Surfing in Hawaii is one of the ultimate past times for locals and visitors alike. Hawaii just happens to have some of the world’s funnest surf, so it’s little wonder why so many people spend so much time in the water.
Why is surfing fun for so many people? What is it about floating on a board that can be so addictive and satisfying?
It seems like I’m wired to naturally enjoy surfing. You probably are too. I don’t know what in the human background pre-programmed us to like surfing as much as we like breathing, but we do. All of us do, but some of you don’t know it yet because you haven’t tried. When you try, you will say to yourself, “My god! I’d rather surf than breathe!” Trust me on this. It’s something about mankind that is impossible to figure out. Don’t spend too much time trying. Let me give it a shot below.
When I talk about surfing, I am also talking about bodyboarding. I use the two synonymously in this article because they are so similar. Bodysurfing could also fit for most of the ideas presented here.
My introduction to floating on the water on top of a board was at Makapu’u Beach on Oahu’s northeast side back in 1984. Actually, that was the first beach in Hawaii I ever visited. Waves were 3-4 feet Hawaiian scale that day. Needless to say, I was completely blown away by the power and the exhilarating speed of the waves that carried me in when I was lucky enough to catch a wave on the cheap foam bodyboard I borrowed from a friend.
Floating on the bouncing surf while waiting to catch a wave was incredibly relaxing. I’ve almost fallen asleep on days when waves were infrequent at some of the really calm spots on Oahu. Laying on your board and bouncing up and down in the sunshine is like a personal spa treatment. Legs are cool and in the water, and your bodyweight is fully supported by the board under your chest. You can wear a hat, visor, or put something over your head to block the sun if you’re inclined. I didn’t, but today I probably would – my head having seen plenty of sun over the years.
A big part of why I’ve spent so many hours in the water catching waves and just floating around is because it feels right. What I mean is, I feel more connected to the earth, the underlying aliveness of it. I feel like I’m part of the world’s beauty. I feel in sync with it as I flow with it. That’s it, it’s like I’m flowing in harmony with the waves… the earth’s breath. I feel like I’m one with the spirit that moves the earth.
The rhythm of the waves puts surfers into a groove. Up and down, up and down you float as you wait for the next wave. The little bounces are usually about the same time period apart, unless it’s really choppy. The real reason surfers don’t like surfing choppy water is that its aggravating to be bouncing around on an irregular pattern of waves. It isn’t relaxing any more, its stressful. Many times great waves can be caught in the chop, but everyone prefers glass-like conditions where you’re almost lulled to sleep by the calm water, and then waves roll in slowly, gradually building into perfect waves, pushing you forward.
Then after you ride the wave, you turn slowly and paddle back out with a rhythm. If you watch people that have surfed for a long time, they are naturally in this rhythm with the water. It’s like they are completely in sync whether floating and waiting, riding a wave in, or paddling back out to repeat the cycle. The harmony of the body and sea in perfect sync feels great.
One experience that I have while surfing is that I feel insignificant among the bigger waves, the vastness of the ocean, the lava cliffs towering above some of the surfing spots. I feel so tiny and alone when I’m out on the surf sometimes. It’s almost a religious experience. If you’re out there for six hours or so, there is a lot of time to think about man’s insignificance in the big scheme of things. If a big set rolls through, you definitely get the idea quick. I’ve questioned a lot of what I was doing with my life as I waited for the next wave. I’m sure many personal and business problems have found solutions out there floating around on a board!
There’s a bit of fear associated with the powerful surf. We love to be scared, right? I mean, we wouldn’t like to see a bear running at full charge at us, but, when we hike or run through the forest, the idea that a bear might be there somewhere is scary. It’s alluring too. Danger to some degree is alluring. Surfing is great for this fear-stoking for a couple reasons. The first is that you can choose what type of surf conditions you paddle out in. You can constantly test yourself by attempting to surf waves that are bigger or trickier than you’ve ever surfed before. The water conditions themselves can be scary, and you can test yourself at the North Shore of Oahu by just getting the courage to jump out into the wicked currents that can pull you a couple hundred yards down shore if you don’t time it right.
Waves have different levels of difficulty. Pipeline on the North Shore, I still haven’t ridden when it was big and tubing. I’ve just been afraid of it, pure and simple. It is so fast, and the churn is so strong, I just couldn’t see myself in there yet. I haven’t even thought about it much, I’ve surfed a lot of other waves now and I still don’t think I’m ready for Pipe!
But, unless the waves are really big, there are few real dangers on the water.. Sharks or jellyfish, Portuguese man-o-war are definitely the most common annoyances on the water. Aggro surfers might be mentioned, but I’ve never had any major problem with that. Know the rules and play your role. Don’t try to be top dog out there when you don’t even know the best spots for the breaking wave.
I was a strong swimmer, but I was constantly sucking in pints of water when I mis-judged the timing of waves and instead synced my breathing with an incoming wave. If you test yourself in big waves, strong currents, you’ll probably have an experience that tests your limits to some degree. I had a couple of experiences where I could have died while bodyboarding on Oahu’s big surf. Read about them – “My Two Near Death Experiences Bodyboarding!”
There is something addictive about trying to conquering big waves. It feels good to master a bigger and more dangerous wave, than you’ve ever ridden before. It’s a test of survival in some cases. If you read the article I mentioned about my two near death experiences, during both those experiences I knew there could possibly be a life threatening, or life defining moment while I was surfing those waves. That is part of why I insisted on doing so. We love to test ourselves against the great unknown. Though waves are consistent for most time periods, there are rogue wave sets that can really change the game up and throw you into a new situation you’re not prepared for. Read the article above, it will show you better what I’m trying to say!
If you look around, there are probably quite a few people of the opposite sex floating around on their boards too. It is easy to meet new friends on the water, it seems that most people are in the mood to talk if the waves are slow for a while. I’ve met people from all over the world in the water at Walls, Waikiki. Particularly Waikiki locals and Japanese tourists are drawn to the area. The waves are safe and fairly frequent during the summers. I’ve spent hundreds (probably thousands) of hours there in that spot.
I’ve made some great friends on the water. So many people surf on the islands that you’ll meet all sorts of people from all walks of life. I’ve met professors at University of Hawaii, lots of Realtors, Doctors and nurses, and even pros on the circuit.
One of the things about moving to Hawaii is finding good friends. Surfing is one great way to meet other decent people.
Surfing can EASILY become an addiction. It happened to me. In fact in my case, it was probably stronger than any drug I could have tried. After that first session on a junk board with no fins, and not even the slightest idea what I was doing, I was absolutely hooked on riding waves. I wasn’t good at it, but it still felt like the most satisfying activity I’ve ever done in my life. It was like I was born to float on a board in the water.
Over six years living in Hawaii I estimate I’ve spent about 12 hours in the water catching waves per week. About 600 hours per year, total around 3,600 hours of bodyboarding, surfing, and bodysurfing. I wouldn’t trade all those hours for ANYTHING. They made me who I am in part. Besides spending time with my daughter doing something fun, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else for all those hours.
And I’m not even that bad. If you visit or live in Hawaii, you’ve probably seen the “Dawn Patrol.” These are locals (residents) that hit the waves early before work, or before whatever they do that day, as the sun comes up daily. These guys and girls must spend 2 hours in the water during each weekday, and then probably another 4-8 on each weekend day. Let’s say 6 hours each weekend day. That’s 22 hours of surfing per week! Over 1,000 hours per year in the water!
Addiction to surfing brings a mellow state of mind. Is it any wonder reggae and marijuana is so popular with the surfing crowd? It all goes together in a nice seamless mesh of mellow!
Surfing in Hawaii is a way of life for some people. Try as you might, addiction to riding Hawaii’s waves may take hold. Don’t fight it. Go with it… flow in harmony with the ocean’s pulse. See if it doesn’t have an effect on your personality… your life, the lives of your kids and spouse. I’ll bet it does you some good…
Oh, don’t miss the surfing video from Queens Beach, Oahu. Some laid back people!
What is the Shark Situation in Hawaii? More info here.
[Top image by Amanda, middle image by Courtney Nash, bottom image by Frank Kovalchek at Flickr.com Creative Commons]