you're able to funnel more of your energy into the stuff that really does matter, be that your sport or whatever else it is that you're passionate about. It's just one of the many wonderful life lessons that you can learn from surfing - read on for some of the other little nuggets of wisdom I've been able to draw life parallels to from this intoxicating sport.

In the waters of the Mentawai Islands, near Kandui Villas

1. If you want to reach a goal, discipline, commitment, and passion are key. You can't try and force nature - sometimes you'll wait forever for a wave, and other times you'll have to keep paddling out again and again just to keep missing them. If you really want it, just keep going. Even if you're tired, try again and again, and eventually you'll catch an amazing wave where the ride will have been worth it. Surfing is a tough sport, and you have to be physically fit, learn how to read the ocean, and stay committed, whether that's for early wake-up calls, making sacrifices (like dropping other things in order to head out when surprise waves crop up), or mentally pushing yourself to keep going even when you're shattered and your'e so parched from being out in the water for so long that your mouth feels drier than the bottom of a flip flop. But if you truly love it, you won't even question it - passion is the key. And be positive - the power of positive thinking is a lot stronger than we often realise.

2. Patience pays, but know when to take action as well. You'll need to exercise a fair amount of restraint at times. Some days, you'll be sitting in the line-up for what feels like forever, only to have almost no decent waves come through that day. But when a good one comes, you have to be ready to take it, otherwise you'll miss the opportunity. Sure, you can relax while you're waiting - getting anxious about the fact that nothing is on the horizon will only make you even more flustered and for no purpose - but don't forget what you're there for, or become distracted so that you're too dazed to notice when the right wave actually is rolling in. Especially since if you miss it, you don't know how long you'll be waiting for again. Embracing presence can count for a lot.

3. Perseverance is often a large part of success. This point keeps getting driven home, but when you have spent many a day spending more time paddling than you do catching waves - be that because of your abilities, the wave situation, or how many other people are waiting in the line-up - you realize that giving up means you'll go home without that stoke you so craved. Stick to it, don't give up, and just keep paddling. If every newbie who tried to learn to surf didn't have the ability to persevere, they'd often never make it onto an actual wave - you've just got to get yourself back onto that board, paddle out, and try again, and again and again. Everybody falls sometimes. It's all a part of the process, and the key is in learning to get back up again. You don't always have control over how badly you're going to wipe out, let alone whether you do or don't at all, but what you can control is how composed you stay under the circumstances when you do, how quickly you react to get yourself back to a safe place, and how badly you'll let it affect your ability to try again with as much gusto in the future.

4. Don't panic when things go under. Sure, it will be unpleasant, and it may hurt - and you don't know how long you'll be out there. You'll have moments where you'll wonder if you will ever resurface or not. But if you panic, you're much more likely to ensure a terrible fate for yourself, since all of that flailing about is just going to waste your energy and make it harder to see the top from the bottom. Stay calm, keep cool and collected, and it'll be much easier to not only hold your breath until you can make it back to the surface again, but also to figure out exactly where you are and what it's going to take to get you back to a safe place.

5. Forget about looking good. I don't mean give up on aesthetics entirely - buying a beautiful board or a great swimsuit is absolutely worth it, but the point here was not to worry about looking good for others, and to not care what you look like when you're having a great time. I don't wear my hottest swimwear when I go surfing due to the potential wardrobe malfunctions but that's ok, because I'm not there for a fashion show, I'm there to surf. And I don't care if I look a bit silly when I wipe out, or if I'm learning new ways to become a better surfer that might make me look like a noob in the process - I'm not there to pose for other people, but rather, to catch waves. Plus, if my mind is stuck on what I look like, I'll miss out on the fun of it - and if I were truly having fun, I'd forget about anyone else around me who might be judging me anyway.

6. Sometimes you have to look back to look forward, but don't forget where you're headed in the big picture. In trying to learn how to surf somewhat decently, I've had to spend a lot of time watching the waves and understanding when one is coming, and when I'm meant to start paddling to catch it. This means I've spent a lot of time looking backwards before trying to flip my board around as quickly as possible so I can paddle out before it's too late. The same goes in life - sometimes, looking back and reflecting on that angle can help you figure out when and where you should be going next, but it's still important not to lose sight of where you're ultimately headed, lest you get tumbled around without intending to, or miss out on opportunities ahead of you because you weren't able to moving forward again quickly enough.

7. Step outside your comfort zone. There's a reason why so many people love the idea of surfing, and not as many actually do surf: it's hard. Wiping out is painful (physically and in terms of the humiliation aspect!), and it's also a physically exhausting sport in general. The salt water gets itchy on your skin after a while, your hair will get tangled, and the wax from your board might give you a rash. But if you're too finicky about that, you'll never learn how to surf better, if at all. The same goes for the areas you're surfing in, or the size of the waves you're trying. If you don't keep pushing yourself to try new things, you'll never grow - even if they're scary at first, you have to take the leaps to be able to graduate to the next steps.

8. Always be respectful, and don't be quick to judge others. Don't try to roll in like a cocky jerk, especially if you're a newbie, be that in terms of the actual sport and your ability, or the turf, or both. Remember that others in the line-up have just as much right to be there as you do, and respect it when it's their turn - it doesn't mean you won't get yours too, and the more respectfully you act towards others, the more likely they are to give you that same courtesy. Don't always judge a book by its cover either - great surfers come in all different shapes, sizes, and backgrounds, and you never know how great someone can be until you see them doing their thing.

9. Don't fear the competition. There will always be people lining up to compete with you, and there will always be some who are disobeying the rules - but there's plenty of room at the top and not everyone will be able to last. Stick it out, persevere, be patient, and don't worry about trying to be better than anyone else who's out there - all you have to do is focus on what you're doing, and you'll always manage to grow if you're trying to exceed your own expectations and excel against yourself. Everyone has their own style, too - it doesn't have to threaten yours!

10. Don't always believe everything you see or hear; trust your own judgment. You can trawl all of the surf reports that you want, from Magic Seaweed to Surfline, but no matter how great they are or how good the forecast is, you'll never really know if it's a condition that's right for you to surf in until you check it out yourself. That's not to say don't check it though - always check out the conditions first. That's just being prepared, and aside from safety reasons, it'll also make for better line-up etiquette.

11. Be prepared, then always have a back-up plan - and listen to your gut instincts. This applies for anything from your safety to how many spare leashes, boards, or how much wax and sunblock you'll bring. If you thought you'd be fine without a rashie or sunblock but find yourself getting scorched, it'll be a huge relief to know you've got one on the beach or in your car. Same goes for all of the other items - and with life in general.

12. Don't forget to enjoy yourself! The moment it starts repeatedly feeling like a chore, or you're not getting any joy out of it, you have to ask yourself why you're there - even if it's just because you're not in the mood at that point, or something else demand your current attention more, or if you're simply having a bad day. When you feel that way - about anything - you have to ask yourself why you're still there at all. Deciding to skip out on a few sessions because the timing isn't right doesn't mean you can't go back to it - and enjoy it more fully - when it is the right circumstance for you again. In my case, when I had to prioritize working on my manuscripts due to a writing deadline - and having to choose between my writing goals or taking a break from surfing started giving me anxiety - I felt a lot better once I made peace with what I needed in the here and now. I reminded myself that the ocean will still be there when I'm ready to return to it, and that I wanted to return to surfing once it was something I could really enjoy again, rather than something being marred by my self-improved pressure. Don't force it just to prove something to someone else - you've got to do it for you, and that's when it'll all come together in a happy alchemy.


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