One day after class, I was watching the waves in a friend’s dorm room and we groaned to each other about the low quality of the waves this semester as we analyzed every peak that looked surfable. As we continued to converse, he brought up something that I never really thought about, something he described as the “flow state.” Essentially, the flow state is the frame of mind you enter while you are surfing where your only worry in the world is surfing. You just paddle, stand up, drop in, turn, cutback, kickout, paddle back out. All other distractions on land suddenly float away as you ride a dazzling blue peak in the water.
My friend and I parted ways and I decided to paddle out for a session to try and clear my head of a hectic school day. It was slightly overcast but the water was extremely glassy after days of high winds destroying the surf. I paddled out at 2 p.m., expecting to only be out for a short while. As I was surfing, I started to realize that the crowd of people had changed since I had started. I watched surfers paddle out and paddle back in and realized that I had been surfing for a while. I asked someone for the time and they told me it was 5 p.m.
“Three hours?” I thought to myself. I would have guessed I had been out for maybe an hour, but I came to realize that I was in a total flow state, just as my friend and I talked about a few hours earlier. The cloudy day also contributed to me losing track of time. I had become so immersed in the waves that I completely forgot about everything else. Everytime I caught a wave, I would paddle back out for more, not even entertaining a thought of paddling back in.
After realizing the time, I got knocked out of my flow state and decided to paddle back in and start on some homework. I came back to my room and felt at ease. All of my stresses with school and life had been wiped clean by the water. I believe that this is the true “flow state,” allowing oneself to be completely immersed in surfing (or any activity) that one reaches a sense of clarity and happiness.
Philosopher Peter Kreeft wrote about this experience of losing yourself while surfing in his book “I Surf, Therefore I Am: A Philosophy of Surfing.” The book is about the philosophical and existential reasons why everyone should surf.
“It was like dancing. When you dance, you just fall into the music. You forget yourself. Well, in surfing, the wave is the music,” Kreeft said.
Like Kreeft said, surfing is like playing music. It is a very stylistic and expressive activity. The waves allow a person to flow through the water, and through the process, it can be easy to lose yourself. Personally, this process gives me a great amount of clarity and happiness. However, this process is not an easy one; surfing is often difficult and frustrating, leaving you at the mercy of the ocean. There are those moments when surfing brings you an immense amount of peace. Drawing a beautiful line down the face of a wave while complete chaos occurs behind you is often cathartic. It’s a relentless challenge that endlessly rewards you with a sense of elation and serenity.
Written By: Steve Anderson