“Surfing helped me navigate the death of my father” Anna Sublet opens up about riding the wave of loss
“It feels like riding a tiger,” said my five year old, when he stood up and caught his first wave many years ago. It was one of his most natural outbursts. Pure elation.
At that stage, I had never tried surfing myself. I was a late starter. A post-forty mum in a steamer, when the kids and bloke decided to get me a sealed, long sleeve wet suit one Christmas. Now we are a surfing family, with some of our best times together spent chasing waves.
There is a sense of happiness mixed with calm and exhilaration when I’m floating on my fibreglass 7’4″ Bobsled scanning the horizon for swell.
Some days it’s grey and the sky looms heavily above us with rain falling in slow drops. The waves are clean and uncrowded and the four of us surf until we are too tired to push ourselves up on the boards. We run for the carpark as the storm breaks.
Other days, we might fight for space at a popular point break, watching hipsters and old dudes catch multiple waves on their longboards in the warm coastal waters. Or we go further afield while camping, and surf our biggest waves ever, finishing with wipeouts, a campfire and sausages.
Recently, surfing helped me to navigate the grief of my father’s death. As one Buddhist surfer puts it, the “Zen of Surfing” can help people manage the emotional challenges of life and loss. As the horrendous hand of grief came to strangle my throat, and the fingers grabbed at my intestines, my mind would hold fast to the mantra, “little waves, little waves”. It was a call to calm.
Initiatives in the UK have explored the benefits of surfing for those suffering depression or low self esteem. While the data doesn’t claim direct effect, the researchers talk of “feelings of ‘stoke’: a force that has been driving humans back to the ocean for physical rejuvenation and spiritual balance for thousands of years.”
Closer to home, One Wave, a not-for-profit surfing community, is tackling issues of depression, anxiety and bipolar. They believe “the feeling of being on a wave, letting everything go and enjoying the moment,” is all it takes to restore hope.
All I know is that the sound of water slapping at the base of my board, is now music to me. Being on the water brings a sense of calm and contemplation mixed with fierce purpose. It’s not about catching as many waves possible, I’m just happy to be paddling, bobbing, striving and sometimes flying.
It’s like breathing, the inevitable cycle of in and out, of the coming and the going, the push and the pull, the force and the froth and the subsequent calm. We can make sense in these moments when we breathe through the turmoil and take off, like riding on the back of a bird.
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