Surfing originated in Western Polynesia over 3,000 years ago. But it was only after Polynesians settled in Hawai’i that it became the popular sport of epic proportions for which it is known today. Ancient Hawaiian kings relished in high reputations for their surfing skills. Through the ages, Hawaiian surfers have developed custom boards, and they have even created their own prayers to bless the ocean, waves, and the ride, as tribute to this popular pastime.
Nowadays, surfing is not just a sport. Many people surf for a variety of reasons as they find their own connection to the ocean.
healing and inspiration
Otis Carey, surfer and Aboriginal artist, found his connection to the ocean when he was a child. A descendent of the Gumbaynggirr and Bundjalung clans from New South Wales, he surfed as a way to cope with the discrimination he met in Australia. “Surfing kept me out of trouble and away from negative things. The ocean is so positive and has a lot of healing elements.” His connection to the water is strong: “My people’s totem is the ocean, so it’s a very spiritual place for me.” Today, the ocean inspires his paintings that combine his Aboriginal roots and the motion and layers of the ocean. He still surfs, saying, “If I need to be lifted up, I’ll go out into the ocean, go for a surf.”
peace and trusting yourself
Claire Cranfield is under considerable daily stress as the operations manager for a hair salon in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood. She found her connection to the ocean while searching for an outlet to clear her mind from her demanding job. She realized, through surfing, she could escape from the stress. “It’s also very peaceful just being alone with the waves—you’re out there by yourself in the water, but the nice thing is that there are people out there too, so you never feel that alone.” Surfing the waves requires the ability to make snap decisions with each passing moment, which has helped Claire learn to trust her intuition. “When you’re feeling that insecurity and you’re going for a wave, you can’t think you’re not going to make it. If you don’t visualize success for yourself, you won’t achieve it.”
But surfing is more than just a release from the pressures of life. The art and activity of surfing have found their way into the healing world too.
The Jimmy Miller Foundation, based in California, helps people with mental and emotional illnesses benefit from healing Ocean Therapy. It was founded on the memory of Jimmy Miller, a surfer who traveled the world to search for great waves and to spread the word of the surfing experience. The Jimmy Miller Foundation continues his legacy and teaches people to surf, enabling them to connect to the ocean and develop their self-esteem and self-confidence. Veterans who have come to the Jimmy Miller Foundation have said, “Surfing saved my life.”
As a source of healing, stress release, confidence, and character building, the ocean—and surfing—offers a special place where, for thousands of years, people have retreated to reconnect to nature, heal their spirit, and just have some great fun. It’s a sacred place; a place that is powerful, yet vulnerable to human interference. But it doesn’t have to be so.
Surfers David Stover, Ben Kneppers, and Kevin Ahearn realized one day how much rubbish was in the ocean. “It kind of blew our minds. You’re sitting in this unspoiled place with beautiful waves coming in and everything so pristine, and then you get out in the water and are surrounded by trash.” Moved by the prevalence of pollution, they founded the Chilean company, Bureo, meaning “waves” in the Mapuche language, and began the cleanup. Fishermen in Chile regularly discard their nets into the ocean as it’s too costly for them to take them to landfills (not that that’s good for the planet either). Bureo saw a solution. They buy the old nets, helping the local economy, and reprocess them into plastic pellets that are used to make skateboards and other consumer goods. Stover says, that In two years “the company has taken 10 tons of potential ghost nets out of the ocean and made them into skateboards.”
A simple idea, a simple solution. It helps the locals, and it helps the oceans and its inhabitants.
Are you a wave-chasing, life-long surfer? A beginner in the craft? Do you have a unique relationship with Mother Ocean you’d like to share with us, maybe a story about your first experience out on the water, or how the ocean has changed or affected your life? You don’t have to be a surfer to bask in the beauty of our blue seas, maybe you are a dedicated beach-bum, a sea-kayaker, or an avid paddle-boarder. Maybe you like to just float in the water every chance you get to feel weightless and free (like me).
We want to hear from YOU, ecofeminists, so please feel free to share any thoughts or inspirations you have about the magic water that gives us life.