A friend who's an Episcopalian priest (and a surfing buddy) showed me a comic last week, which she keeps on her fridge. In it, the sea has split, Moses is holding up his staff, and a dude is standing next to Moses, carrying a surfboard. And Moses is saying to him: "I don't think you completely grasp the seriousness of the situation here, Caleb."
It's a joke, but the joke's on the cartoonist. Because surfing - at least for this Rabbi - has the potential to be transcendent and holy, even serious. I've been outdoorsy for years: hiked and climbed and kayaked and canoed, but have never, ever felt as spiritually connected as I do sitting out on my board, on a glassy day, watching dolphins swim by and feeling the movement of the waves. I don't even need to catch a wave to get that feeling. As soon as I paddle out, everything on shore disappears, and it's just me, my board and the ocean.
I don't know what the secret is, but I do know this: There isn't a lot we do in our lives that takes us out of the mundanity of the day to day, that forces us into a confrontation with our insignificance, our fragility, our mortality, and the vast and timeless beauty of the earth. The pace of our lives provides few opportunities to reflect, to be still, and to allow the power and force of the earth to push us off of kilter, or turn us upside down. Surfing allows all of this; and demands it. It is surrender; allowing yourself to trust the waves, to paddle forward, hard, into the unknown, to give in to the enormity and power of the sea. It requires complete presence, and a humility that is reinforced every time you wipe out or get rocked or rise, coughing and sputtering, to the surface, your board dragging behind you. It is oneness, and sometimes when I'm out there I think of God's words, God's reminder to Job: "Where were you when I founded the earth? Tell, if you know understanding. Who fixed it's measures...stretched a line upon it...when the morning stars sang together, and all God's children shouted for joy? Who hedged the sea with double doors, when it gushed forth from the womb, when I made cloud its clothing and thick mist it's swaddling bonds? I made breakers upon it My limit, and set a bolt with double doors. And I said, 'Thus far come, no farther, here halt the surge of your waves. Have you come into the springs of the sea and in the bottommost deep walked about?...Did you take in the breadth of the earth?"
If you surf, you have. If you surf, you have touched, just a little bit, that primordial chaos that Job refers to, walked in the bottommost deep and come into the springs of the sea. When you surf you touch, in our very limited human way, the great grandeur and mystery of creation. There are few greater blessings than this.