Go With the Flow: How To Embrace a Surfer’s Lifestyle

by Dan Ketchum

A surfer’s life isn’t just beach bumming for the sake of laziness, and it isn’t just the yin and yang of adrenaline mingling with serious leisure time. The lifelong surf trip is a state of mind, a way to interpret the act of surfing as a series of guideposts for low-key, mindful living.  Even if you’ve never waxed a board, you’re more than welcome to soak in the philosophical message. Here’s how to incorporate a bit of it into your every day.

Know the Flow

The surf lifestyle and the phrase “go with the flow” are inseparable. When a surfer catches a wave, some people call that moment — where presence is heightened and all other worries disappear — the flow state. It’s like meditation in motion.  

L.A. surfer Aaron James, a University of California Irvine philosophy professor and author of Surfing With Sartre, says, “It’s about the the way one is harmoniously related to what lies beyond — to the wave, to its next moment, and to the ocean that’s serving it up.” And even if you’re on solid ground, it’s a reminder to always be present, to work in harmony with what life serves up rather than swimming against the tide.

Seize the Moment

Speaking of staying present, everyone from Buddhist monks to amateur self-help enthusiasts know the idiom “live in the moment,” but that common sentiment doesn’t have to be passive. Surfing teaches us that.

James presents the example of the tube ride, or the act of surfing inside the tube of a wave. Catching a tube ride is an elusive, exhilarating, highly anticipated moment, but to do so, a surfer has to watch for just the right timing when the wave spits. This can happen right as you’re coasting or when you’re pumping for speed, but you only get that moment if you’re ready to seize the opportunity when it appears. Like Bruce Lee said, “be like water, adjust to the object, and make your way through the cracks.”    

Care for Yourself

Simply put, surfing is a joyous experience and you, as a human being, deserve that joy. Joy might come in the form of a hot bath, it might be treating yourself to an indulgent breakfast like Rockwell Kitchen’s Grilled French Toast Sandwich, or maybe it’s the holy grail of surfing the barrel. Long story short, surfers have been practicing self-care for a long time and if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s not just “OK” to take care of yourself — it’s necessary.  

Sure, there might be an element of hedonism to surfing by putting the pursuit of pleasure on a pedestal, but more than that, the act of surfing celebrates how the human body and the ocean work together. From its endorphin-releasing exercise to its dopamine-releasing natural habitat to the way physical activity has been proven to stimulate the amygdala and hippocampus — surfing is therapy. 

Care for Your Community

Surfer and author Emily Brugman asks, “As surfers, shouldn’t we care deeply about the health of our oceans and do everything we can to conserve them? And thus shouldn’t we consider, for example, how many surfboards we buy, make, use and send to a landfill? Shouldn’t we respect the rights of other sentient beings, like sharks, to exist in their natural environments?”

We believe the answer to all of those questions is a hard “Yes.” From our home turf of Topanga Beach, you don’t just watch the chefs in our kitchen, you also watch the surfers on the waves. But there’s no surfing if there’s no ocean, and there’s no Rockwell Kitchen if there’s no beach. That’s why we don’t just focus on protecting the planet with locally sourced, eco-friendly ingredients, we get hands-on with beach cleanup at Topanga on the last Tuesday of every month at 7 a.m.

Of course, each cleanup wraps with a free cup of Laird Superfood coffee, created by Malibu surfing legend Laird Hamilton. See? Everything really does come full circle, kinda like the barrel of a wave. 

In addition to his experience as a mixologist, menu designer, bar manager and traveler, Dan has been a freelance writer and Los Angeles resident since 2009. He has previously written for Everything Food, Farmshelf, Hunker, Out East Rosé, Kellogg’s, Salon.com and the San Francisco Chronicle’s SFGate, among others.


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Frontiers for Young Minds: How Surfing Could Be a Treatment for Mental Illness

NPR: Catch a Philosophical Wave in ‘Surfing With Sartre’