A Gift from the Sea




"The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. To dig for treasures shows not only impatience and greed, but lack of faith. Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach—waiting for a gift from the sea." —Anne Morrow Lindbergh 

After having recently moved apartments and shuffled my things I came across this book, A Gift from the Sea: An Answer to the Conflicts in Our Lives (1955) by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, a former New Jersey native and the wife of famous aviator Charles Lindbergh (and an aviator in her own right). Lindbergh, while talking about how to find the right kind of shell or channelled welk, succinctly nails what the sea teaches. In this way waiting for a shell is no different than waiting for a wave—both are gifts from the sea. 

I have struggled with patience over the years. In fact when I first started teaching surfing about 15 years ago I would often not show up or cancel lessons if the waves were too good. I just was not ready to focus on someone else and to have the patience to aid them in their ocean journey. But then I grew and learned more about teaching and learning and waiting and watching. I started slowing down to speed up.

In surf lessons I spend most of my time focusing on my students and I ride the occasional wave to demonstrate proper technique and as a means to get back to the student to help him or her navigate the white wash on the their way back outside (past the breaking waves). I catch 3-5 waves per 2 hour lesson. When I go surfing on my own greed and impatience often get the better of me and I try to catch 3-5 waves per 15-20 minute periods. But I have noticed that when I just slow down and apply the waiting game I have honed in lessons, along with some strategic paddling, I often find myself in the right spot(s) for a few fun waves. And it only takes one of these to make a whole session, day, or even week or month or year or life.  

 Patience takes many forms. Sometimes it's all about just taking the time to be silly and do things like ride waves on your bum! Here I am riding in to meet a student during a lesson at Long Beach. Photo:  Julien Roubinet  

Patience takes many forms. Sometimes it's all about just taking the time to be silly and do things like ride waves on your bum! Here I am riding in to meet a student during a lesson at Long Beach. Photo: Julien Roubinet 

I often teach that maximum lineup mobility and paddling power ensure that one is in position to receive aquatic gifts more than others who do nothing but wait, and this is still true, but is incomplete. Such mobility must be coupled with the ability to wait for the ocean to give you a gift and then to recognize it as such when it comes. This essentially amounts to the never-perfected skill of wave judgment, which is terribly hard when you're starting out, and remains not entirely master-able even when you've achieved expert status. 

But what experts have learned, and why they catch such great waves, is that the more patient you can be with yourself and with the ocean, the faster you're actually going to improve, the more joy you're going to get out of every session. This is because this patience is, like Lindbergh suggests, 'open'—it is a letting oneself be open to both one's powerlessness and to one's hidden powers as these reveal themselves in the process of practicing surfing.