But have I actually surfed, you know, on a surfboard?
Not so far—maybe some day. But I like to read about it. And I like to read about Buddhism.
Saltwater Buddha is the first book I'm aware of that draws parallels between surfing and Buddhism. One might imagine that many such books had already been written. Surfing, like Zen, requires immersion in the immediate moment and mindfulness and concentration. I've seen or read books connecting Zen to motorcycle maintenance, golf, archery, tea, tennis, business, flower arranging—you name it—but not surfing.
So, interested to see what parallels this book might draw, I bought it.
I must confess that I had to overcome some misgivings about buying the book. I was aware that his writing might be loose, foggy and spaced-out. Surfers have a reputation for being incoherent and inarticulate when talking about surfing. But that's at least partly because surfing defies capture in language. "Surfing's far out, man. Zen, too."
My misgivings were quickly dispelled. Jaimal Yogis has a master's degree in journalism from Columbia; he can write. His accounts of surfing ring with both authority and modesty. His presentation of Buddhism was likewise articulate: fair, broad and nuanced. He writes in the vernacular for an audience that's probably unfamiliar with one or both of the subjects that anchor the book.
His book, though, is neither a book about surfing nor Buddhism; it is mostly a coming of age story.
Or perhaps a coming of sage story.
Here's a little taste of what's inside the book.
I was paddling through the impact zone at Ocean Beach. Ocean Beach is widely know to have one of the hardest paddles-outs in the world. I've watched professional surfers try to make it out on big days and get sent back to the beach whimpering. There are few, if any channels and the currents pouring in and out of the San Francisco Bay can reach seven knots, sweeping surfers up and down like driftwood on rapids. People drown there every year.I count myself lucky to live in Sebastopol, home to Many Rivers Books and Tea because it brings authors of books I like to read to talk about their work and meet their readers. Yogis stopped by a couple of weeks ago and I got to meet with him and chat with him. I told him that I sent what is probably the first copy of his book to reach the shores of Africa, to my son, Ted, a fellow surfer and sage.
On this particular day, the waves were like endless frothy barricades. I'd been paddling for twenty minutes and I still wasn't outside. I pushed and pumped and heaved and whined. The sea punched and kicked and jammed sand down my throat. And in the midst of this abuse, I realized how much I love surfing.
I loved the actual riding of the wave, of course. But I also loved the challenge of the paddle.
It wasn't always like that. And maybe I was just happy to be back in the water after living in India for months. Or maybe my mind was more accepting after hanging out with all the ultra-happy Tibetan monks. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized every surfer has to like paddling, at least a little.
This was because extremely little of each surf session is spent actually standing up on your surfboard on a wave—maybe one percent—so if you're looking to have a good time it's essential to find a way to enjoy paddling, or at least good-naturedly bear it. And in that way, I thought, surfing is a good metaphor for the rest of life.
The extremely good stuff—chocolate and great sex and weddings and hilarious jokes—fills a minute portion of an adult life span.
The rest of life is the paddling: work, paying bills, flossing, getting sick, dying.
I started to entertain the thought that maybe I could start to deal better with that kind of paddling too.
You can learn more about Jaimal Yogis and his book here: Jaimal Yogis.