Soul surfing: the quest for the purest and most perfect wave | Photo: Shutterstock

Soul surfing is a philosophical and spiritual concept first developed and introduced in the 1960s to define the sport - or activity - in its purest form.

As with many other sports, there is always an innate drive to seek and find the original and unadulterated values, virtues, and essence of something simultaneously special and fragile.

The roots of surfing are rich and culturally significant.

The practice of riding waves blends utility and pleasure, necessity and joy, and has been socially adopted by Polynesian and Peruvian societies for thousands of years.

So, when the sport of surfing became a commercial hit in the Southern California beach culture, some felt the need to detach themselves from the profit-oriented side that quickly emerged from it.

Surfing purists are often called soul surfers.

The expression "soul surfer" was first used to name a song by Johnny Fortune (1943-2006), a surf guitar hero from Warren, Ohio.

Soul surfers are the guardians of the ultimate joy of walking on water.

They (aim to) represent the sport's counterculture; they're an informal army of unarmed soldiers or missionaries that remind us of what, in the end, surfing is all about.

"Never defined by tenets or principles, soul surfing nonetheless came into its own in the mid-and late-1970s as the catchall opposition philosophy to professional surfing, which encompassed not only prize money competition but much of the surf industry and surf media," notes Matt Warshaw, author of "The Encyclopedia of Surfing."

Soul surfing: going back to the original roots of the sport | Photo: Shutterstock

New Generation Soul Surfers

Soul surfing wears many capes, and as Warshaw underlines, "some went much further with the concept than others."

Some moved inland to live in abandoned country farmhouses, where they grew vegetables and shaped their surfboards.

Others used intimidation and violence to keep their local surf spots free from strangers and outsiders - in other words, pure localism.

As time passed, some first-generation professional surfers quit the competition to embrace free surfing but kept their sponsorship deals intact.

In 2000, Sam George wrote an article in which he advocates the overconceptualization of the soul surfer.

"The perimeters of 'soul' in surfing have, for the past two generations, been stretched and shrunk and tugged like the rubber of an ill-fitting wetsuit," he noted.

"We're all soul surfers, and so there's no such thing as soul surfing."

However, the 21st century brought new topics to the table.

With the advent of social media, the pollution and degradation of the world's oceans, and the emergency of climate change, there's a new generation riding wooden fish surfboards and longboards.

There are new stars keeping their talent away from heat scores, viral posts, and YouTube videos.

So, what makes a soul surfer today? Here are a few hints:

Soul surfer: the endless search for the purest form of surfing | Photo: Shutterstock

1. The Surfer Who Doesn't Feel the Need to Compete

For many surfers, the competition represents the opposite of what surfing should be as an outdoor activity.

They have never competed in an amateur or professional event and believe that a competitive environment hinders real talent.

Soul surfers are often free surfers who ride waves for themselves and for for the pure joy of gliding across the surface of seawater without rules or any external constraints.

2. The Surfer Who Orders Custom-Made Surfboards From the Local Shaper

For a soul surfer, the board is a unique vehicle that should be hand-shaped by an experienced craftsman.

A purist enjoys talking to the local surfboard shaper and exchanging ideas on how the watercraft should be brought to life.

Surfboard shaping is an integral part of the concept of soul surfing.

3. The Surfer Who Feels the Need to Explore and Search for Uncharted Waves

"(...)Seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you."

The excerpt from The Bible is valid here. Soul surfers are explorers by Nature, and searching for the perfect wave is part of their ritual.

Soul surfers: a group of passionate wave riders who fight against the commercialization of the sport | Photo: Shutterstock

4. The Surfer Who Refuses to Wear or Buy Surfwear

You won't easily find a soul surfer wearing t-shirts, boardshorts, and sandals with some of the world's most recognized surf brands stamped on them.

They might embrace local and niche companies producing environmentally-friendly clothing and footwear, but no more than that.

The commercialization of the sport is precisely what a soul surfer condemns.

5. The Surfer Who Combines Meditation and Surfing as a Single Experience

Meditation and mindfulness have been slowly but steadily growing within the surfing community.

There's a considerable number of surfers who are now meditating before, during, and after their sessions and adding it to their training plans and routines.

6. The Surfer Who Thinks Surfing Is More a Religion Than a Sport

It's an old discussion and an interesting one. Is surfing a sport, a religion, or an art form?

It might probably be a mashup of everything, but for the purists, it is mainly a spiritual and (nearly) religious experience.

And before it was even considered a sport, it was an artistic creation similar to ballet.

Soul surfer: someone who puts surfing at the top of his or her priorities | Photo: Shutterstock

7. The Surfer Who Believes Surfing Heals the Soul

There's an adage that says "Only a surfer knows the feeling."

Although the statement is widely accepted by all who've experienced wave riding, it can be extrapolated and given new meanings.

The relationship between humans and water in motion often translates into a feeling of calmness, relaxation, and fulfillment.

8. The Surfer Who Considers Himself a Thalassophile

Soul surfers are often extremely attached to the ocean and surrounding sea-related activities.

The passion and indescribable attraction to ocean water drives a purist's life and, sometimes, career. Surfers are the original thalassophiles.

It's really hard to take a soul surfer away from its temple. Whenever that happens, the outcome is rarely positive.

9. The Surfer Who Believes Free Surfing Improves Skills

Some people believe athletes perform better under pressure, but not all surfers think the same way.

Soul surfers feel that every time they paddle out for the love of the sport, they're freeing themselves from the competitive format that leads to standardization and score-driven mindsets.

For purists, free surfing allows us to explore our creativity and embrace trial-and-error processes as part of progress.

Surfing: a healing medicine for the soul | Photo: Shutterstock

10. The Surfer Who Puts Surfing on the Weekly Must-Do Routines

If you're one of those who need a weekly dose of waves to balance your mind and put surfing on the agenda, then you're on your way to becoming a soul surfer.

You're making it part of your weekly routines because - consciously or unconsciously - you know it makes you feel good, happy, and healthy.

11. The Surfer Who'd Rather Go Surfing Alone That With Friends

Although surfing is an individual sport - except for tandem surfing - surfers have always enjoyed sharing sessions and waves with friends.

It's part of the fun of being in the water.

But for some wave riders, surfing is a solitary or lonely outdoor activity that invites us to a journey of introspection and self-discovery as we wait for the next set to arrive.

12. The Surfer Who Feels That Surfing Makes Him a Better Person

Soul surfers believe in the healing power of Nature's ocean waves.

They also think that the more you surf, the more you'll learn to put things into perspective and appreciate what life has for us during our brief passage on the planet.

Purists say that surfing soothes our minds and shapes our universal values to become more socially and environmentally responsible individuals.

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