Think about it. That feeling only a surfer knows, it's kinda spiritual ain’t it?
A surfer’s life ticks many of the same boxes as a religious person’s life. Surfers have gods, sacred texts, rituals, pilgrimages and a deep devotion to our primary pursuit in life - surfing.
I know many surfers hold strong religious beliefs, and I mean no disrespect. Religious surfers often have a deeper understanding of the spiritual value in surfing than atheists.
This is an attempt to spark a spiritual awakening in surfers who are non-believers, agnostics, or just to lazy to think about it...
Do surfers have gods? Hell yeah! Surfers have a whole hierarchy of deities.
At the top is the all powerful Mother Nature. Like every good mother, she organises the elements to keep us fed, watered and happy. After the chores are done she whips up a bit of wind and hey presto! We can have hours of fun riding waves. Thanks Mum.
"Kelly Slater, our mortal guru. He performs miracles on water and has an aura of invincibility..."
Then there are the Greek and Roman gods who manage the oceans. Neptune (Roman) and Poseidon (Greek) rule freshwater, oceans, earthquakes and … horses. Which is why our glorious crashing waves are often depicted as white horses.
Then there’s our mortal guru, Kelly Slater. Eleven times World Champion, he performs miracles on water, and has an aura of invincibility. While he may lack the charisma of your average cult leader, you can’t help believing he’s the chosen one.
Faith and Worship
Worship generally involves sacred texts, holy places, religious leaders and regular rituals. Surfing’s the same.
Every surfer worth their salt has a copy of the sacred Stormrider Guide. The treasured text holds mystical prophecies of average wave heights, sea temperatures and travel costs.
Of course, these prophecies are rarely fulfilled when we make our pilgrimage to holy places such as Pipeline, Jefferys Bay, Bells Beach, Malibu and Fistral. But we keep the faith.
"Surfing is full of ritual. We pray for waves, check weather conditions and congregate at our local place of worship"
Surfing’s not short of leaders. Kelly Slater, Steph Gilmore, Layne Beachley and Mark Richards are all revered as multiple world champions.
Duke Kahanamoku the original surf missionary, Eddie Aikau the big wave crusader and Bethany Hamilton the inspirational saint, have all lead the surfing faithful.
Surfing is full of ritual. We regularly pray for waves. We check weather conditions and surf forecasts five times a day. When blessed with a swell, we congregate at our local place of worship and perform our waveriding rites.
There can be no doubt of a surfer’s devotion to the pursuit of surfing.
They are prepared to sacrifice money, career, comfortable accommodation, friendship and even love - all to attain a few seconds of being propelled toward shore by the ocean’s energy.
In extreme cases, surfers reject all non-essential possessions in the search… for the perfect wave. These surfing monks spend a lifetime wandering the globe looking for surf nirvana.
Despite living in financial and emotional poverty, a surfer maintains a contentment and life balance that satisfies the soul. If that’s not spiritual devotion, I don’t know what is.
What surfing does for its followers
Surfing provides culture, community, identity, even a set of rules to loosely abide by.
Surf culture sews together threads from history, people, art, music, fashion, literature and film, to create a vibrant tapestry celebrating a surfer’s lifestyle.
We enjoy being part of a global community. From Bali to Biarritz, surfers spontaneously gather in groups to share wave reports and exaggerated monologues of misadventure.
"When you ask a surfer “What do you do?", they’ll reply “I surf"..."
Our love and respect of the ocean binds us. We look out for each other when it gets rough, in and out of the water.
We have a strong sense of identity. When you ask a surfer “What do you do?", they’ll reply “I surf". Being a surfer is more important than a job title, or other functions we fulfil between surfs.
Rules of surfing are mostly unwritten, such as don’t drop in, snake another surfer or pee in your wetsuit.
But there are definitely rules surfers abide by, to surf and live in harmony with others. Perhaps the best attempt at defining these rules are in Shaun Tomson’s book: Surfer’s Code.
To sum up...
Surfers have a ‘way of life’ that is spiritual and distinct from other religions.
Ok, our gods are borrowed and sacred texts are more ‘guides’, but there’s no denying surfers have a unique culture, strong sense of identity, worldwide community and unquestionable devotion.
As a young man who was wise beyond his years once said, “surfing’s the source, it’ll change your life" [Point Break], and he’s right.
I’m not saying surfing should be a religion, but I reckon it could be a religion and a really good one too. Are you in?