“Catch a wave and you're sitting on top of the world.”
— Brian Wilson and Mike Love, "Catch a Wave," 1963
The ocean is not a natural habitat for humans. We live on the land. Many people never leave their natural surroundings, the land, to venture into the spaces in which they do not live.
Entering these alien environments requires special planning and equipment. To venture into the air, one needs some sort of flying device. To venture into the ocean, all one needs is a surfboard.
Venturing into the water to surf doesn't just happen. It takes conscious effort, planning, and knowledge to take the first step into the water preparing to paddle out.
Challenging the ocean is physically demanding, and it can be risky. The ocean can be a rather hostile and dangerous setting?
But something makes the surfer want to go out and ride the waves. Out in the lineup, a force is calling. That force is The Draw.
The draw of surfing is a more powerful force than the forces that ground us on the beach. It is powerful enough to overcome all of the obstacles holding us to the sand.
There are many reasons not to venture into the hostile world of the ocean; the draw overcomes them all. It may be the middle of the winter, with icy water and a cold wind blowing, yet the break is crowded.
It may be double overhead, with 50 yards of white water to traverse, and nonetheless there are those outside and those scratching to get outside. It may be noon in the middle of July with white hot burning sun, but there is a crowd picking the peak. The draw pulls the sufer out into the water to ride some waves.
No other exercise or endeavor produces the pleasant afterglow of a great surfing session. Only a good run can come close with its endorphin release. What is it about surfing that produces and releases such a good feeling hormone? What is the draw, and from where does the force emanate?
The Draw vs. drawbacks
For most of the time in the water, the surfer is sitting and waiting. This can be a pleasurable experience, watching nature and being alone with your thoughts, but one does not paddle out just to sit and do nothing.
There is drudgery in every sport. There is drudgery in surfing. There are many unpleasant aspects of surfing.
Getting out through a tough shorebreak or 50 yards of white water on the bar is hard work. Sitting and waiting for waves in the cold water, the hot sun, the shark-infested ocean, is not fun.
It was New Year’s Day, and the temperature was near 70 degrees. The air was sparkling clear.…
Getting back out to the lineup after a wave can be a chore. Wipeouts can be dangerous. All these make surfing one of the more difficult sports and conspire to keep one out of the water.
But the draw is more powerful than the drudgery and the negative aspects.
The draw of the surfing experience is the brief time actually on the face riding the wave.
It is the experience we seek when going out in the water, the source of the force that draws a person in. For the surfer, there is just no feeling like that of riding a wave.
The feeling of peace and serenity produced by a great session is the sum of the waves ridden. The draw emanates from the wave itself, and is transferred to the surfer by the act of riding it.
The goal in the water is always to look good and ride the wave well in front of the crowd. This is true for any size of wave. The objective is to achieve a smooth takeoff, use the wave to its maximum potential, and exit cleanly.
The crowd in the lineup is always watching and keeping score. The gallery on shore is examining carefully. You want to be proud of your ride and your abilities.
The exact nature of the draw is somewhat dependent on the magnitude of the waves. Each session is unique, but there is a commonality in different surf sizes. The draw of small waves is different from that of medium and large waves.
The draw of small waves is fun. Up to waist-high surf is a delight. There is no problem getting out. There may be a crowd, and the shallow water is a hazard with a miss, but the whole experience is that of entertainment; entertainment of the pack in the water and the gallery on shore.
These small waves are made for hot-dogging: walking the board, toes on the nose, fancy pullouts. The lineup enjoys it, and the gallery onshore will be hooting and hollering. It is OK to show off in such a setting.
The draw of medium waves is serious surfing. Medium waves are chest-high to just overhead. This is the perfect surf in which to shine. There is real power in the sets, and the surfer responds with power over the wave.
There are longer lines, resulting in more time on the face. Wave count can increase dramatically in medium surf, resulting in the pleasant feeling of tiredness post-session. Your surfing potential is reached in medium waves.
The draw of big waves is courage and conquest of fear. The goal is to ride the biggest wave, make it down the face, turn, and find some sort of escape on the shoulder. Because of the size, face time is longer, but because of size wave count is dramatically reduced. Although an XXL session has a lower wave count, the feeling of the subjugation and defeat of these giants provides the draw.
Whatever the wave size, surfers experience The Draw every time we check the surf. It pulls us into the water and keeps us coming back.