How surfing made me quit smoking

March 9, 2020 | Surfing
Surfing: waves riding and cigarettes are not compatible | Photo: Shutterstock

Surfing and smoking don't mix. But until I realized that, I had to let myself go through several mistakes, take critical decisions, and choose a pathway to liberation.

My name is Luke. I was born in 1977, somewhere in Europe.

Today, I am a healthy individual in my 40s. I am 5'7,'' and my weight is relatively stable - around 140-145 pounds (63-66 kilograms).

I bought my last pack of cigarettes around 2008, so it's been over a decade since I last gave money away to tobacco companies.

My story is similar to thousands of surfers and sportspeople. But the journey was long, and the outcome could've been radically different.

When I was a kid, like so many, I was really into sports. I loved playing football (soccer), but I was also into swimming, tennis, basketball, and volleyball.

Although I was skinny, light-boned, and small, I never had a problem mingling with the big guys because I was good at it, and they often invited me to join them.

My parents always led me toward an outdoor life, both in urban and coastal areas, so I was pretty much involved in physical activity until I hit 16, 17, or 18.

I played competitive tennis for a while, learned to swim early, and always got top grades in physical education classes at school.

So, I could say I was a sports-driven kid.

Smoking: each cigarette has 7,000 harmful chemical compounds | Photo: Shutterstock

First Waves: The Pre-Smoking Era

But, my life changed when I was 13.

Between late 1990 and early 1991, A friend took a surf magazine to school and showed it to me.

The pictures featuring surfers drawing beautiful lines in blue waves, and getting barreled in crystal clear waters had a huge impact on my mindset.

I wanted to do that, too. I was looking forward to embracing that lifestyle.

And so, my friend and I asked our parents if we could get our first surfboards. Luckily, both ended up buying two Mike Davis beauties.

They were heavy, but they did their job. A few weeks later, we were already standing up and riding our first waves.

Cigarettes: they seriously affect surfing | Photo: Shutterstock

The Cigarette Years

Cigarettes arrived in my life a few years later.

I remember studying for hours inside caffés with a pack of cigarettes in front of me.

I don't know exactly when, but probably when I got really into music and bands and music magazines.

Eventually, when I was 16, I ended up forming a band.

I was never a teenager interested in drugs and bad companies, but some of my best friends, school friends, and cousins enjoyed ciggies here and there.

So, when I got trapped by smoking, the rock and roll lifestyle had prevailed over surfing.

I was fortunate enough to see Nirvana play live but, by that time, I had already developed an addiction to nicotine.

As my band started getting media attention, I was smoking more cigarettes than riding waves at my favorite surf break.

In 1995, I got into university and was living 75 miles (120 kilometers) from home (120 kilometers), in a less-controlled environment.

For five years, parties, beers, and cigarettes put an end to my surfing activities.

I don't remember enjoying a single surf session during my college years, but I recall smoking an average of 20 cigarettes per day.

Interestingly, neither my father nor my mother smokes or has smoked in the past.

Wave riding: only a surfer knows the feeling | Photo: Shutterstock

A Life-Changing Question

One day, my drummer and I were having a beer and watching the 2000 Summer Olympic sailing races and got fascinated by the different tactics used to harness the power of the wind.

So, a few weeks later, we were already having our first sailing lessons in a Raquero boat. We love it right away and soon evolved to the Vaurien and Laser classes.

At least, sports were back in my life. But I was still smoking. And dating non-smokers, which will always be a positive pressure on nicotine addicts.

My first polyurethane surfboard was stacked on top of an old closet for years, and with a damaged tail.

All of a sudden, one of my best friends asks me a question that would change my life: "Luke - why don't you repair your surfboard? I know I guy who could do that for you."

I acquiesced. Why not? Why shouldn't I give it a second chance?

A week later, my surfboard was ready to get wet. And I can still remember the exact location, the weather and ocean conditions I had when I paddled back again after years of tobacco-driven days.

The feeling of duck diving and catching my first wave of the century was indescribable. It felt so good and so refreshing that I promised I would never stop surfing again.

I got back to my surfing life, and I was still smoking.

However, as I increased the number of weekly sessions, I realized I was having a few problems, too.

The more I surfed, the more I felt pain and tightness in my chest.

I was also struggling to breathe properly and started having to cut my time in the water. Something was not right with my body, and I knew the source of the problem.

I had regained my love of surfing, but the cigarettes were not allowing me to enjoy the pleasures of the ocean and its perfect waves to the fullest.

That's when I realized that I had to make a choice. Nicotine was severely affecting me as a surfer.

A Split Path

My surfing was getting better and better.

I felt that I had always belonged to the sea and that I could still recover the time lost to cigarettes and alcohol.

I didn't quit smoking in one day. It was a relatively long and gradual process of losing the pleasure of smoking and finding something that filled that gap.

So, I started noticing subtle yet positive changes in my lung capacity and breathing power.

Eventually, I realized that I had to make a choice.

I had to choose between cigarettes and waves, a chemically-infested body, or a healthy lifestyle, natural habits, or addictive behaviors.

I wanted to be a surfer and live according to its original principles, so there was no turning back - I would put cigarettes away.

The decision was easy to make, even though the transition was not uncomplicated. But I could say it was smooth and entirely doable.

Today, I am ashamed of the 15 years I spent inhaling thousands of harmful compounds. And I have to confess I became an anti-smoking crusader.

I can't stand the smell of smoke, not even in open-air spaces, and I seem to have forgotten why people put a cigarette in their mouth.

I totally respect a person's right to smoke (or vape), but I must admit I do feel they are slowly killing themselves.

Surfing and smoking are not compatible. So, thank you - oceans and waves - for welcoming me back to the place where I belong.


Words by Luke Parker | Father, Surfer and Entrepreneur