Soul surfing, or surfing-as-a-way-of-life. That's the 'surf' in our Soul & Surf. And it's built on 7 principles - Soul Surfers, Soul Surfing Films, Surf Art, Surf-Related Music, Surf Literature, Soul Surfing Brands and of course Surf Activism.
Words by Ed Templeton | 26th August ‘22
Soul surfers care less about who won the last pro-surfer competition or which surfer earns the most from their sponsors. And more about how they feel in the ocean, why they surf, what it means to commit to a surfing lifestyle and how surf is deeply woven into their lives.
Soul surfers surf for joy, they surf to travel, they surf to learn, they surf to connect to nature, they surf to be part of a community, they surf to live a life less ordinary, they don’t surf as a sport to win prizes... it's a little bit more spiritual than that. It is a complete and consuming immersion in nature, a submission to the whims of a set of corduroy lines determined by a pressure system in a faraway ocean. It is soul and life and compassion and style – and a glimmer of connection to the present moment that is addictive and extraordinary and essential.
Soul surfing connects directly to the origins of surf counter-culture from the 50s, 60s and 70s - before surf became a business, back when surfers were rebels.
So the culture of soul surfing, or surfing-as-a-way-of-life continues the leftfield, creative, outsider spirit of the pioneers and crosses over into and is often expressed through surf board shaping, art, music, film, photography, literature, activism and purpose-led business.
It’s not really tangible. We see wave riding as an extension of our style, our personalities and as more than simply shredding the gnar, bro.
We are influenced and inspired by the surfers that celebrate this connection in their individual ways, are proud of their beliefs and who are, let’s be honest, really beautiful to watch. The ones that make us want to pick up a board and race to the nearest break, just to surf a bit more like them, to be more like them.
Here’s a list of our top 20 Soul Surfers from the last 50 years or so. The ones that have chosen to express themselves through style, innovation, alternative craft, art, music, activism and an understanding of this precious connection with the ocean.
The surf films that we connect with and that have motivated us to give it all up and just go surfing show more than just ‘rad waves dude’. A great surf movie needs to inspire us, to say something important, to move us, to make us grateful for our time spent in the ocean and to make us desperate to get back out there.
A marriage between music, cinematography, content, nature & documentary. Movies depicting kaleidoscopic views of surfing, not just world champs surfing killer waves on tiny boards. For us a great surf movie should somehow get across the soul of surfing, that intangible thing that drives so many of us to the sea each day.
Are surfers predisposed to be artists or is it that artists are attracted to surfing. There’s art made by surfers for surfers. And artists who make art and happen to surf. Whichever way you look at it the two often go hand in hand.
Of course there’s functional surf photography, in focus, lit well that conveys the activity and you can get paid for. And there’s well executed paintings of waves and surfers which tend to sell well to the surf market… but where it gets interesting for us is where the art or photography captures the intangible, the essence of the surf experience, the feeling, the culture, the… soul. And where the art or photography is genuinely great.
Here’s an eclectic selection of some our favourite artist and photographers:
Artists: Thomas Campbell / Geoff McFetridge / Rick Griffin / Ricky Lee Gordon / IKI aka Mr Doodle / TY WILLIAMS / Joel Ray / Otis Carey / Milton Avery
Photographers: Mickey Smith / Joni Sternbach / Simon Fitz / Katie Rae / Slim Aarons / Rennie Ellis
How many sports have such interwoven music scenes? Is there a tennis ‘soundtrack’? Don’t think so. Skim the surface and surf music could just be pigeon-holed as the Beach Boys and Jack Johnson. Immerse yourself in the soul surfing world, the films, the magazines, the socials and you quickly discover how many surfers make music and how many musicians surf. The boundary between the two disciplines seems blurred.
Here’s another eclectic and by no means exhaustive selection of surfing musicians and musicianing surfers:
A Blaze of Feather / Allah-Las / Peaking Lights / Connan Mockasin & Andrew VanWyngarden / Babe Rainbow / Ben Howard / Mike D from the Beastie Boys / The now-legendary DJ Harvey / Donavon Frankenreiter / / Thom Yorke from Radiohead
From travel writing to magazines to fiction there’s a spirit of adventure, a sense of freedom, a walk on the wild side captured in the best surf writing. The best soulful surf literature inspires us to travel, to think, to feel and to… surf more.
Fancy an eclectic, random but by no means exhaustive selection of surf literature?
Fiction/Travel/Biog: Breath by Tim Winton / Under The Wave at Waimea by Paul Theroux / Barbarian Days by William Finnegan / In Search of Captain Zero by Allan Weisbecker / Jamail Yogis - Saltwater Buddha
Businesses founded and run by surfers have been amongst the pioneers of purpose-led, sustainability-focused, innovative businesses demonstrating that people, planet and profit should be equal priorities.
Patagonia has long been our inspiration of how a business can have genuine purpose and be genuinely successful. Founder Yvon Chouinard wrote a book called Let My People Go Surfing which is the single most influential business book on the development of Soul & Surf.
And then there’s Tom Kaye’s Finisterre, who we have long had personal connections with and have watched grow from a tiny local Cornish cold water surf brand into the rip-roaring success it is today. Again with progressive, environmental and people-focused purpose at their very core, their reason for being.
It’s no coincidence that so many ocean-focused environmental groups have been founded and are run by surfers. We spend so much of our lives at play in the ocean so it’s only right we play our part in understanding, communicating about and protecting our oceans. Our friend, collaborator, yoga teacher, surf coach and scientist Natalie Fox has founded or is involved in many surf-related activist organisations which we support whenever we can, here’s a few: Citizens of Surf / Regeneration Surf / Groundswell
And of course there are many others, here’s a few we like or support: Surfaid / Surfrider Foundation / We Are One Ocean (WSL) / Surfers Against Sewage / The Wave Project / Resurface / Surfers for Climate
Want to know more about how we teach Soul of Surfing? We wrote a thing…
… and we even made a pretty poster too. You might like to download me >