“Surfers Make Good People”

Another surfer once told me, in no uncertain terms, “surfers make good people.” We were chatting after a surf on the island of Lombok, one of Indonesia’s many surfing gems, and it was the kind of conversation that meanders along when you’re surfed out and don’t really have anything more pressing on the schedule.

We talked about the surf back home: Western Australia for him and not much in the way of comparison to our surf in Maine. He had been telling me about his plans to move from ‘West Oz’ with his Indonesian wife and open a guesthouse just up the road… the type of retirement plan that every surfer dreams about.

His pronouncement came after I told him about teaching kids to surf at Surf Camp. He blurted out with surprising excitement:

“Mate, good job! The world could use more surfers because surfers make good people.”

These are the highlights from the conversation that followed, which was about the life lessons that surfing teaches us.


Lesson 1: Rely on Yourself and Always be Humble

Surfing teaches confidence and humility simultaneously. Entering the ocean to ride waves means putting yourself in a position where you’re on your own. If you get into trouble, you can’t just hit the pause button to gather your thoughts.

In the ocean, the situation is always dynamic: in addition to pounding waves, surfing often means contending with rocks and reefs, strong currents, weather, wind, and (sometimes) sea-life. As any surfer knows, when a big set bears down there is nothing and no one that can help.

The ocean will humble the very best surfers.

As a result, surfing teaches us to rely on ourselves and have confidence in our capacity to overcome challenges. It teaches strength and resilience. But even more, surfing shows us our limits and teaches us to know and respect them.

The ocean will humble the very best surfers, and in fact, those surfers are usually the ones that stand most in awe of the ocean’s power.


Lesson 2: Cherish Nature

There are few pursuits that are so dependent on a close relationship with nature. After all, good waves are the result of weather events that happen thousands of miles away. They can’t be recreated or manufactured by man and as a result surfers are completely beholden to ‘Mother Nature.’

The Point, J-Bay. Photo: Dustin Turin.

Nature giving in abundance. Photo: Dustin.

Every surfer learns to revere Nature’s ability to provide feast or famine.

Good waves require specific ingredients: combine things right and something beautiful emerges, but the wrong mix produces chaos. As a result, surfers must be in-tune with the natural world.

A slight shift in the wind direction, a budding low-pressure system, a minor shift in the tide, the phase of the moon: any of these factors can make or break a surf session. Over time, every surfer knows instinctively the feeling of a new weather pattern emerging. And by default, every surfer learns to revere Nature’s ability to provide feast or famine.


Lesson 3: Treat Others Kindly

Even though it’s not uncommon to see admonitions of “locals only” spray-painted around some of the world’s best surf breaks, at some point in our surfing lives we all paddle out into an unfamiliar lineup. When we do, most of the time our experience will depend on how we treat those that are already there.

Respect goes a long way, and as the saying goes, you’ve got to give it to get it. If we want to expect kindness when we visit someplace new (as surfers inevitably do), we are beholden to practice the same when we’re at home.


Respect goes a long way on Lombok. Photo: Dustin.

In the water, it doesn’t matter where you’re from, how much money you make, who you voted for, what gods you pray to, or what language you speak. At the end of the day, waves are a great equalizer.

Surfing puts everyone on an even playing field and teaches us to look at people from the inside out, rather than the other way around.

Beyond the natural wave-riding abilities with which some are endowed, those of privilege will fair no better in the water than those of the most meager background. Surfing puts everyone on an even playing field and teaches us to look at people from the inside out, rather than the other way around.


Lesson 4: Your Body is Your Temple

Take care of your body and the ocean will take care of your soul.

Take care of your body and the ocean will take care of your soul. A love of surfing demands a respect for our physical health and the better shape we’re in the bigger our reward when we’re out in the water.

Living a healthy lifestyle opens our lives to opportunity, and the diligent among us reap the reward that is a lifetime of wave-riding.

Bruce Gold at Jeffrey's Bay. Photo: Garth Robinson

Bruce Gold at home in Jeffrey’s Bay, South Africa. Bruce was one of the first surfers to arrive in “J-Bay” in the 1960s: more than a half-century later, he’s still charging. Photo: Garth Robinson.


Lesson 5: Not For Sale

Surfing’s biggest reward is trading waves with a few friends on one of those rare days when everything comes together and ‘Mother Nature’ decides to be generous. It doesn’t matter how much money you’ve got in the bank because this experience simply isn’t for sale.

The fleeting nature of waves, the way they come and go as the outcome of an infinite range of natural conditions, reminds us that nothing is permanent and all conditions are subject to change. Waves aren’t objects to possess and neither are the emotions that we experience when we ride them.

Supertubes perfection. Photo: Dustin Turin.

The big reward. Photo: Dustin.

 Posted by: Dustin Turin // Jeffrey’s Bay, South Africa