Is surfing a display of vanity?

November 25, 2019 | Surfing
Surfing: a display of vanity or an artistic expression | Photo: Shutterstock

In competitive surfing, the winner is the one who shines brighter.

As it happens with any other individual sport, surfing puts you in the spotlight. You are watched, judged, and scored for your performance.

If you perform well, you are praised. If you are very good at what you do, you quickly become an idol, a legend, within and outside the sport's boundaries.

Surfers are more exposed to this phenomenon because they perform and compete in outdoor public spaces. People stop on their tracks to watch them, marveling as they ride wave after wave.

The very nature of surfing, the graceful way surfers move in the water, their astounding maneuvers, the way they magically emerge out of a tube, it all brings a sense of beauty that naturally draws people in.

Surfing is beautiful. It's the ballet of the waves.

It's a display of strength, agility, and instinct. As they glide through the waves, riders put on a whimsical show.

Surfers: the dancers of the waves | Photo: Shutterstock

Showing Off or Expressing Themselves?

Because of this, surfing can easily be labeled as a "show off" kind of outdoor activity, and surfers seen as someone who acts to impress others.

They are often portrayed as shallow or unintelligent people who only think about the next session, or the cool guys/girls with a fabulous physique and golden hair, who spend most of their time at the beach.

How impressive surfing may seem, every surfer knows this is not true, nor does it relate to the nature of the activity.

In the early days, surfing was central in tribal life. The tribal leader was the best surfer. And many times, he was a beach bum.

However, more than a display of power, at that time, surfing had a strong spiritual weight, so it was never a matter of pride, but a thing of the heart.

Yes, you celebrate enthusiastically when you pull off a great move, just as an Olympic athlete would when they break a historical mark, or any other human being when they achieve something amazing.

And yes, you get a little proud when you notice people watching you on a good day.

But surfing is a dance, a communion with the ocean.

It's for you, first and foremost, because it makes you feel good. It makes you better. People applauding you or not is a consequence you cannot control.

Surfing: are we doing it for ourselves or to impress others? | Photo: Shutterstock

Competitive vs. Free Surfing

When surfing became competitive, evaluation parameters had to be introduced, and the sense of performing for others to see was reinforced.

When you compete, you are no longer surfing for yourself. All of a sudden, you are doing it for other people to see and judge.

Does being a professional surfer make you vain? Not really. It makes you competitive, which is a whole different story.

Soul surfing, free surfing, or entering a surfing contest brings different feelings for those who practice them.

The illusion of vanity comes from the combination of competition with the beautiful nature of the surf, but it's nothing more than a misleading label.

Don't let the expectations of others condition your passion. Surfing is a mood booster, a happy place, a song for the soul.

Whether you are competing or just having fun, do it for the right reasons, respecting others, and the magnificent ocean which provided you this gift.

Be grateful and kind, guided by the Spirit of Aloha. Only you know the feeling.


Words by Ana Costa

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