Which came first, yoga or surfing?
In my world, it’s a little like the chicken before the egg conundrum. Were we riding slabs of wood on waves or stretching our bodies under trees to find inner peace first?
My hunch is that both ancient practices entered into the world around the same time.
Surfing and yoga officially high-five’d each other on the calendar when the United Nations announced June 21st as the International Day of Yoga, which happens to fall the day after International Surfing Day on June 20th.
Thinking back to when my surf-yoga obsession started, I am not surprised these two practices have become so intertwined on and off the calendar. I have felt the greatest sense of being in the flow, or getting into the moment by shutting down the mind, through my surfing and yoga practice.
I was immediately hooked on both after a trip down to California where my first day of surfing was epic, to say the least. After being pushed into waves by pro-surfer Dan Malloy, we went to Jack Johnson’s house for a barbecue, and then to a Ben Harper concert where Ben’s mother came out on stage to jam with him—she was amazing! Stoked and confused, we were invited backstage to witness Jack Johnson meeting Ben Harper for the first time.
Immediately after this trip, I stumbled on to Surfer Yogi Eoin Finn’s Power Yoga on VHS (yes, a VHS, during the days of late fees, and having to be kind and rewind your movies) and began seeing the connections. As Bikram Choudry says, “You have no choice, it’s like an Indian marriage,” I felt destiny had brought me, yoga and surfing together.
So what is all the fuss about the Surf-Yoga connection? Why do surfers eventually flock to the mat and more and more yogis taking their practice to the ocean?
First, let’s get the hard stuff out of the way, the darker side of the connection.
Countless articles are written about what yoga really is, with some even trying to trademark it. I get it. When we get up close and personal with yoga, we almost feel like we invented it. It was designed for us and we for it.
Surfers sometimes display this possessive behaviour too, even staking their claim on something as free flowing as water like the waves we ride. This is called localism, a special condition that affects (predominantly young male) surfers who try to keep visiting surfers off their local waves by intimidating these visitors. Clearly these surfers didn’t get the memo. The waves belong to no one; Mother Nature is pumping out waves with no strings attached!
As a surfer-yogini crossbreed—a surfini, as I like to call us—we tend to avoid this behaviour because we discovered the magical, calming power of yoga. We use our yoga practice as a tool to quiet the mind allowing us to experience life in the moment, leading to a feeling of interconnectedness. Through our practice we connect with our true Self and to universal consciousness.
So how does surfing offer the same potential to quiet our minds when faced with a giant 10-foot wave and arms are feeling a little tired? Right. There is the fear factor more commonly connected to the experience of surfing. Likely a beginner surfer’s mind will be screaming something, “Oh sh*t/Oh my god/What the hell am I doing out here?”
But overcoming this fear is part of our surfing practice and spiritual journey.
Surfing has, in fact, offered me the most profound teachings during these moments. On top of this, surfing like yoga offers a feeling of interconnectedness to help us get into the feeling of flow.
This sense of flow happens almost every time I’m sitting out on my board, feeling deep connection to the ocean, the air, animals and everything surrounding me. This connection goes so deep it catches up with my ego, pushing it aside. It feels like my inner self starts connecting outwardly to every living thing around me, opening up this strong sense of oneness with nature.
Often when I’m catching a wave there is no time to think—my mind can’t keep up with a fast moving wave. At this moment my monkey mind actually shuts up (relief!).
My surfing practice, much like my yoga practice, teaches me to move in ways to find the balance on the board and on the mat without having to use my mind. So I experience the practice through moving by feeling versus moving by thinking.
It is similar to that “no-mind” zone we get into when we meditate. Surfing is a moving meditation to me, just like yoga. And with this potent combo of feeling one with nature and feeling my way onto my board to move with the wave, I find myself flowing in the moment with stoke and bliss. The ripple effect of this action goes inward, allowing me to absorb nature into the very core of my being.
“The surfing journey is about reaching outwards and embracing the world. Taking in deeply how the moon affects the tides, the patterns of light on the water, looking at weather systems from New Zealand, Japan or Alaska that will soon affect the swells on our beaches, the animals swimming beneath you. If you allow them to, they profoundly open you up to that same powerful feeling of deep connection with all beings that we experience on the yoga path. It’s the same destination, just a really different way of getting there. Each path enhancing the other.” ~ Eoin Finn
In yoga, Prana refers to the energy/breath that gives us life. At the smallest level, Prana also comes in the form of a wave—and although we can’t see it, we can feel it. In essence, we are riding this energy when practicing yoga. The only difference between this kind of energy wave and that of an ocean wave is that we can physically see the ocean wave.
Regardless of what you are riding, it is all going to lead you down the same path of flow.
This feeling of flow is addictive, juicy and for many, a life changing experience.
It’s not as important to me that these two Internationally celebrated days occur on the same weekend, that is just a fun coincidence.
It is the intrinsic connection between surfing and yoga that convinces me they came into existence around the same time and that they were meant to be put together in our lifetimes: compared to each other, complementing each other and most definitely written about over and over to unlock the mysteries of how they let us experience this sensation of flow.
So the only question remaining is, to flow or not to flow?
Author: Stacey Jones
Editor: Emily Bartran
Photo: Author’s Own