Surfing is the closest thing to a religion that most of us will ever experience. In many ways, it is more of a true religion than the conventional religions people claim to practice. This is because surfing has a uniquely physical component whereby not only are we always thinking about the act of surfing, but we go and practice wave riding deliberately when conditions permit.
What makes a religion?
A religion is generally based on the belief that there exists a greater intelligent force than oneself. Devotees pay respect and devotion to this greater entity and have faith that it will deliver them from trials and tribulations and, ultimately, provide them with peace. Most religions also promise some sort of afterlife, or, at least, claim that we will exist beyond our physical manifestation on Earth.
Surfing offers all of these things and more.
Why make surfing a religion?
Why would we want to complicate things and classify surfing as a religion, rather than just enjoying it as something we do on Sunday afternoons? Can’t we just call it a sport?
The answer is: no.
Think about it. Every other religion, especially the more sensitive ones, are given leeway when it comes to practicing their faith. Religious holidays are observed, or tolerated, by business, and religious requirements are respected by law. If surfing gained religious classification, it would mean that we, as surfers, can request special permission to worship our gods when conditions and events of importance occur.
So who are the surfing gods?
Well, of course, there is Huey, who is the underlying essence of the ocean. Huey is the one who sends us waves by working tirelessly with the wind and gravitational pull to send pulses of energy towards shorelines around the world. But Huey is not the only one. Just like Hinduism, surfing boasts a pantheon of surf Gods. Some reside at a single spot and some are transient, moving across entire oceans at their whim. All, however, are subservient to Huey, who might be considered the one true God (at your peril if you do not honour the Gods of your local surf break).
Some surfers appear naturally more in tune with the ocean. The more time you spend practicing your surfing religion, the more in tune your surfing will become. Tiny ripples hold potential as they flow towards land, and the religious surfer knows exactly which ones will offer a steep wall and which hold little or no hope. .
If surfing becomes a religion, will we get bogged down in the bureaucracy that clouds and overcomplicates every other religion in the world?
Quite possibly, yes. Every religion began as a philosophy, an idea about living, propagated, usually, by a single individual. This philosophy was always so profound that it changed the minds of those around the creator.
But what so quickly happens when anyone is declared a prophet, or saint, or revolutionary, is that the bureaucrats move in and try to organise the religion into factions, and categorise the ideas into disciplines. The most manipulative bureaucracies find ways to turn the philosophies and disciplines into law, with consequences for those who don’t abide by their principles.
The Church of Surfing
Does the future of surfing as a religion include priests and cardinals, or witchcraft and scientists? Or will it be a religion like Buddhism that allows one to create their own perspective based on their individual relationship to the philosophy?
Even Buddhism has vast levels of scholarship, and to become a monk requires years of study. Surfing is similar in a way because to become a professional surfer, which may or may not be a monk of surfing, requires years of deliberate practice. They are of the highest order, and we already afford them great reverence. Kelly Slater is our prophet and continues to be the global leader of the surfing movement, whether or not he wishes to be.
If surfing becomes a religion, then what are our founding principles?
The Surfer’s Commandments
- We will ride waves to the best of our ability, and as often as we possibly can.
- We will gift the gift of surfing to others, so that they might share in the joy that it brings to us all.
- We will propagate the Aloha Spirit and use the vitality and positivity that surfing gives us to make the world a happier place.
- We will not display aggression towards other practicing surfers because we are a brother and sisterhood, and should treat each other well, for there is already enough aggression and violence in the world.
- We will be environmentally conscious and do what we can to look after the ocean.
- We will tread lightly, using environmentally sustainable surfing products and minimising our impact on the environment.
- We will use the lessons each of us learns through surfing as guiding principles in our everyday lives.
- We will look after our fellow surfers, making sure no one is ever left out by themselves alone.
- We will experience surfing in all of its many forms, trying different boards and learning different ways to draw lines upon waves.
- We will embark on a surfing adventure at least once in our lifetime, so that we might experience the joy and wonder of surfing away from home.
With these core tenets, we have the basis for a religion. We have our prophet in Kelly Slater, who, for a large percentage of us, was the sole reason we began surfing. We have a reason for establishing surfing as a religion, because we want, and deserve, the sacred status our lifestyle demands.
Now, all that is left to do is to apply through the various government departments to have surfing recognised as a religion. Subsequently, we will be able, for religious reasons, to enjoy a holiday on World Surfing Day, and to request religious leave of absence when the surf gets especially good.
Surfing is more of a religion than most religions, because it is embedded in our lifestyle as a core physical, emotional and philosophical practice. Surfers have faith, love and devotion for their chosen activity. We have a god in Huey, and trust that he will supply both waves, and the life-giving properties the ocean provides all organisms on planet Earth, even after we are gone.
It’s time to formalise our religion. In Duke’s name. Good waves.
All Photos by Bradley Hook. If you use them please credit @bradhook on Instagram or @byBradleyHook on Facebook. If you wish to hang them on your church (which may be your home) wall, get in touch and I’ll organise high res versions for you.
If you’d like to read a book that uses the surfing experience as a metaphor for life, check out Surfing Life Waves.