As author Sarah Bakewell put it in her work, At The ExistentialistCafé, French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre found an interest in skiing because,“The snow itself changes underneath you, phenomenologically speaking. Instead of presenting itself as viscous and clinging, it becomes hard and smooth.” Bakewell goes on to tell her readers that Sartre was intrigued by then new sport of water skiing because, “Even on snow, you left a line of ski marks behind you. In water, you left nothing. That was the purest pleasure Sartre could imagine.” It is no stretch to say that Sartre would have been a fan of surfing for this very reason: it is pure, but simultaneously fleeting.
I, too, often get caught up in trying to quantify and hold on to surf experiences. I find myself constantly comparing waves and sessions. Some are better than others, but most are worse. But in surfing, unlike skiing, one leaves no line of ski marks behind. Instead, each wave is fleeting, literally disappearing under the surfer’s feet. And not to get overly sentimental, but that is tragically beautiful. To be almost effortlessly gliding down the face of a wave, only moments before its existence ceases to be.
In an era of Instagram clips and GoPro documentaries, I think it is important to surf without the concern of having an audience. Sharing the experience of surfing with friends can be, and often is, a beautiful thing. But at its core surfing is an individual pursuit. It is between the surfer and the ocean.
As a community, it is important to keep surfing pure. We can do so in a variety of ways, including picking up our trash, fighting development and investment that threatens the our ecosystem, and be eternally grateful for the opportunity to leave the last mark on a wave before it disappears forever.
Physically speaking, you should leave nothing behind in the water. In the mental sense, you should leave your stresses, anxieties, desires, and all those bad things associated with life in the ocean. I unload all my baggage and the ocean willingly accepts it. Gliding across water is surreal. When the physical mechanics are considered, it is almost an anomaly. It is a gift given by nature. Surfing is truly the purest pleasure.