When someone asks me if I’m good at surfing, I have a similar reaction as to when I hear someone say, “I’m so bad at yoga, I can’t even touch my toes!”. Surfing & yoga are both a journey to enjoy not a destination
My socially inept response is one of perplexed silence, a baffled head tilt and furrowed brows… The essential framework of this conversation is nonsensical to me.
With both practices, you never reach an end goal and say aha, I did it, it’s done! I have mastered all the waves of the sea, and I no longer need to breathe.
The only yardstick to really measure growth in either practice is equanimity – the ability to ride the ever-pulsing waves of life with internal ease and grace.
Sometimes these waves are literal – a double overhead set is rapidly approaching the razor-sharp reef, and you’re caught inside. Other times, metaphorical – your partner dumps you out of nowhere on the same day you got laid off.
Practicing yoga and surfing complement each other on every level. In my own experience of body, breath, and mind, I notice increasingly subtler connections between the practices the deeper I dive:
1. BODY – Physical Strength & Flexibility
Through asana, or the physical practice of yoga, one cultivates a deeper integration of core strength throughout the entire body. This is absolutely essential to surfing, which requires full-body strength and endurance.
In ‘Vinyasa flow’ yoga, we find all the the essentials of the surf pop-up woven into the core sequence.
The classic flow of lowering from a high plank to chataranga and into a heart-opening backbend perfectly mirrors the buildup of paddling, catching a wave, and finally popping up to stand:
Practicing this sequence on the mat cultivates the muscle memory needed for the rapid pop-up on a wave.
Surfers that don’t practice asana tend to have extremely tight shoulders from all the muscular exertion, minus the stretching. By ignoring flexibility, a non-negotiable pillar of health, they hold themselves back from taking on the next level of surf.
2. BREATH – Pranayama & Staying Calm
In surfing, there is a time to dive into your deepest strength reservoirs and fight with all your might – perhaps when paddling out past the break, or going for a wave.
But there is also a time to surrender to the sea and let go of all the muscles in your body – when a wave sucks you under for an extended period of time and you have to calmly hold your breath and wait it out. It is only when one panics and struggles to fight their way to the surface that the danger of drowning arises.
Through pranayama, or breathing practices, we consciously harness and expand our ability to intake pranaor ‘life-force,’ manifested as breath. These practices enable one to fully utilize their lung capacity and hold their breath calmly for increasing periods of time.
There are also different pranayamas one can apply to specific surfing predicaments – kapala bhati to heat up the body internally when in freezing external conditions, or ujjayi to calm the mind when fear creeps in.
3. MIND – Awakening Intuition & Being Present
Through surfing you fluidly merge your being with the sea. This does not occur through the linear, rational part of your brain, but rather through the intuitive, feeling-sense instinct of your heart.
You can’t think your way on to a wave.
You’ve got to learn to get out of your head, drop into your body, and trust the flow of your intuition to guide you. Surfing reconnects us with our primal instinct, immersing in the raw unbridled energy of nature.
And the more time you spend in the sea, the more you become naturally attuned to her rhythms – I swear sometimes I feel a set coming before I see it.
In our yogic practice of meditation, we are awakening our latent intuition and deeper feeling-sense to navigate our lives. We cultivate patience and non-judgemental awareness toward ourselves and others. This is an essential quality to maintain a lifelong dedication to surfing, as often it can feel like we spend more time waiting for swells than riding them.
For me, just being in the ocean is meditation. The word yoga actually translates to union – union of the individual ego with the greater whole, of the limited individual being with the infinite ocean of existence.
So whether I’m in the sea or on the mat, the moment I catch myself thinking, ‘look at me, look how good I’ve gotten!’ I know my ego has crept back in and I’ve missed the point.
Sometimes I think of my time spent in the sea and on the mat as practice for real life. When difficult circumstances arise, as they are bound to, the only thing I can control is my own response.
Thus my surfing and yoga practice are one in the same, as they both enable me to connect with Source energy and go beyond my limited ego to embody my highest Self.
Inhale, Exhale~~~meet the waves head on, without fear~~~the only way to go & grow.