What Does 'Conatus' Mean Again? Lesson 1

Salutations fellow seekers of aquatic joy! This week's post is about the word 'conatus'. I know that I have a blurb about this in the 'about' page, but I think it is worthwhile to give some more concrete historical and philosophical background. I will not be able to cover the entire history of the word or its philosophical use in this one post. I will just start with a few basics.

First of all, as mentioned, I take the term from the philosophy of Baruch (or Benedict) Spinoza. Spinoza was born in Amsterdam in 1632. His family was of Portuguese Jewish decent. They were, however, "maranos", that is "crypto Jews" who professed to be Catholic during the Inquisition. Because of his radical ideas about the nature of God Spinoza himself was excommunicated from his Orthodox Jewish community and the Catholic Church (strangely enough the most extant version of the Ethics have recently been found in a Vatican vault). Knowing his ideas were potentially life threatening, Spinoza never accepted a job in an academic institution. Instead he preferred to work as a lens grinder in a optics shop. Thus he was deeply concerned with convex and concave surfaces, reflections, and helping people to see more clearly.

Spinoza wrote exclusively in Latin, the academic lingua franca of the Middle Ages and early modernity (Enlightenment). His three major works are the Ethica Ordine Geometrico Demonstrata (Ethics), Tractatus de Intellectus Emendatione (Treatise of the Emendation of the Intellect), and the Tractatus Politicus (Political Treatise). The word 'conatus' features in all of these texts, but most prominently in the Ethics, which is a metaphysical treatise that is written in geometric order, using definitions, axioms, postulates, demonstrations, correlatives, and scholia. The Ethics is divided into five parts: I. De Deo (Of God); II. De Natura et Origine Mentis (Of the Nature and Origin of the Mind); III. De Origine et Natura Affectuum (Of the Origin and the Nature of the Affects); IV. De Servitute Humana Seu De Affectuum Viribus (Of Human Bondage, or The Powers of the Affects); V. De Potentia Intellectus Seu De Libertate Humana (Of the Power of the Intellect, or On Human Freedom). 

The verb 'conatur' and its corresponding noun 'conatus' is used heavily in the third section (Of the Origin and the Nature of the Affects). I will list some of the passages in Latin below and will provide their corresponding translations. I will not be able to fully explain how these postulates fold upon previous axioms and definitions and I will in most cases also leave out some of the very wordy demonstrations and correlatives. Again, this is just a brief journey to the tip of the iceberg. 

III.P7: Conatus, quo unaquaeque res in suo esse perserverare conatur, nihil est praeter ipsius rei actualem essentiam. 

The striving by which each thing strives to persevere in its being is nothing but the actual essence of the thing. 

Here 'conatus' is translated as 'striving' and 'conatur' as 'strives' or 'to strive'. This postulates that whatever it is within (and possibly without) us constitutes essentially what we are. What we are is something that "strives to persevere in its being". What Spinoza means by 'being' has to do with his definition of God and time, finitude and infinitude. It is important that he believes that being exists sub specie aeternitatis, under a type of eternity (definitely one of my favorite mantras to repeat when surfing). Our essence is both finite and infinite (finite from an infinite source) and we are constantly striving for the infinitude that essentially constitutes what we are.

III.P9.Schol.: Hic conatus cum ad mentem solam refertur, voluntas appellatur; sed cum ad mentem et corpus simul refertur, vocatur appetitus, qui proinde nihil aliud est, quam ipsa hominis essentia, ex cuius natura ea, quae ipsius conservationi inserviunt, necessario sequuntur; atque adeo homo ad eadem agendum determinatus est. Deinde inter appetitum et cupiditatem nulla est differentia, nisi quod cupiditas ad homines plerumque referatur, quatenus sui appetitus sunt conscii; et propterea sic definiri potest, nempe cupiditas est appetitus cum eiusdem conscientia. Constat itaque ex his omnibus, nihil nos conari, velle, appetere neque cupere, quia id bonum esse iudicamus; sed contra nos propterea aliquid bonum esse iudicare, quia id conamur, volumus, appetimus atque cupimus. 

When this striving is related only to the mind, it is called will; but when it is related to the mind and body together, it is called appetite. This appetite, therefore, is nothing but the very essence of man, from whose nature there necessarily follow those things that promote his preservation. And so man is determined to do those things. Between appetite and desire there is no difference, except that desire is generally related to men insofar as they are conscious of their appetite. So desire can be defined as appetite together with consciousness of the appetite. From all this, then, it is clear that we neither strive for, nor will, neither want, nor desire anything because we judge it to be good; on the contrary, we judge something to be good because we strive for it, will it, want it, desire it.  

All that is good in life, is good because we strive for it, not because it is worth striving for. The striving alone, the 'conatus', is what constitutes its goodness. That status of goodness is still under question. It turns out to be defined as an 'increase in joy', but you will have to wait until the next post for that to be explained. For now, I think I have at least given you some context as to the word 'conatus' and how it is roughly used in Spinoza's philosophy.

You will notice that I have bolded where it is used in the Latin passages. It is written differently in different places depending on whether it is used as a verb or a noun, and in Latin nouns and verbs take different endings depending on their status in the sentence. I want to point out here that learning surfing is very similar, and in fact quite related to, learning any other kind of grammar. I have written a paper about that that I will certainly share down the road. And I hope that from this (not so) little blog post you can start to see why I would want to associate my method of teaching surfing with the word 'conatus'.

To sum up, I like the concept of striving as constitutive both of what it is that we are and of our search for the good. I believe that this striving takes an almost infinite amount of forms (or modes in Spinoza's language), and the mode that I most relate to is that one that takes place in the ocean, somewhere between finitude and infinitude. 

New addition to the Conatus quiver, a Malwitz 9'0", sub specie aeternitatis. Photo:  Julien Roubinet  @julesrbt 

New addition to the Conatus quiver, a Malwitz 9'0", sub specie aeternitatis. Photo: Julien Roubinet @julesrbt 

Dion’s Picks: Wetsuit Quivers for Women and Men

The answer to the question, “What wetsuit do I need to buy to surf in New York?” is always, “Any and all of them.” With water temps that vary from 35 degrees in the freezing heart of winter to 75 degrees in the searing center of summer (which is kind of right now), New York is the wetsuit industry’s wet dream. It’s not like Northern California where you basically always wear a 4/3mm fullsuit because the water temps there hover in the 50-58 degree range all year long. On any given day from June-October in New York you'll see a variety of combos out in the water. Some people will be in fullsuits, while others are in trunks, springsuits of varying sleeve and leg lengths, short johns, long johns, vests, and jackets.

If you have to pin it on a number of suits to own in New York, I’d say you’re pretty covered at four. Below I’ve come up with two ideal four-wetsuit quivers—the first for women; the second for men. I’ve listed them in order from warmest water to coldest.

***I have no brand loyalty or affiliation. These suggestions are solely based on personal taste. I buy all my suits online and go off of sizing charts. If I have a question about sizing I call the company or go to a surfshop to try them on.

Star student Miranda in her stylish new Cynthia Rowley.

Star student Miranda in her stylish new Cynthia Rowley.


1. Kassia Meador 2mm cross-back shortjohn. Kassia’s whole collection for Roxy is fashion-
forward, fun, and functional. It’s designed by one of the world’s best longboarders and women surfers, so what else would you expect? This suit is designed for the warmest times of the year.

2. Cynthia Rowley 2mm L/S Springsuit. I didn’t know about these until a student of mine picked up a really cool one at Saturdays NYC. She thought these long sleeve, short leg spring suits were a fun and classy option for avoiding terrible tan lines and still staying warm and stylish in temperate water (July-Sept). They also have a really cool key pocket for storing car keys, zipcard, or beach pass.

3. Ripcurl Dawn Patrol 3/2 Fullsuit. Stoked that Ripcurl resurrected their original logo. A great suit for fall and late spring. The blue colorway is super rad.

4. Xcel Xfinity Hooded 5/4 Fullsuit. For the hardcore who plans to surf year round. Xcel leads the way in cold water surfgear and this plain jane full suit will take you warmly through December, January, February, March, and on into April--by which time you’ll be praying for the water to warm up again!


1. Nineplus 2/1mm retro jacket with backzip. The 2mil jacket is the ultimate summer ‘suit’. It keeps your upper body warm and protects you from sun while allowing free movement in trunks. I love the Yamamoto Rubber the Nineplus folks use on these.

2. Billabong Tyler Warren 2mm S/S Fullsuit. Ok, I’m a nut for retro styling. I think it’s the deep-seated anti-jock nerd in me that prefers suits with a simple design and minimal logos that don’t scream, “Hey I’m a gear-head!” I understand that it might proclaim, “Hey I’m a hipster!” instead, but there you have it—my cards are on the table—I have an unapologetic love for retro inspired suits like this one Billabong put together with Tyler Warren, surfer/shaper/artist/longboard-and-shortboard-ripper. Oh and if you’ve never worn a short-sleeve fullsuit you’re in for a treat. My friend Sam says it’s like surfing naked.

3. Ripcurl Flashbomb ZipFree 3/2 Fullsuit. Echoing what I said for the women’s Ripcurl suit—long live Ripcurl’s original logo! Totally digging the mesh of high performance modern technology with throwback styling. This suit will get you through October and November and will be ready to go again May-July. And heck, some people (the wimpy variety) wear 3/2 fullsuits June-October, i.e., the whole summer.

4. Xcel Drylock Hooded 5/4 Fullsuit. Here’s where I move to the middle ground. This is a nuts-and-bolts winter suit that will please jock and hipster alike. No fringes, no frills, all black, all warm, and a SIMA winner year after year. You won't stand out in this suit, except for the fact that you may be able to stay out in the water longer than everyone else.

Style Heroes--Derek Hynd

This week’s style heroes post is dedicated to the legendary Derek Hynd, a quixotic fellow with an against-the-grain approach who tells it like it is--a combination that equals possibly the smoothest and most aesthetically pleasing wave jazz you’ll ever see. What Derek does best is draw fast and simple lines. He's a genius at maximizing a wave’s speed pockets and avoiding unnecessary movements.

Photo by Murray Fraser of  SproutDaily.com .

Photo by Murray Fraser of SproutDaily.com.

I first became aware of Derek while poring through the world tour reports he wrote for Surfer Magazine in the 1980s and 90s. His writing was utterly astute and uncompromising in its analysis of professional surfing, though I didn’t appreciate it till I learned to read the articles as well as drool over the photos. At that time Derek’s surfing was already legendary in the minds of those in the know, but to a banana-rocker-board-obsessed grommet like me, he was just some cynical and witty writer guy who had spent some time on the tour when I was in diapers.

Then Andrew Kidman’s seminal film Litmus came out in 1996 and wabam! Derek’s part at JBay blew my mind. He rides a variety of boards the way they were meant to be ridden: high lines, grab rail cutbacks, and hip jiggles on the keel fish; soul arches, under the lip slashes, and the amazing frontside lay-back on the gunnier boards; and tai chi cross stepping on an 11’ glider. My approach to surfing changed in direct response. I was already clued in to the subtle and graceful lines of Rob Machado and Tom Curren when Derek made concrete the fact that smooth surfing on a variety of equipment was the epitome of the kind of surfing I wanted to do and the kind of surfer I wanted to be.

As luck would have it, I got to meet Derek a few years ago. He showed up in New York to talk story with Jamie Brisick at Pilgrim Surf + Supply, especially about his current turn to finless surfing after losing an eye. We hit it off immediately and set up a surf mission for the next three days. We were joined by Manly photographer Murray Fraser and a few other surf buddies. During our drives Derek told us stories of growing up in Sydney and his time on the pro tour. We had in depth discussions about the state of professional surfing and agreed that the format could really use some work (to say the least!). The icing on the cake of this hero-meeting adventure was on the third day, when we scored the best waves I’ve ever surfed in New York. Derek was on most of the best set waves and also snuck into some of those inside gems I’m always raving about on Instagram (the really good waves that mostly go unridden because no one sees them).

Those keen on developing a smooth style can take cues from Derek’s approach. This doesn’t mean we all need to jump on the finless bandwagon (I haven’t done that yet), but we can incorporate some of the movements Master Hynd demonstrates in his practice. I love his ability to alternately stay low and extend his body, and how he holds his hands and moves his feet. The poetic stillness and radical expression in Derek’s surfing—as if he’s listening to the wave and speaking through it—makes him a true style hero.

More on Derek:

Encylopedia of Surfing Entry
Jamie Brisick on Derek Hynd
April 2014 Surfer Magazine Article
Pilgrim Surf + Supply Article
Inertia Interview
Derek in Surfers Journal
Litmus on Surf Network

Surf Fitness

After lessons and paddle camps a lot of people have been asking, “How do I train for surfing when I can’t get to the beach?” Personally, I’ve never been one to go to the gym to work out. Surfing has been my exercise for the majority of my life. But as I get older I’m learning that surfing alone is not enough to stave off injuries. In fact, I’m finding that surfing, if not augmented by other wellness and fitness practices, can be the cause of a variety of joint and tendon injuries, mostly to the knees, hips, and shoulders.

These days there isn’t a pro surfer without a personal trainer or who has not designed his or her own surf-focused personal fitness regime. Just follow the top 49 pro surfers on Instagram. Kelly Slater posts pics of his largely plant-based diet; Sally Fitzgibbons documents her runs; and it’s not uncommon to see pics of indoor training facilities by shredders like Courtney Conlogue and Nat Young. Everyone in the surf world has caught the fitness bug. Being fit, flexible, and mindful helps you avoid injuries and surf better, at any level.

There are many upshots to this new trend, but I think one of the best is that these pros and their trainers are coming up with a variety of surf specific practices that a lot of other people in the fitness and wellness industry are blind to. And they’re creating videos and apps so that the rest of us have access to this information.

Here are my top two favorite surf exercises*, with links to some surf-focused fitness sites:

  1. Holding “plank.” This is the basic pose in Vinyasa Yoga between Downward Dog and Upward Dog (via the pushup) where you’re holding your body like a “plank”. It can be done on your hands or forearms. The goal is to get your body in as straight a line as possible without sagging or arching your lower back and butt. This activates your whole core and works on both your front and back abs. The back abs are crucial for all things surfing—paddling, popping up, duckdiving/turtling, sitting on the board, and riding the wave. Do plank multiple times a day and see how long you can hold it. Men’s Journal has an article on plank here. Another useful link from Greatist is available here.  


  2. Surfer pop-ups or surfer burpees. Practicing the pop up (or glide-up as the case may be) at home can fast track your surfing success. Top surfing fitness pros agree that surfers of any ability level can always improve in this area. Simply lay down on the floor, put your hands in pushup/pop up position (thumbs pointed towards nipples, index finger pointed straight forward) and pull/push/twist yourself into your surfing stance (right foot forward for goofies and left foot forward for regulars). Start with 10 a day and move up to 20 or 30. Also good to do in front of a mirror to check hand and foot placement.


Wes Berg and Joel Parkinson’s Pro Surf Training

Johnny Gannon and Taj Burrow’s Surf Fitness TV

Paul Hiniker and Taylor Knox’s Surf Fit

Rochelle Ballard’s Surf Into Yoga

How to Stay Fit on Surfer Magazine

Kai “Borg” Garcia’s Volcom Training Program,
and Kai on getting and staying clean (pretty inspiring)

Chris Mills the Surf Strength Coach and an article in the Inertia on surf shoulders

I also recommend the videos by Beach Body (P90X and T25, etc.). You have to be careful with these, though, because they're intensive and you can get injured without proper supervision.

*No matter what your regime, it's important to get in a least one session with a personal trainer or yoga instructor to make sure that you're doing the exercises properly. Find out your particular weak spots and go easy.

Buying Your First Surfboard in New York--Part III

Where do I buy the board? How much do they cost? How will I know which is the right board for me? Like cars and clothes and furniture, and all other objects of consumption, there are a variety of aesthetic, ethical, and economic factors to consider. Below I’ve outlined some options for buying a new board:

Custom shape by local shapers ($750-$1300): There are many upshots to supporting your local shaper: it’s a time-honored practice; it limits the carbon footprint; you can get whatever colors and fin set-ups you want (for a price); and you’re establishing a relationship with the person who puts the magic under your feet. Check out these New York shapers: Malwitz (Rick Malwitz), Faktion Surfboards (Mark Petrocelli), Natures Shapes (Mike Becker), Phoenix Surfboards (Squeak).

Custom shapes by non-local shapers ($800-$1300): Probably not the best bet for a complete beginning surfer, but an option. There are a number of extraordinarily talented shapers in CA, HI, and Australia—so many that I can't even start to list them all. If you feel drawn to a particular shaper and want to figure out how to get a board from him or her, you won't regret it. One of my favorite shapers right now is Ashley Lloyd in Santa Cruz, CA, a shaper of epic boards and one of the few women in the industry.

Sundown Ski + Surf, Levittown ($500-$1000): Tyler Breuer at Sundown is a great guy who will even deliver a board to you in Brooklyn or Manhattan if you can't make it out to his shop in Levittown. For the best value, you can buy a “pop-out”--a few years ago Tom Sena bought the labels on a bunch of defunct surf brands like Challenger, Surfboards Australia, and Canyon, then took these labels and some basic designs and collaborated with Chinese factories to shape affordable mid-length and longboard surfboards. These are made with the standard foam/fiberglass combination that surfboards have been comprised of for the past 60 years. There have been a number of surf forums debating the ethics of this model and it what it means for the US board building industry. These boards ride well and serve the needs of people in search for an affordable board, though the issue of globalization, outsourcing, and US/China relations is enormously complex. I'd say it's up to you to consider where you stand on this issue as you make your choice. Sundown also carries a few classic logs by Harbour shaped in CA. These are pricier, but a true part of surfing history and great performers in beach and point break surf. Sundown’s stock is huge, so you won’t have to worry about whether they’ll have a board in stock or not.

Pilgrim Surf + Supply, Lost Weekend NYC, Saturdays Surf NYC, Salt Surf NYC ($650-$1400): These shops carry very beautiful hand-crafted midlengths and longboards by shapers such as Kookbox, Folklore, Gato Heroi, Bing, Josh Hall, Andreini, Tyler Warren, Chris Christenson, Yater, and Anderson. Boards in the 8’0” range start at around $950 (though Salt Surf has one starting at $650). Don't let their beauty intimidate you. They are all meant to be waxed, ridden, beaten up, and like an expensive pair of jeans, will look a lot better once they have. If your aesthetics lean towards the hyper, your ethics are strictly American-made, and you can find it in your budget to grab one, it's worth it.

Buying Your First Surfboard in New York--Part II

Like a great vintage suit, finding a used/secondhand board takes a little digging, a lot of patience. But there are great finds out there if you're willing to spend some time trawling the internet and keeping your eyes open. Here are a few places to start your search:

Board swaps: These are great places to pick up a new-to-you stick for a really decent price. You also get to speak to the person who's been riding it for the past however long and get a few inside tips on how the board handles. There's a swap coming up June 7-8 at Sundown Surf and Ski. See their website for details.

NY/NJ Craigslist: In my experience, it's hard to find longboards on here--mostly there are lots of people trying to sell subpar boards for way more than they’re worth. Still, CL is usually the first or second stop in the search for a board on a budget and you may just find what you're after.

Ebay: look for boards sold in the NY/NJ area. Shipping is expensive on surfboards, so you’ll want to save yourself a headache by buying locally or trying to see if they’ll ship via Amtrak. Same quality/price issues as Craigslist, but deals can be found.

San Diego/LA Craigslist: Longboards galore, usually under $300. You can either take a trip to CA or communicate with the seller and ask them to put the board on an Amtrak to be picked up at Penn Station for a mere $50 (takes a little while to get there, but worth it for the great price).

Surfshops: East Coast shops don’t have used board racks to the extent the shops on the West Coast do, but they do exist. Longboards go like hotcakes. Pilgrim Surf + Supply, Sundown Surf and Ski, Maritime Surf, and Unsound Surf Shop all have used board racks. I’d call ahead to see about the stock before making a trip.

Swaylocks: At this online surfboard shop and forum you can search for boards by length and even post for surfboards wanted. Like Ebay and CL, you’ll want to look for boards being sold in the NY/NJ area or else figure out a way to get them shipped out here for as little as you can.