Surfing is an odd sport. Everyone knows about it and most think they understand what it’s all about. They are wrong of course…99% of what people learn about surfing from popular culture is wrong or misleading. I think this is illustrated by the number of people who are uber stoked to take surfing lessons vs. the number of people that actually become surfers. I bet the % that do actually become surfers is less than 5%. That’s not just because it’s hard or that you need to live by the ocean. Kiteboarding is equally hard, requires very specific conditions to be possible and lessons cost more than 10 times what a set of surf lessons cost – yet I bet the % of kiters that take lessons and become kiteboarders is something like 30%-45%.
I chalk up the huge difference in success rates to two things:
- most people know little about kiteboarding until they get interested in learning and what they do find out is closer to reality so there is no disappointment or unrealistic expectations to deal with.
- out of a 3hr kiteboarding session you spend 2hrs and 45mins kiteboarding – out of a 3hr surf session you’ll spend 15mins riding the board on a wave – if you don’t suck!
Now if you are an expert surfer at a world class spot without too many other people that stat may improve, but it will never get remotely near closing the gap with kiteboarding for % time actually riding the board. So that begs the question why surf at all?
- well the short answer is the challenge and simplicity of surfing a wave on your board results in a sublime feeling of connection with the ocean and through it the planet. It’s satisfying on a spiritual level in a way that nothing else I’ve done for sport has come close to.
- on a more pragmatic level surfing is low cost, simple in terms of equipment and it’s easy to learn the basics while difficult to become an expert.
- it’s a great workout for your whole body.
- surfing is democratic in that wealth/status on land don’t matter in the water although there is a meritocracy in the surf based on skill, but anyone that can ride a wave gets a shot.
- you can surf anywhere there is a wave which makes it more accessible than kiteboarding.
- surfing is much safer than kiteboarding.
- like earning a degree or passing a professional certification exam becoming a competent surfer earns you cultural respect due to the challenge.
Keep in mind of course that my perspective on surfing is strictly based on my experiences here on Vancouver Island where we have so many world class waves they simply can’t get used by the few surfers that live here. I’m not interested in battling for a wave. I just wait until it’s winter in the North Pacific on the remote far west coast of Canada and all the fair weather folks are safely in their homes leaving the waves empty and waiting for anyone who wants to ride them…=-)
Surfing has a huge benefit for me in that I can take anyone out in the surf and with 15mins of instruction they can be catching waves – poorly, but nevertheless riding a wave! You can’t causally kiteboard due to the cost and danger.
One thing I try to do when introducing folks to surfing is get away from the Hollywood image of surfing and let them know that just being at the beach hanging out before your session is surfing. That putting on your wetsuit and studying the break is surfing. Paddling out and getting pummeled in the waves is surfing. Floating on your board out past the break breathing deeply while you scan for a set wave is surfing. If surfing to you is only popping up and riding the wave you’ll be terribly disappointed since that happens so little in a surf session. If you can see the beauty of the whole sport and connect with all of it from waxing your board at home to the drive to the beach to the struggle to pull off your wetsuit when you are dead tired then you’ll love it.