Over the weekend while watching my kids and others surfing, it occurred to me that this amazing sport is so much like getting a good education.
Surfing thrives on difficulty and challenge. There’s a season for surfing, when the waves are high enough, and even during the season, surfers look for high tides and low tides as well to add to the challenges.
A good education is similar. You don’t go for the “play schools” where it’s easy to pick up a degree; instead, you choose a school where the hard work becomes part of the sheer pleasure of learning.
Surfing, like a good education, does not mean becoming reckless and foolhardy. You learn the basics first, which can be taxing, but getting the basics right means you’re faster when it comes to moving on to advanced skills.
No shortcuts here. No cheating. Connections don’t work — who you know, who your parents are, have no bearing on whether you get into the program or not. And as you train with an instructor, your confidence comes from knowing they went through the rigors of training as well.
Learning to surf means learning to understand the environment: the areas for beginners and for more advanced learners, and danger spots in certain parts of the beach.
Surfing’s usually seen as involving physical skills, but when you look at the surfers, you realize how much thinking is involved: learning to paddle out to the sea until you feel — “you” being your body and your brain — it is the right time to tackle a wave. I asked my 10-year-old daughter how she knows “when,” and she explained: the first few times the instructor tells you, but later, you know when the wave is “almost beneath you, very very close.”
The thrill of the surf seems to be in its being so precarious, being on the edge. Even the best surfers don’t always get it right, falling off within a few seconds. But that’s part of the learning, too, really a taming of impulse in favor of patience that leads, when you do walk on water, to graceful conquest, gliding in to the shore with the waves applauding.
On the board, when the time’s right, you get up ever so tentatively, knowing timing is so crucial. You don’t stand upright; instead, you crouch, and you go into a slow dance, tilting to the wind and the waves.
Surfing, like a good education, is not for the arrogant. Crouching tiger, I thought, watching the surfers. Sometimes, humility, being closer to the ground, is what becomes so uplifting (or should I say, UPlifting).
There’s vicarious pleasure from watching surfers, especially with kids — my own and those of others, including the kids in the neighborhood. Many of them catch on almost immediately with their instructors. The young are fearless, and I have to remind them to be careful, without becoming overprotective.
I know there will be more to watch in the years ahead. Maybe even body surfing, the purest form of surfing where you don’t have a surfboard and instead use your body to harness the waves.
Surfing’s still very much a sport of the young, but the instructors assure me, trying to convince me actually, that there are more and more middle-aged people going for the surf. I’ll probably try after I retire, in between enrolling in university classes.
I saw someone surfing on the shore and got curious. Skimboarding, it’s called. I looked it up and had second thoughts after reading how it’s done and wondering if I could do that with a walking cane: “Wait until just after a wave rolls out—when the sand is thinly coated with a film of water—to begin your run. Once your running reaches full speed, drop the board flat on the wet sand, directly in front of you, and get on the board.” (See outdoorboardsports.com)
Surfing’s never simple, even on the shore.
Surfing offers us metaphors for a good education, and a strong educational institution, like UP.
Running UP is like tackling the risks, and the thrills, of surfing. We have times of extraordinary calm, as well as of overwhelming turbulence. As you may have read in Mareng Winnie Monsod’s recent columns, right now, it’s more of the latter.
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