Nature and Nurture: Surfing As a Spiritual Practice

If you’ve never surfed before imagine this: You’re paddling towards the beach on your board and look back to a wave building behind you. You paddle faster, you stand up, and the wave carries you forward. 

As you ride that cresting wave, you feel the exhilaration that it brings, the sheer force of the water propelling you into the peace of the present moment. It’s just you and the wild blue ocean. No phone, no distractions, no past or future worries, just you and the power of nature merging with your body and mind. 

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For this brief moment the world goes silent. All you can hear is the wave, and all you can think of is now. 

Much of the time, like many people I find myself constantly dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. More importantly, one of the reasons why I surf is because the Baha’i teachings encourage us to be “lost in awe at the works of the Lord of Oneness:”

More importantly, though, I surf because the Baha’i teachings encourage us to be “lost in awe at the works of the Lord of Oneness:”

At every moment he beholdeth a wondrous world, a new creation, and goeth from astonishment to astonishment, and is lost in awe at the works of the Lord of Oneness. Indeed, O Brother, if we ponder each created thing, we shall witness a myriad perfect wisdoms and learn a myriad new and wondrous truths.

To me this means that each new moment is brought to us by a higher power – the Creator – Who gives us the present as a blessing. That’s why surfing has become a part of my spiritual practice. 

Isn’t the whole point of meditation to become in tune with yourself in the present moment? For we cannot change the past, but we do have some control over right now. 

Like any meditative practice, surfing trains you to be aware of the present moment. Surfing means looking towards where you want to go, and not down towards your feet at the board. While it may be tempting to look down, it will not reward you. I think that this is actually such a beautiful metaphor for life. Looking down symbolizes taking the more tempting, easier route that is less rewarding, and looking forward symbolizes awareness and drive. To surf the physical wave and the wave of life well, we must be present and look towards where we want to go.

For those of you who haven’t heard of it, a concept known as the “surfer mentality” refers to how surfers know that they will often have to patiently wait long periods of time for a wave, or catch waves that crash on top of them and hold them under water. Despite those things, surfers enjoy every second of it and paddle back out afterwards. Surfers accept the strength of nature rather than fearing it – which can help build a great sense of trust in the universe and in God. 

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Surfing taught me this: I used to be so scared of wiping out on a wave, but I now know that it is inevitable. I’ve learned that the reward greatly outweighs the risk. The surfer mentality serves as a metaphor for life. Hardships and difficulties are always going to come our way, but it is in how we view them that defines whether we come out stronger or weaker.

If you can’t see the connection between spirituality and surfing, just look at its history. Probably first invented by Hawaiian culture pre-European colonization, its Indigenous originators viewed surfing as something almost religious. Modern society has turned surfing into something viewed simply as a recreational activity or a sport, but native Hawaiian people looked at the ocean like God. To them surfing was a sacred act that held so much more significance than just a sport. 

Like many Indigenous beliefs, the Baha’i teachings emphasize the importance of connecting with nature. Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, wrote:

Nature in its essence is the embodiment of My name, the Maker, the Creator. Its manifestations are diversified by varying causes, and in this diversity there are signs for men of discernment. Nature is God’s Will and is its expression in and through the contingent world. It is a dispensation of Providence ordained by the Ordainer, the All-Wise. Were anyone to affirm that it is the Will of God as manifested in the world of being, no one should question this assertion.  It is endowed with a power whose reality men of learning fail to grasp. Indeed a man of insight can perceive naught therein save the effulgent splendour of Our Name, the Creator. Say: This is an existence which knoweth no decay, and Nature itself is lost in bewilderment before its revelations, its compelling evidences and its effulgent glory which have encompassed the universe. 

Nature can teach us so much. When we gaze on this beautiful Earth and contemplate its bounty, we learn that it holds so much power. When we immerse ourselves in the ocean’s power, and learn to surf its waves, we can appreciate that the sea holds more than just water and sea life.

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