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What do you do for exercise?


I surf.


Oh?


Anyone who surfs, especially an adult, knows what a burden of meaning the word Oh? can carry in such a conversation. Usually its accompanied by a raised eyebrow and a tone of amused condescension. It signals that the speaker has reclassified you in his or her mind as unemployed, immature, stoned, a bum, a dropout, a misfit, or any combination of the above.


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Surfing has been stigmatized ever since the missionaries realized how much the Hawaiians loved it and how important it was to their lives. Nothing but God, they must have felt, is worthy of so much attention. Therefore they likened it unto idleness, a power tool in the devils workshop.


In the early 160s, the media retarnished surfings image, transforming it from a regional sport into a countercultural lifestyle with its own music, clothing and vocabulary. In movies and on television, surfers were (and still are) portrayed as anti-establishment party animals. Today in Hawaii, the birthplace of surfing, surfers are widely regarded as juvenile delinquents and flaky, misdirected adults.


It used to make me angry, but not anymore. After 5 years of surfing, I no longer care what people think. I even agree with the missionaries and the media Surfing is a subversive activity.


Like certain Eastern philosophies, surfing promotes modes of awareness that deviate from conventional thinking patterns. Guided by parents and teachers, youre expected to smartly ascend the pinnacle of success with specific goals in view knowledge, competency, a family, financial security. But surfing doesnt fit onto that track. It has no finish lines or ultimate goals; its a trip on a Mobius strip. You ride a wave and then you paddle back out and do it again. Its a moon dance, a meditation, a non-linear reality. At the end of the journey youre back where you started. The only thing changed is you.


Something about it, maybe the rhythm of the ocean, is habit-forming. Of this Im certain because, for a leisure-time pursuit, surfing has held far too much sway over the course of my life. In fact, Ive never stopped surfing (or lived far from an ocean) for more than a few months at a time since the day in 160 in Southern California when I rode my first wave on a surfboard.


At 5 a.m. on countless summer mornings, leaving our angry parents behind in the dark, my high school friends and I would set off to cruise the Pacific Coast Highway in search of waves. Not road maps, but surf reports and tide charts were our guides. From Santa Barbara to Ensenada, we knew every surf spot on the coastline Rincon, Point Dume, Redondo Breakwater, Lunada Bay, The Wedge, Salt Creek, Trestles, Moonlight Beach, Swamis, Osprey Reefs, San Miguel and a hundred more.


When it was time for higher education, surfing was the topmost item on my hidden agenda and (unbeknownst to my parents) the deciding factor in our selection of a suitable institution. Rather than spend four years of total deprivation in a landlocked university back East, I opted for a school in Northern California an hours drive from the chilly, fog-bound coast of Santa Cruz. As an undergraduate I surfed Steamer Lane, River Mouth, Pleasure Point and Wild Hook whenever I could work a free morning or afternoon into my course schedule.


On my choice of a career and a place to live, once again surfing exercised its disproportionate clout. I found work that required no office, demanded no fixed hours freelance writing. And I moved to Oahu, an island surrounded by great surf.


Today, living minutes from the year-round waves of Diamond Head, I surf a lot more than I did when I was younger. But it takes less time, because I no longer feel compelled to drive a hundred miles in search of the perfect wave. Instead, I gratefully accept whatever the ocean offers on any given day at Cliffs, Mansions, Lighthouse or Old Mans. I give surfing the same priority in my roster of weekly activities that I give my business appointments. For a surfer, Ive learned to lead a relatively normal life.


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