Surf Worth

Words by John Angiulo. Photos by Erik Schwab

For as long as I can remember, people have questioned the value of surfing in any practical sense. Most people consider it a recreational activity that provides little to no enhancement of society as whole. More recently people are accepting it simply because of marketing companies looking to milk a social trend for all that it is worth. However, it has been my experience that surfing may be one of the most valuable activities that a human can engage in, especially in the modern age.

We are currently living in a tumultuous world that is evolving in a volatile way. We are all painfully aware of the metamorphosis of our environment due to global warning (or we are willfully ignorant), our political figureheads are more akin to satirical bond villains than laudable leaders, social media has us inundated with a slew of information that makes it difficult to decipher what is true or of import and the perpetual influx of new technology has created a modern landscape so malleable that finding a solid place to situate ones self is a laughable proposition.

So amidst all of this, how can surfing be so important? Because as we evolve as people, we must realize that the outer world is a reflection of our inner world and only through stabilizing ourselves internally can we calm the storm we are subject to externally. And despite what any critics of surfing’s worth have to say, the act of merging with wave length energy in the natural medium of the ocean has proven to be one of the most consistent and joyous ways for any human to participate in a multi-faceted catharsis.

John finds some cover.

I have been acutely reminded of this because, just as the world has changed, so has my life. I had been a professional surf instructor for the last decade and amidst my own need for growth I have taken a sojourn into a more professional, and possibly even more fulfilling, professional pursuit. I won’t bore you with detail but suffice to say its for an innovative company whose mission I deeply believe in.That being said and despite having a fairly flexible schedule, I have been in the ocean less than usual and had been feeling stressed and cut off from the source. And it was just then that everything aligned for me.

A swell had developed out in the middle of the Atlantic with all the telltale signs that would create quality waves where I live on Long Island New York. It also happened to fall on a day when I had nothing to do. It looked to be a dream scenario but I didn’t want to get my hopes up. Waves here can disappear in a matter of hours and the wind can turn dreams to sad realities in just minutes.

The day the swell arrived the Surfline cam’s gave a hint of what I had hoped to see and I was out the door before I was fully awake. Driving there it was raining ( when it really should have been snowing, of course) and the wind was whipping hard, but at least form the right direction. I pulled up to a well known spot and the parking lot was teeming with life. I couldn’t help but get that rush of excitement as I ran past other surfers and over the dunes.

And there it was. The ocean, alive with 6 foot A-frames, the wind filtering into the funneling tunnels and holding them open before the pressure culminated and released the energy in one triumphant flourish of spitting barrel after the next. I was back to my car and changed into a tight spandex-like suit faster than Clark Kent in a phone-booth.

The session was everything a session like that can be. There were others out, but not once did I have to compete with anyone. There were so many waves coming in everyone seemed to effortlessly make their personal quota. Rights and lefts erupted from every direction, most of them accompanied by a surfer fist pumping, hooting or simply falling off their board in celebratory elation.

I too got my fair share. I felt magnetized to the waves and ended up clocking in more barrel time in that one session than I had in the previous five months. And if surfing has value, then tube time is the gem stone of that treasure trove. Why? Full immersion in the moment, overwhelming sensory experience, being pushed to peak performance and synchronization with energy and elements all contribute to the ecstasy associated with time spent in those hallowed hollows.By the time I left the ocean my face was wind-burnt, my fingers and feet were frozen and I was most truly and entirely happy.


John splitting the peak with Tom Casse.

And therein lies the value. Happiness, a fleeting and many times difficult companion to capture, comes all too easy to those in the throes of the surf experience. It is physical, the release of stress and the joy of exercise induced health. It is mental, the catharsis of being in nature and immersed in the great primordial cauldron has proven to be of great benefit to calming the mad mind of man’s kind. It is emotional, the release of negativity, which gives way to a positivity that pervades the remaining hours of the day and perhaps even the week. ( I was fully lit up for an entire week after this session.) It is a social connection, sharing that heightened experience with a community of likeminded peers who you can continue to relive the experience with.

For me, over all, it is a spiritual experience. It is a connection with everything, the elements, the earth, the universe, energy, other people and in the end, the best connection to my self. From that physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual revival comes the most incredibly valuable portion of existence: peace. After such an experience, anger is gone, joy is plentiful, health is abundant and sleep comes easy. I know of few things that give humans such clarity and internal stillness. Surfing is one of those rare phenomena. That peace of mind is what surfing is worth and in a world of turmoil, conflict and continuous change, that might be the most valuable thing there is.

For more photos from Erik Schwab check his Instagram.