Cowabunga, Dude: 6 Surfing Rules That Taught Me About Life

by Anna Idler

When I was growing up, it was my cousin Myles who first introduced me to the surfing term, “dawn patrol.” Back then, he defined it as hitting me with pillows at 6 am at our grandparents’ shore house in Stone Harbor, NJ until I got out of bed and checked the waves with him.

Waking up wasn’t a chore, though; our energized preteen selves were always pumped to go. After our wave survey, we’d sprint back from the beach to the garage and pick out boards from the assorted collection built up over the past few summers.

Then, we'd wake my dad and uncle up and force them to come with us. They couldn’t say no; they were the ones who taught us how to surf.

I've gotten a chance to surf in some great places since starting out, but Stone Harbor will always be my favorite spot -- it’s where my passion began.

Surfing is a sport that can move you physically, as well as mentally; it’s an activity that brings countless lessons, ones that transcend the ocean and can apply to everyday life.

The next few common steps surfers take when paddling out have taught me how to be present, stay calm and focused and pursue opportunities that are right for me:

Assess the swell patterns.

Before you get in the water, it’s important to analyze the waves and tides in order to see which spot is the safest into which to paddle. After I graduated from college, I realized that navigating choppy tides is comparable to navigating the sometimes frustrating job search.

Having a solid plan of what you’d like to do and what industry interests you before putting yourself and your résumé out there is key. And, there’s no use in comparing yourself to others.

I used to get so self-conscious while surfing because more experienced surfers could jump right in and get to the waves before me.

It’s very easy to equate yourself to your peers who are diving into their dream careers faster than you can even get an entry-level job. Be patient. Take off when you’re ready and when you feel you have a clear path.

Get out past the breakers.

This is the part of surfing that still, to this day, gives me anxiety, especially since I haven't yet mastered duck diving, which is pushing your body and your board underneath an oncoming wave.

Paddling through the rough current to the calmer, deeper water when surfing can be a daunting obstacle. You can either turn around and let the swells push you back to the beach or paddle your heart out and go through them.

Both unforgiving, steep breakers and hard-hitting life lessons are inevitable.

Trying times will always push us toward the edge and test our endurance. The one thing that’s in our power is the power to decide: Will you let this hardship push you back, or will you fight to move forward and face it?

Wait for a set.

This is one of my favorite parts of surfing, but it took me a while to feel this way. As a younger surfer, I was impatient and eager to show off my skills to the rest of the surfers.

In surfing, though, it’s important to wait for your wave. And, the time between sets is pretty beautiful.

Sometimes, I lie on my board and put both my hands up to either side of my face as if I’m holding binoculars. This allows me to see only the ocean and horizon in front of me — no peripheral vision and no other surfers in my line of sight.

Waiting for a set gives you time to yourself; I think these quiet moments are crucial to take, especially as we become adults. Life can get more stressful as we age and acquire more responsibilities; taking time to be alone is calming and helpful.

Help others catch their ride.

When surfing, it’s nice to reflect and be inside your head. But, surfing is also an activity that demands sharing. Some of my best memories are helping my little cousins catch their first waves on our family longboards.

Surfing is a sport that’s meant to be taught to others. No matter how driven you are, there’s always time to help those around you find their way in the world, too.

Volunteerism and mentoring are crucial: Take advantage and pass on your talents and enthusiasm.

Claim your wave.

There will, without a doubt, be other surfers in the lineup who will want the next great wave as much as you. Similarly, in life, there will always be competition, friends gunning for that company promotion, the best grade, that job offer.

But, when looking at a wave you’re resolute to ride, or working toward a goal you need to achieve, you just know you can do it. It’s determination and an unsaid dare: “I know you want this, but I want it more. And I’m going to get it.”

Trust yourself when it comes to your passions; your gut won’t steer you wrong. Even when that wave is walling up and you’re second-guessing yourself, take the plunge. Kick your legs; work your arms, and battle to catch it.

The worst thing that can happen when chasing a goal is you somehow fall short and don’t end up achieving it. But, there will be other goals to hunt, just like there will always be more waves, even after a nasty spill.

Stand up.

All surfers have been in situations when they know that even if they successfully catch the wave, they will 100 percent wipe out. But, this doesn't stop you from getting up to try again anyway.

There’s nothing like the thrill of standing up on your own, whether it’s on a wave, or it’s for a cause in which you believe.

Ride your wave all the way to the beach if you want; see your ideas and goals all the way through. Then, get on your board again and turn back to the open water, toward the unknown, toward even more possibility.