Surfing competition or any competition can have its upsides and downsides. As a former US Champion and Professional surfer and coach I would like to explore some of the benefits and pitfalls that can “manifest” when you begin competing and succeeding.
One of the benefits to competing whether SUP racing or surfing is that you can really focus your mind. In Zen Meditation, one is taught to have an object of meditation. This is usually ones breath. When we compete we can use our surfing technique, or stroke technique as the object of our meditation. This is a good thing as we learn to enhance and use our attention like a flashlight to solve our problems of technique and form. You can then shift this “acquired attention” to benefit many other areas in life. I use the benefits of attention partially acquired in competing to ” focus” on many things. Use see, when we have the ability to keep our attention on just one thing we can analyze it and can come to creative solutions. I have solved many problems in this method in relation to work, personal relationships and anthropology using this technique (I am a doctor in anthropology also). Our primary problem in modern life is that we don’t pay attention, or don’t have the ability to focus our attention for long periods of time. We Multi-task and grovel our absent mindedly way along the path of life. This can make us frustrated and sad. Surfing and Sup competing can ” turn on” our gift of attention. If we can transfer the gift of attention to other areas of life, we can be happier, and more creative people.
As proof of this, look at Kelly Slater. No one could rationally argue against Kelly Slater’s freakish ability to observe and understand (pay attention) to any ocean condition. He has won in 1 foot waves to 30 foot waves at the Eddie Aikau surf meet and this has resulted in his 11 world titles. What a lot of people don’t know is that Kelly Slater applies his freakish attention to other projects. He has designed a circular wave-pool that creates a never ending wave when it is turned on. Kelly created a plan for an alternate to the ASP surf tour that utilizes a different competition format (if he retires, don’t be surprised to see another tour). Slater created the 2 man, 4 man heat system (Yes it’s possible!!?) that is used at Pipeline to allow more Hawaii surfers into the event as well as a quick event completion. He is a genius in my opinion as he uses his attention gained in the ocean, and competition to be creative in life. I don’t know him personally but no one can argue that he has not been a humble and intelligent ambassador for the sport of surfing. That he stayed humble is amazing which leads to our next segment of the article about the flipside harmful side or of ocean competition.
One of the downsides to competition is that it can transform you into a monster and in many ways destroy your attention-abilities. One of the most common ways that this happens is after we have repeated competitive success, some of us become arrogant. This is the complete opposite of the “goal of attention and practice” of Zen tradition. Just a drop of arrogance destroys any of the “attention -benefit - gains” we have made during our successful competition and training.
There is the famous story of a competitive surfer in the eighties from California that illustrates my point. Let us call him “Jon Edward”. Jon had an amazing talent. He was a wave magnet which means he could pay attention to the waves so deeply that he was in the right place at the right time to get all the sets. It was almost as if he had his hand on the telephone to call waves in. We used to call him “jealously” 1-800-DAIL A BOMB”. He could summon all the biggest waves in a heat (Big wave in surfing =bomb). In competition, we call these guys “freaks” in a good way. As he had repeated success he became exceedingly arrogant. In Zen, Arrogance turns a person into a Demon, or Hungry Ghost metaphorically. He soon dropped out of high school and went full time on tour, oddly with huge sponsorships from corporations. He soon began destroying the top pros and after each success he got more arrogant. This destroyed his ability to pay attention and his wheels metaphorically fell off. He lost his super powers gotten by paying attention suddenly due to his arrogance. He ended up imploding using his sponsor’s money to finance rabid binges on hard drugs, destroying his mind.
I think the moral of the story is if you start to win and get arrogant and stuck up (Whether in SUP racing or surfing competition); you will lose in the end. I have seen this time and time again as a professional coach. If you do well and truly be humble, you can cultivate the gift of attention that you have gained to help yourself and others in many aspects of the life that is ahead of us.
As some Locals say in Hawaii: “BE HUMBLE, NO GRUMBLE”……..Lets all pay attention!