The Spirituality of…Surfing? Finding God in the Waves

“You call me out upon the waters, the great unknown where feet may fail.  And there I find You in the mystery.  In oceans deep, my faith will stand.”

There are many times and places in our lives where one is able to encounter Christ.  The most obvious are places where Christ and spirituality are the main purpose, such as Mass, Adoration, Bible studies, in Churches, in Christian music, etc.  However, sometimes encountering Him in our day-to-day lives or in our hobbies can be much more difficult.  Think about this.  How much of our days do we really spend in prayer? And how present is God in our thoughts and actions? Most of us are pretty busy, so it makes sense that we don’t sit in Church all day and pray.  Here’s the thing.  When we are busy, God does not stay home or stay in Church.  He is with us every step of the way.  He is at every class, every doctor’s appointment, every soccer game, every ballet class, every piano lesson, every shift at work, every drive, etc.  He is at every party, every camping trip, every concert.  He is with us when we are grocery shopping, cleaning, running errands, walking the dog, browsing the internet, eating, sleeping, and so much more.  I think you get it by now: He literally does not and will not leave you.  He is not put on pause every time we do something that is not considered “religious” or “holy.”  He is constantly on play, just sometimes at a lower volume, which leads me to my main point: how can we hear God and feel His presence when we are out in the world doing the varied things that we love to do? Well, obviously I cannot write on every single activity and how to find God in it.  But I thought I would share one of my favorite hobbies and how I have encountered Christ in it.

I have been a surfer for around thirteen years now.  There are so many things that I enjoy about surfing, from the adrenaline rush I get when a promising wave is approaching, to the flying sensation I get when I’m riding a good wave all the way in, to the way the water wakes me up if it’s early in the morning, or the way the water cools me down when I’m going in the afternoon or evening.  But there is so much more to the experience of surfing that I enjoy, and on a much deeper level than thrills, fun, and comfort.

First of all, surfboards can be a bit heavy, especially long boards.  My short board isn’t that heavy at all, but it still is a bit awkward to carry, especially as I’m walking through sand and then through shallow water, not to mention that wetsuits can be pretty tight and restricting.  So, when I finally am about up to my hips in the water, I lay down my board and paddle out, as opposed to continuing to carry the board.  When I set down the board to hop on and paddle, it is a huge feeling of relief.  Before I hop all the way on, I usually dunk myself all the way into the water once first.

When I submerge myself into the water, it feels as though all of my troubles, all of my stresses, all of my fears, anxieties, everything, just washes away.  It isn’t necessarily a permanent cleansing of those negativities, but it is a way to clear my head, at least for the time being, and with that clarity, I am able to experience Christ in a profound way.  No blog post could ever do justice to this, but I will try to do my best to explain what I experience.

Once I have gotten completely wet from head to toe, I lie out onto the board and begin paddling out towards the waves.  Everything around me goes quiet.  The only sounds I can hear are the waves crashing around me and in the distance, my hands paddling, my own breathing, and my board lightly bouncing up and then down as I paddle through the capillary waves (basically the first tiny swells that are caused by the wind blowing onto the ocean).  It is especially quiet when I go early in the morning (before 7:00 AM), as there aren’t usually people running around and playing on the beach at that time.  But, even when they are, there is something magical that happens when I step into liquid.

So all of the sounds disappear, and I am left with this very peaceful silence and feeling of isolation.  I suddenly become aware of things that I don’t usually think about, like breathing.  There is something about that serenity…It’s like it’s just me, God, and the ocean.  And since all of my anxieties and worries and anything causing traffic in my brain disappears, I’m left with an openness to hearing what God wants me to hear, and thinking about what God wants me to think about — or, not thinking about what God doesn’t want me to think about.  That is so helpful, especially if I am worried about something.  We spend all of our time surrounded by sound and noise, whether it be music, people talking, texting or social media; I mean, think about the last time you were completely comfortable with absolutely no sound or contact with anyone or anything.

If I’m being completely honest, and I know I’m not only speaking for myself when I say this, a lot of times, being in the silence makes me feel uncomfortable or uneasy or awkward.  I don’t even always realize how often I try and block out the silence.  But if we are ever to hear God’s will for our life, or even just His comfort or advice for something we may be going through, we need to clear out the noise and listen just to Him with no distractions.  That is something that I am able to do when I surf.  It is meditative.  Just thinking about how small I am, and how infinite the ocean seems, and how infinite God actually is, and how unconditional His love is.  Like, it is hard to imagine that Someone’s love for me can be bigger than the ocean, which seems to have no end when you’re in there.  But it does have an end, as all things do, except for God.  God’s love has no end.  Which brings me to the second part of what I experience when I’m surfing.

Not only am I able to better hear God and what He is saying to me, but I also am reminded of all that He does for me, for all of us, and all that He has blessed us with.  I am filled with this awareness of things that I seldom think about…The beautiful skies that are always different, every single morning, day, and night… The body we humans have been blessed with, carefully thought out with so many different parts for different purposes, from our eyes to be able to see His masterpieces down to each individual finger and toe… The animals and creatures, from the birds in the sky to the tiny hermit crabs underneath the sand… The familiar smell of kelp and sandy wetsuits, the salty taste when you swallow a bit of the water, and how refreshing it is when you drink a bottle of non-saltwater after a long surf… Everything.

And not only that, but it reminds me that there is so much more to life than me, myself, and I.  In the ocean alone, I am just a teeny tiny speck.  So in the entire world… or the entire universe… I am so so so so much smaller.  I’m not saying that we are each insignificant.  I am saying that we are each an important part of something, and that if we don’t care for all of the other parts (everyone else), that is neglecting everything but a tiny morsel.  We need to help one another in this crazy walk we call life.  When I’m isolated and in the ocean, I am reminded of the other people in my life and the fact that they are all going through stuff too, and that, while my issues matter, they are so small in comparison to all of the world’s troubles put together.  God carries all of the troubles and sufferings of the world.  He also carries all of our joys, so if we want to experience joy, we need to experience Christ whenever we can.  That mindset alone helps me to leave some of those anxieties, even as I head back in and call it a day at the end of a surf, and replace them with feelings of joy and appreciation and an innermost calm, as well as a sense of purpose to help the people in my life who are also struggling.

I could go on forever and ever talking about everything that goes on in my head when I’m surfing, but that would make this blog post much too long.  Instead, I challenge you to try and encounter Him in something that you love to do, whether it be in dance, music, academics, sports, parenting, whatever it may be.  He is always there and He is always available to be found, it just takes a bit of effort on our parts sometimes.  With surfing, it is pretty easy because you go in the water with nothing but your board, yourself, and your wetsuit.  But a lot of times, we have our phones, our computers, and other distractions.  Try to find ways to not let yourself be distracted.  If you’re at dance or a game or a music lesson, unplug.  We don’t need to be connected to our devices at all times.  If that is too big of a step to start with, try a baby step.  Challenge yourself to not take your phone out whenever you are out with friends or family.  Instead, focus on them, on what you appreciate about them, on how you can learn from them.  You may find yourself encountering Christ just by being completely present and intentional in all of your in-person interactions.  You may also find Christ by doing something you love with a spirit of reflection, gratitude, and perspective of your relationship with God and the world.

  “And I will call upon Your name, and keep my eyes above the waves, when oceans rise.  My soul will rest in Your embrace, for I am Yours, and You are mine.”

(Lyrics at the beginning and end are from the song “Oceans” by Hillsong UNITED. I highly recommend taking a listen if you haven’t heard it already!)

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