How Surfing Helped Me Find Presence

Lou Burton, a member of our Varkala team last season, shares her thoughts on how surfing has helped her achieve a more mindful lifestyle since leaving behind the City… 

Anxiety is a big word. And it’s not something we admit to freely, or even realise we have until it’s already started to consume us. For me, simply living life fast and hard in London ate away at me mentally and physically. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed my time there, but I knew it was detrimental to my health; from low iron levels to an underactive thyroid, both of which I developed while living in the big Smoke. I knew I was doing too much – cycling to and from work, going to the gym most days, full days at work and late dinners in the evenings – but I was too obsessed with always wanting to DO more. My life became a plan that I lived in, but stopped thriving in. I forgot how it felt to wonder what the next days or weeks may bring. Because I already knew. It was in my diary.

Life in Slow Motion

So the time came to take charge. I quit my job, packed up city life and flew out of London Heathrow on a one way ticket to India with Mark, my adventure partner in crime and boyfriend. I could never have imagined that six months later I’d be thinking about, discovering daily, and even writing about the idea of being present. During my time at Soul & Surf in Kerala, India, life slowed down. The hustle of city life no longer bore down on me, I stopped worrying about the plan I was living in, about what I’d be doing next week, tomorrow or even that very night. Life became a series of moments, each to be lived to their fullest as they were unfolding.

But since disconnecting from my London life, I thought the transition into a less anxious life would be easy. I figured if I wasn’t there any more – and moreso if I was thousands of miles away – the anxiety would lift. It would fall off my shoulders with ease, allow me to breathe again. It turns out it’s not always that easy. A busy, full and fast city life – as much as it grinds away at you – becomes a monster too big, and too ingrained to simply shake off. And that’s where surfing has really helped me.

Serenity in the Surf

And it’s thanks to surfing that I have found this serenity; a peacefulness that helps me press ‘reset’ on my body and mind. Allowing complete disconnection from the pressures of society and reconnecting with that thing we call nature and the moments available to enjoy within it. It is in surfing particularly which I’ve discovered a whole other world to communicate with. When I surf, I experience a complete disconnection from worry, anxiety or any amount of planning. I am becoming human again. Faced with the unpredictable natural elements. Put so perfectly by Sam Bleakley in his book Mindfulness & Surfing “surfing immediately facilitated immersion in the present”.

Surfing as something to calm the mind is an idea I’ve only discovered this year. Facing the elements, living in the moment and working with whatever the ocean decides to throw at you next is such simple pleasure for the soul.

Diving Deeper

Surfing; the act of catching a wave on a surfboard and riding it until it crashes into whitewash. That’s not even the half of it. The act of surfing is so much more than that. Especially for beginners and intermediates (I’d place myself somewhere in between the two currently). From the very beginning of my surfing days, I’ve felt a far more wholesome experience than catching and riding a wave. Of course it’s the ultimate goal – and I’ve finally managed to drop in and ride my first right hand wave after persistently trying day in day out for months – but I’ve discovered that surfing can give you access to so much more than just that as a beginner. There’s paddling out, watching the waves, understanding the sets, wave choice, wipeouts, nose dives, etiquette, having frustrating days of few or small waves and scary days of pumping waves. There’s so much to learn, so much to understand and so much to focus on to relieve a mind that is obsessed with plans.

Slammed

Then there’s being slammed. When a big wave breaks out back, the relentless white froth moves towards you, plunges through you and spits you out the other side into a surface soaked in bubbling white blotches.

A reminder I am alive. That I breathe. A reminder that I am at the mercy of Mother Nature.

And sometimes, I beg for those moments. For the whitewash to envelop me, test my strength as I flip my board into a turtle roll beneath it. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had scary moments out there that have really shaken me up, but there’s something empowering about getting back on your board and paddling out again to give it another go. Craving another moment to be completely lost in; another moment to try; another moment to feel the surge of the planet’s ocean take you under it’s wing.

Just live

And so you don’t have to be an experienced surfer to find presence through the act of surfing. At any level, we can feel challenged by the ocean and the endless possibilities to disconnect from the world we’ve come from and reconnect with the world immediately around us. Simply getting out into the water daily can provide therapy and a focus that can teach us to live in the moment and being at one with the idea that the next moments are a sea of possible outcomes. No Instagram plan, no calendar invites. Just the simplicity of not knowing which side of the fine line you’ll cross, whether the next moments hold a wipeout or the best ride of your life. Either way, it’s sure to be liberating as you experience the power of being present in a moment as you just live.

Lou is now off on the next leg of her adventure with partner-in-crime Mark; you can follow along at TannedTonedTravelled.com 

In case you missed it, read another blog from Lou, on her experience doing an Ayurvedic Panchakarma, here.

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