Happy first week of June everyone! I am trying to implement some new business ethics over here at Conatus Surf Club, starting with providing more content on this here blog. I have made a vow to myself to post once a week throughout the summer season. Today's post is a book review of Jaimal Yogis' fantastic book Saltwater Buddha: A Surfer's Quest to Find Zen on the Sea (Wisdom Publications, 2009).
This past December I received this book as a Christmas present from a family member. I have to admit that I have seen this book at surf shops and bookstores and simply wrote it off as another hokey surf book. But when it was gifted to me I promised to give it a read. I put down my preconceptions -- ugh, smug pseudo spiritualism and surfing -- long enough to get entirely drawn into Yogis' lucid prose. I ended up finishing the book in one sitting.
While on point for any surfer, Yogis' tale will really sink in for anyone who has learned to surf at any age past puberty. Yogis succinctly describes the frustration, hang ups, misconceptions, missteps of a determined would-be surfer. He shows how at the end of the day the sheer determination to figure out how to slide on moving cylinders of water is enough to get one further along his/her path and how the pursuit is admirable in and of itself.
I personally like this book because Yogis and I have a similar pedigree: we're both from central California, we were both punk ass kids, and we both have degrees in religious studies (the religious studies degree is of course a most uncanny link -- I mean there were only 8 religious studies majors in my graduating class at UC Berkeley -- Yogis went to UCSC). Having grown up in Monterey Bay, I can attest that Yogis' description of the kind of localism found there is on the money. It is hard to explain the California brand of surf localism in plausible terms, but Yogis deftly manages it. Thank goodness it isn't that bad on the east coast!
For me the moment that really makes the whole book worth reading comes when Yogis describes what it is like to paddle out at Ocean Beach, San Francisco. For those that have not surfed there, Ocean Beach is one of the most difficult places in the world to paddle out. Even when it's 3-4 feet it can take 15-20 minutes to get out the back. One time after duck diving what felt like 100 waves in a row I remember saying to myself, "If I pop up from this duck dive and see another whitewater I am going to cry." Yogis had an almost identical moment at OB, which he describes as follows:
". . . The more I thought about it, the more I realized every surfer has to like paddling, at least a little. This was because extremely little of each surf session is spend on actually standing up on your surfboard on a wave -- maybe one percent -- so if you're looking to have a good time it's essential to find a way to enjoy paddling, or at least good-naturedly bear it. And in that way, I thought, surfing is kind of a good metaphor for the rest of life. The extremely good stuff -- chocolate and great sex and weddings and hilarious jokes -- fills a minute portion of an adult lifespan. The rest of life is paddling: work, paying bills, flossing, getting sick, dying (176-7)."
Yep, Yogis really nails it here. That one must learn to enjoy paddling is a truism that underwrites and undergirds all of my principles at Conatus Surf Club. One's ability to enjoy the work of surfing amounts to one's success as a surfer. In conclusion, Saltwater Buddha is a great summer read for any surfer. And I promise, it is not (too) hokey.