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When it Comes to Health and Happiness, There’s Nothing Better Than Getting in the Water

By Jake Howard

Another lap around the sun together on this crazy blue orb, and as we bear down on the start of 2022, I’d like to wish everyone much health and happiness in the New Year.

“The greatest thing in life is health,” once opined the late Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz, who famously raised his family on the shores of San Onofre.

“Some of the most profound realizations that I came to about health did not derive from medicine, but derived from surfing,” Paskowitz continued.

Without a doubt, the connection between surfing, health and happiness is real. It’s one of those things you come to realize as age creeps up on you.

When you start surfing as a kid, it’s all fun all the time. The more sun, salt and swell, the better. But in the words of the great bluesman Lightin’ Hopkins: “There ain’t no wise young men.” The appreciation for surfing’s true meaning and benefits is hard-earned over time.

The more laps around the sun we enjoy, the more we come to realize the power of riding waves and the importance it plays in our health and happiness. Just look at how many people took to the water in these COVID-19 times to see the joy a day at the beach can bring.

Remember when the pandemic first hit, and they closed the beaches? I was bombarded by messages from people explaining how much they truly needed surfing and, like a fish out of water, they simply needed to get in the ocean.

The epitome of style, class and humility, local icon Phil Edwards continues to inspire generations of surfers to get in the water and do their thing. Photo: Courtesy of Bruce Brown Films

These times have certainly taught me a lot. I’m much more appreciative of whatever waves are in front of me, no matter the size or shape. I’m also not as envious as I once was when I see friends scoring warm, perfect surf in the tropics. Of course, I could most definitely use a good surf trip this coming year, but more often than not, I find I’m just happy to have a paddle somewhere around here.

“I’m not striving for the ideal surfer’s paradise anymore, or the perfect life without obstacles. It doesn’t exist,” Jaimal Yogis wrote in his book Saltwater Buddha: A Surfer’s Quest to Find Zen on the Sea.

“Not that I don’t have preferences or dreams anymore,” he continued. “But it seems like the idea of paradise is just on the horizon, always, while life is here, under my feet, now. Might as well enjoy it, learn to appreciate the good waves, the paddling, the ferocious storms, and the mundane moments—the quiet lulls between swells.”

At present, I’ve been out of the water for the better part of a month after getting stung by a stingray at Poche (it’s what I get for trying to sneak in a surf before a funeral … karma, I suppose).

Thankfully, this may be the longest stint I’ve gone in the past 20 years without surfing, but the foot’s finally healed, and I’m anxious to pull the wetsuit back on. I’m sure whenever I do paddle out, I will have once again learned a lesson in appreciation. The ocean’s a good teacher like that.

“In regards to surfing, I’ve learned that there is always another wave coming,” shared Gerry Lopez, the original Pipe Master and a bit of a bodhisattva himself. “Translated, that means there is always tomorrow.”

“No matter how badly you get caught inside, if you can just hang in there and keep paddling, the set is going to pass and there will be a lull afterwards,” Lopez added. “So, don’t give up, just take your pounding, wait until the set passes, then make your move.”

“There is wisdom in waves. Some surfers see it right away, others never do,” Lopez continued. “To find success in surfing, we must learn to be in harmony with nature. This will bring a sense of peace. By sharing this peace, and contributing to other people’s happiness, we can find the true meaning of life. Keep surfing.”

And that’s it, that’s really the secret: just keep surfing. Life is always going to throw wild cards your way, whether it’s a crazy global pandemic or sting from a stingray; getting in the water, paddling out and riding that next wave is what it’s all about.

That’s key to health and happiness if you’re a surfer. And to that, I say Happy New Year and happy surfing.

Jake Howard is local surfer and freelance writer who lives in San Clemente. A former editor at Surfer Magazine, The Surfer’s Journal and ESPN, today he writes for a number of publications, including Picket Fence Media, Surfline and the World Surf League. He also works with philanthropic organizations such as the Surfing Heritage and Culture Center and the Positive Vibe Warriors Foundation.

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