Surfing or The Art of Opportunity

2018: This is the year of learning the art of opportunity; of learning to ride the waves life rolls up in front of us; of using the forces of the tide. This year, let’s not stay under the surface, but be on it, because it’s worth being up there, on top of the currents: for the thrill, for the joy, for the flow. Because we are brave and dare to balance.

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(Unpacking and getting changed in Matosinhos)

Let our teacher be the ocean, and our chalkboard be the surfboard. There is no better lessons than the ones the ocean teaches. The ocean is vast, its energy unbound – so much bigger than anything we could produce ourselves. We can try to stay away from it, avoid it as much as possible. That’s one way of dealing with it. Go elsewhere or dive really deep to stay safe. But once we are in the waves, we can’t fight the ocean – ever. We have to get to know it, become its friend, take it as a partner. It takes guts to partner up with something so much stronger than oneself – but this is what the thrill of opportunity is about.

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(Matosinhos beach in January 2018)

Your material: you and the board. You: bones, muscles, determination. The board: Nose, tail, fins, skeg, leash, deck, stringer, rocker, rails, bottom. On the sand and in the water. It looks foolish to lie down on the sand and paddle in the dry, with no water. Step one, two, three. I never thought, it made much sense. But it does. It brings order and precision into a situation, in which one can easily lose one’s head. In which you otherwise panic. In which you get quickly overwhelmed. In which everything goes so fast, you lose control. On the sand you are in control. Things are still steady. You can take the time you need to rub the movements into your muscles. You need to create a path, an automatic, intuitive response to the force you’ll be working with. You need to not have to think about yourself anymore, so you can fully devote your attention to the wave – when you are in it. Your absolute confidence in three simple steps will become the basis for all the challenges to come. Lie on the board, belly in its centre. Then start air paddling. Imagine you are catching speed. Look behind your shoulder, see the wave coming. Tense your body, keep your legs tight together, then it’s time to move your arms, put them at your sides to the hight of your belly, push your body up, your feet are stretched, their upper parts touch the board. Then bend your first leg and step it forward (foot looking to the rail of the board). The next step it the most crucial: jump-step your second leg forward, your foot horizontal to the board, while letting go of your arms at the sides. Look up, open your arms. Do it again, again, again, until you don’t have to think about it any more.

Now, the serious stuff begins. Attach the leash to your ankle, it needs to be tight, the umbilical cord between you and the board – hard to say who’s the baby, you or it. Grab the board in the middle and hold it either vertical or horizontal. You’ll see what’s more comfortable. Take it easy, don’t grab on and lose all the energy in carrying. Always look for the least resistance of you and yourself in the water as you walk and swim into the waves, against the force. Think of it as walking up a hill. Any extra weight and resistance will make it harder, so push or lift the board gently over the waves and jump over them or dive under them (depending how big they are) yourself .

Choosing the wave: Decision making and readiness

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Waves come and go. Not all of them are good ones for surfing, and not all of them are suited to you and your ability to surf. And even, if they are perfectly suited to you – maybe you aren’t ready to surf them in this moment. Maybe you are lacking energy, focus. Sometimes you wait too long to take a wave, you overthink it, you see the wave far ahead and you are so keen on taking it, too keen on it, that, when you finally meet up with it, things don’t work out. Sometimes you decide on a whim, and its too late, you weren’t prepared enough, not in the right angle, position to deal with the wave. And sometimes waves hit you by surprise, you take a quick, good decision and have an incredible, if also unexpected ride. This is about decision making. And about making sure that you are in the position to catch a wave and be ready to ride it. Being ready opens up more opportunities to catch waves. Seek to be alert, and not too keen, tense, not too much in anticipation (you lose energy), not too relaxed, deferring waves (you lose opportunity and flow). You need to be in the right place, of course. Don’t wait for waves in a pond or in the still water. You need a place rich of opportunities, matched to your calibre, and a maybe higher – so you have something to work towards. Soon you’ll know the cycle of waves, of opportunities. You’ll learn at which point you enter the pull of the wave, where to position yourself. Which waves suit you and when to start the dance with them.

Gaining speed: Willpower, determination, focus

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(Surfers in Matosinhos)

After the decision you usually go for it and paddle. Sometimes, however, you have to pull back, revise your decision. There is no rule that you have to stick to it. Often enough you realise that you should have set off earlier, that the wave is different from what you expected. But for now you are in the right position, you are focused on getting speed. You are neither scared of the wave, nor of the effort that you’ll have to put into surfing it, shortly. You embrace it, are determined with positive anticipation. Paddle to boost the speed for when the wave meets you. Your body is as tense as the board, you adapt to its hard resin texture, because you don’t want to be bent by the wave, but pushed into one direction, clearly. Flexibility is not an option at this point. Your body is firmly determined from head to toe. 

Lifting yourself up and jumping: Precision, strength and control

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(Sunset in Porto, Foz)

The next lesson is all about precision, control, and flow. It is about finding the perfect  moment for lifting yourself up and jumping to the stand – if you are aiming for surfing on your two feet. Maybe you’d rather just kneel or lie down. But if it’s the two feet, every movement matters – because every movement is amplified by the force of the wave and your body is confused (or thrilled) by the sudden speed. Lifting yourself up, stepping forward and jumping while letting your hands go has to become your second nature so that you can perform the movement with total precision and without losing your head over it. And you need to be strong, have a strong body that can take care and handle the motion. If you are lacking strength and focus, this will be the moment, when you’ll realise it. It is a lesson for will power and self believe also: You can’t doubt your strength and you can’t hope for anyone else to lift you up that board. It has to come from yourself, and you have to believe in it. An explosion of controlled yes-ness. If you are full of excitement and joy for the wave that follows, you will stand; if you think you won’t enjoy the wave, you’ll fall off.

Standing tall: Confidence and cheekiness

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There you are. You have mastered the jump and you are standing up. Standing is not standing as we know it from the land. Standing is an active thing, if its on the water, one that constantly runs parallel with falling. You are standing in a partnership with the wave. It is a performance, a dance, so you have to be a performer, too. Performers don’t look at themselves, when they are on stage. They lift their heads, look into the audience and take charge of the moment. At the same time, this is not one and the same performance on repeat. Each moment is new, so you need to feel into the wave, sense it with your legs and body, talk to it, play with it. Never surrender to your own insecurity. Be cheeky. You don’t only have the right to do so, it is your job as a surfer and artist of opportunity. Confidence and control is what will make you stand – cheeky, controlled confidence.

The ride: Balance, movement, grace and playfulness

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(Standing up in Matosinhos)

Riding a wave is a downward movement, like sledging down a hill or downhill mountain biking. You are using energy that is given to you by our planetary physics, by gravity, the forces of the universe. But therefore you have to sign up to the rules physics, too. You have got to read the full contract and accept it fully. If you don’t, you’ll end up smashed. It’s easy and brutal. Don’t contradict a wave. Adapt. Movement with another force has to be learned. It is not about looking for the single, correct position of standing and resisting the movement of the wave. You are not a sculpture. Imagine a greek sculpture on a board – it could be extremely sublime and optimally carved, it could be perfect, but if you were a sculpture, you’d would fall off the board in no time. Now, imagine an animated character, a cartoon character. There are some moments, in which she might look as if she was about too fall off, but then – in the blink of an eye, she gets her balance back, before losing it again, of course. Always aim to get your balance back when you’ve lost it for a second, never accept the fall. The body needs to become agile, you need to let go of wanting to direct it with your own will. The wave is like a powerful rhythm that you can only dance to, if you don’t resist it. Follow the will of the wave and start working with it. Breath confidently, gaze straight and focus on balancing. Correct your mistakes, your imprecisions. And with your arms, be the conductor of the ocean. The wave can be cheeky, may want to throw you off like a rodeo horse. Don’t let it. But don’t be a bore either. Start playing, teasing, making things interesting. Just keep in mind: as long as your body doesn’t speak the language of the wave, as long as it resists the force of the opportunity, the play can’t truly begin, and you will be the greek sculpture, thrown off the board, drowned in the waves, smashed on the rocks. On the waves, elegance and grace lies in adaptation, in movement, and agility. This is what you need to focus on and take pleasure in, if you are looking to learn the art of opportunity. Don’t look for a point of ultimate stability, that is the wrong focus. You could stay on the land for that. Look for balancing the movement, for the joy of dancing with a bigger force. Enjoy the process, the flow, the thrill.

The end of the wave, the beginning of a new one: Stamina and waiting

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There is an end to every wave. And there is the next wave, also. Should I go back into the battle? Here we are learning not to even think about whether you want to catch the next wave and why. It is accepting that this is just what you do, and trusting that it is worth it. With every new wave you become more confident, whether you want it or not, with every wave, the sea, the board and your body create a closer bond. Just by doing it. Even, if your head can’t quite grasp, why you have been falling off the previous day and now, suddenly, you are standing – this is, what will be happening. Of course, you can get out of the water and stop bothering with waves. And there are times, where you should. But this is about learning the art of opportunity, isn’t it. So don’t think twice, just go back through the waves, make your way to where you think the waves are best for you. Is it in the spray, the white water, where they break, or is it further in, in the deeper, greener water, in the line up. Don’t rush back into the water, the waves will come. There is a fair amount of waiting involved – and don’t underestimate, how much energy waiting costs. As you wait you are pulled back and forth, you are brought out of position, have to realign yourself. But waiting can be the time to look around, you are in the sea, it is beautiful, you observe it and learn the language of its waves. You need stamina, strong arms, and you need to accept, that waiting for the opportunity is also part of it, that it is not a “waste of time”, but that you can’t go without it. Never face the sea alone. Be with others, perform with others, wait with other, support and cheer others, learn from others. Stick together, motivate each other, and keep an eye out for each other. Share waves, bananas and endorphin.

On land: Recharging

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(Surfivor Hostel living room)

Then, back home, feel the sea tingling on your skin, the bruises you have taken during the day, feel the sun burning on your cheeks, and the hole in your belly. Opportunities make us so very hungry. They drain our energy. And we can’t control how much we give, we’ve gotta give it all, we won’t even be asked. But we get it back in abundance, too. But in the end, we’ll need to re-charge, stock up resources, so that, the next day, we can surf the opportunity again, perform the ocean, enjoy the surface and be on top of things. It sounds all a little self-concerned, but actually: People love watching you ride these waves, you let them participate in the excitement from distance, without them having to get wet and take the risk. It is a performance that inspires and attracts. So there is nothing to feel bad about opportunities.


 

I learnt my lesson in Matosinhos, Porto (Pt), with Surfivor Surf Hostel in January 2018. I am a beginner of surfing, very much so. Maybe not such a beginner with opportunities. Thinking about surfing while surfing threw me off the waves more than once. But meta-surfing is a good thing to do while you are waiting for the next wave. Thank you, Andreia and Bruno for teaching me, and Moana, Cristian and Victor your company on the water – white and, very briefly, green.

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Picture taken from my room in the hostel.

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