“Communing with nature, dancing in the aquatic realm. Immersed in the womb of Planet Earth. I have found the purest of joy while surfing.”

I’ve been known to call myself a DIY World Religions major, always in a somewhat humorous manner of course. Truth be told, I have, over the span of many years, researched and practiced various religions and spiritual paths. Many times, my fanatical zeal led me to become burnt out and without the peace of mind that is normally promised by such practices.

I have found things that resonated with me in every so-called sacred text, things that I would call universal truths, and other things that made no sense at all. The fact that no particular religion ever fully made sense to me left me feeling “spiritually challenged” more often than not. Then one day I had a groundbreaking realization: surfing, the one thing I’ve loved almost my entire life, was my spiritual practice.

When I saw the photo (seen above) from last Saturday’s south swell that produced solid head-to-overhead barrels it hit me again! Looking at the intense focus in my eyes, it’s safe to say that nothing else was going through my mind while setting up for this turn. At that moment, I was completely focused on what I was doing. I wasn’t worrying about paying my rent this month, or working a 12 hour work day on Tuesday or the innumerable forms of nonsense that pass though my head on the daily. I was present, in the moment! In a state of what some would call meditation, one pointed focus, no-mind and the like. In fact the title from the  famous LSD-experimenting Harvard professor turned Western mystic of the 60s, Ram Dass’ book “BE HERE NOW” seems quite appropriate for the moments we experience while surfing. Being fully in the “now” with no concept of past or future.

Surfing has the ability to take us to the quiet places in our mind, the space in between thoughts that many mystics and sages spend a lifetime trying to access. We also become very in tune with nature and her various modes, moods, and movements. Think of this past swell. The hard south winds that created the swell and chilled the water down, the varying tides that gave the waves different shapes throughout the day. At low tide, the waves were pitching fast and hollow. As the tide filled in, the faces became fatter, better for drawing out long turns as opposed to getting barreled. The offshore winds that groomed the waves from being a sloppy mess on Friday to glassy peeling walls of water on Saturday morning. Spending time in the ocean riding waves, I find I’m in better tune with my internal state, while also gaining a greater understanding and appreciation of how Mother Nature works.

I started surfing sometime in the mid 80’s when the stereotype for surfers was Spicoli from “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”, the blonde haired, pot smoking, moronic half-wit that we all loved. Then came the rise of the jock-like professional surfer that was sold to us through the surf industry for years. Eventually, as my relationship with the ocean grew, I could not personally relate to either of these figures anymore. Surfing became something much deeper to me then summertime beach bum fun or aggressive competitive ferocity. The surf industry as it were could no longer define what surfing was supposed to be, because I had discovered for myself what surfing truly meant to me.

As I age and my relationship with surfing grows I gain a deeper understanding of the art itself as well as gaining insight into myself.

With the proper approach surf sessions can reveal much about what is going on inside us, as well as around us and sometimes even offer answers to the sometimes puzzling questions of life. Just as the bubbles of foam sit on top of the water as the waves churn the ocean, our subconscious thoughts come to the surface or forefront of our mind.

I find many times I recognize them, then they fade away and I’m mentally cleansed as I immerse myself deeper in the session. The more focused I am on the experience of being in the water, life on the shore fades away and then later as I rest afterwards I may have gained some clarity.

If one were to ask me today what religion I practice today I may answer…the ocean is my temple. The wave is my deity, and riding waves is my act of worship or communion with the divine. Now if that’s too deep or pretentious…just go surf, have fun and enjoy the smile on your face.

Above Photo: by MA Spagnuolo. Shawn Zappo riding his 6’2″ single fin from Chaize Surfboards. Find Chaize boards at Lightly Salted on the Asbury Park boardwalk.

Shawn Zappo is a local surfer and skater who rules the stoves at Kaya’s Kitchen in Belmar. He’s also a musician and will be writing about his surf and skate related experiences as well as reviews on bands and whatever the hell else he feels like writing about. Shawn is currently working with Robbie Grieb on an exlusive Anchor film series called “Ripped Ruins: An Asbury Park Skate Retrospective” which will cover the history of the Asbury Park skate scene as told by its key players, both past and present.

2 Responses to “THE OCEAN IS MY TEMPLE”

  1. MC says:

    Zen master Zappo has captured a major part of the surfing experience with this writing…those fleeting moments of pure, in the moment “being” are what draw me in, and keep me paying attention after 30+ years.

    Great shot, but the look on his face is priceless.

    Hope to surf with you soon Shawn.

  2. Charles Mencel says:

    Great piece. Beautiful photo and nice to see Chaize surfboards in the water!

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