Years ago a surf magazine asked me to write an article about the supernatural and surfing. This is what I had to say on the subject:
I remember sitting in the back of the cave with my head throbbing as the cave filled up with water. The tidal surge had caught me with my head down as I walked along the edge of the cliff-lined shore. By the time I realized what was happening it was too late. The wall of water had thrust me to the back of a cave that formed in the cliff’s side. The only thing I could think of to do before the impending impact was call out to God for help. And that’s exactly what I did, “God, help me!” I exclaimed. The next thing I remember after slamming my head against the back of the cave was looking out through a 12 inch gap of air between the cave’s ceiling and the water’s surface. As panic started to grip me, I felt myself being rushed toward the opening of the cave as the tidal surge retreated. Acting purely on instinct I swam as fast as I could with the current, and just as fast as I had been swept into the cave I was swept out of the cave.
They say there is no such thing as an atheist in the impact zone. I’m not here to argue theology with anyone, but I think it’s safe to say that as surfers we’ve all experienced a power greater than us. Whether it’s getting slammed into a cave or getting pounded on a day we shouldn’t have paddled out on, we’ve probably all felt at the mercy of the ocean and it’s Maker at some point in our surfing lives. Waves, winds, tides: all that is nature. But the force that sets it all in motion, that shows us how mortal we are, now that is supernatural. I think it’s astounding that we get to experience as much as we do as surfers that most of society doesn’t get to experience. I’m definitely not one to sit here and make a case for how religious or spiritual surfing is; I’m not really in that camp. I surf because it’s fun, you get to experience the beauty of nature, and quite simply I love it. But I will say that as a result of constantly being immersed in nature, I feel like I’ve had some supernatural experiences. Or maybe I should say I’ve had certain experiences in nature that have felt like they were a glimpse into the supernatural. Sort of like looking at something through binoculars; the object that seems so far off suddenly becomes much more visible.
I guess it’s easy to find the supernatural in an experience like the one I had in the cave, when life in the natural is so close to being over. But what takes true grace is to be able to see the supernatural in something like a sunset, or a moonrise, or a dolphin surfing, or a kid stoked.
So does the supernatural and surfing go together? I don’t know, but it seems to me if we just look a little closer we can see glimpses of the supernatural all around us. I’m sure a lot of people will say I’m crazy; that’s alright with me, I won’t argue that. But I will end with this quote from Amelia Barr, one of the 19th Century’s most prolific female authors. Barr states, “Whatever the scientists may say, if we take the supernatural out of life, we leave only the unnatural.”