A Surfing Reflection

Some sports are inherently competitive, in the sense that players cannot exhibit the full range of their skills without being pushed by a strong opponent. Surfing is different: the challenges are intrinsic to the activity and do not involve beating anyone.

MELBOURNE – For me, as for most Australians, summer holidays have always meant going to the beach. I grew up swimming and playing in the waves, eventually moving on to a body board, but somehow missing out on learning to stand on a surfboard.

I finally made up for that omission when I was in my fifties – too old ever to become good at it, but young enough for surfing to give me a decade of fun and a sense of accomplishment. This southern summer, I’m back in Australia and in the waves again.

At the beach where I surfed today, I heard about a ceremony that had taken place there earlier in the season – a farewell to a local surfer who had died at a ripe old age. His fellow-surfers paddled out into the ocean and formed a circle, sitting on their boards, while his ashes were scattered over the surface. Other friends and family stood and watched from the beach and cliff top. I was told that he was one of the best surfers around, but at a time when there was no money in it.

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