Why I Like Surfing Movies

The photo below was clipped from my favorite surfing documentary film, “Riding Giants.” What it shows is a guy deep inside the tube of a giant wave. The film was shot from inside the wave! I love the way the cut of his board and his hand create a candy-cane swirl on the inside of the wave. If you think this is cool, you should see it in full motion.

 riding giants

At some point, all surfing movies get around to talking about how surfing is a “spiritual experience.” I believe surfers when they say this, though I’m also quite sure that they have pretty much no idea just how spiritual it is or just how it is spiritual. But I suspect that some day 1500 years from now, when we are living in our resurrected bodies on the resurrected earth, there will be a lot of surfing going on.

A few weeks back, I wrote about how watching sand fall through an hourglass might be a whole different sort of experience if we knew a lot more about what was going on. I think a similar thing is going on when people surf and have such a level of “fun” that they begin to see it as actually important–even spiritual. They are wholly engaged with God’s created order, and they are developing unspeakable knowledge of it. They “read” the waves and connect with the power of the waves–a power that can either transport them or crush them on the rocks. Though they normally don’t identify the voice as his, surfers have their ears up against God’s megaphone called nature.

What great surfers do has a lot of metaphorical value in thinking about what the Orthodox Church calls “true theology.” True theology is not the development of derivative doctrinal systems. True theology is knowing God. True theology is real personal engagement with the self-revealing God. I believe we are brushing up against him all the time, in many ways and in many places. His image, for example, is reflected in the face of every human being we encounter. We are often like surfers, enjoying the sound of his voice and not identifying it as his–not giving him proper credit. This is, of course, the great idolatry of the first chapter of Romans.

The key that determines whether I will be transported or crushed is this: Will I just enjoy listening to the sound of his voice, or will I pay attention to what he says? Will I recognize the voice as none other than that of Jesus Christ?

Well, that’s one of the reasons I like surfing movies. There are many others–and yes, Polanyi is involved. Perhaps another time.

(By the way, it is a true testimony of my love for my Church here in Nashville that I turned down an opportunity to serve in one located in Honolulu).

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4 Replies to “Why I Like Surfing Movies”

  1. You got me curious so I rented this from Netflix. I not only wouldn’t have guessed in a million years that I could ever be interested in surfing, I also wouldn’t have guessed that a surfing documentary would leave me with a lump in my throat right at the end.

    Suddenly I wish I weren’t thirty-seven and living in the exact middle of the United States.

  2. Thanks, Todd. For a similar experience relative to skateboarding, try Dogtown & Z-boys, a documentary about the boys who turned skateboarding into surfing on concrete. My post about that is here.

  3. Doug, thanks for the post. Brought back some good memories for me.

    I grew up in the South Bay near Redondo Beach and the surfing culture was a big part of my life in my youth. I remember the first time I watched “Riding Giants.” I was a bit sad as it made me long for my home on the Western Coast.

    I remember when a good friend of mine converted to Christ after surfing for many years. He still surfs every day….but now knows the God who formed the seas…..and he glides on them with great pleasure.

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