How to Deepen Your Connection to the Ocean Through Surfing

Author: Thibaud Sulzer

One of the many appeals of surfing is that you feel physically connected to the ocean when you’re in the water. 

But did you know there are ways to deepen this connection and make it a more holistic one, with shared reciprocity and care between human and environment? 

Here are a few ideas to take your connection to the ocean to the next level, whether you’re out surfing or taking a break from the waves.

Contents

When you’re out surfing

Pre-Surf Meditation and Breathwork - Woman on beach meditating

Pre-surf breathwork 

Your connection to the ocean doesn’t have to start in the water, but can begin when you’re at the beach and getting ready to surf. Staying mindful of your self and surroundings will help you be present and focussed on the surfing experience ahead. You may even find yourself starting to breathe with the rhythms of the ocean. One way to enhance this is through a simple breathwork exercise. 

So, how do you do it? Once you arrive at the beach, take some time to sit and observe the water that you see. It doesn’t matter whether you’re alone or in a group, but the key is to stay silent and tune into the sensory experience. 

Here’s a simple technique to help get you started, called ‘box breathing.’ It goes as follows:

  1. Inhale a big breath for 3 seconds
  2. Hold at the top for 3 seconds
  3. Exhale fully for 3 seconds
  4. Hold at the bottom for 3 seconds

Then feel free to repeat, increasing by one second at a time with each set, if you wish. Go at your own rhythm though, there’s no pressure. Sometimes it’s helpful to think of a box as laid out below, as a cue for the breaths. However, iIf visualising a box doesn’t work for you, then that’s ok too! Find the way that suits you best.

Box Breathing Technique Diagram - Inhale 3 seconds, hold 3 seconds, exhale 3 seconds, hold 3 seconds, repeat

A little note: Starting breathwork can be really daunting and frustrating at the beginning, and it’s totally normal for your mind to wander off and think of other things. If it does happen, I suggest you acknowledge the thought and let it flow through. Then return your focus to the breath. Be kind to yourself in this process, and just trying the best you can is the most important.

Tune in to your own experience of the ocean

This exercise can be done when you’re in the water. Whenever you have a bit of time to think and reflect, tune in to how the ocean feels for you. Be mindful of the emotions that come out based on what you perceive. How do the colours make you feel? Are you feeling anything different to other days? This is your opportunity for self-reflection, alone with the ocean. 

By engaging with your individual experience, you may come to notice that the ocean does play a role in affecting your state of mind, and feel more in tune with it as a result.

Post-surf creativity

Once you’ve come out of the water, now is your chance  to represent your experience of the ocean artistically, that same day. Get creative! Draw, paint, sing, dance, act, or create anything else that speaks to you. If you’d like to take it one step further, create a sharing space with others where you can each share your artistic piece. 

This exercise will enable you to have a personal or group reflection about how the session was and what the ocean meant to you today. Making a creative piece is also a wonderful way to tap into your playful, childish side of being human. After all, the ocean acts as a natural playground during surfing, and playfulness reminds us of the free-flowing relationship that you have with it.

When you're not surfing

Sometimes the waves just aren’t working in the place you’re in, or you’re not in the mood to go out for a surf - and that’s fine too. Or maybe you’re not near the ocean yet and are eagerly waiting for the next trip. Well fear not, because you can still feel connected to the ocean when you’re not at the beach.

Give back some of  your own time/money

Look into ways that you can give back using your voice, your time and your skills. There are plenty of awesome organisations that are working in ocean-related philanthropy and are always looking for an extra pair of hands. 

Some ideas could be joining a surf therapy charity like The Wave Project, or an ocean conservation charity which hosts events such as beach cleans, like Surfers Against Sewage.

If you feel like you don’t have much time to spare you could also donate to these types of charities, or sign petitions that support ocean protection. Remember that even the smallest action is better than none and will go a long way. 

By engaging in these types of charitable projects you’ll be giving back to the environment, as a form of reciprocal care to the ocean which lets us surf.

Study the spot

If you already know where you’ll be surfing, a great way to connect with the ocean is by studying the local area. Find out what wildlife lives there, what the geology is and whether it’s averse to any climate-related issues.

Each beach is different and you’ll get a more holistic appreciation for the particularities of this place, which will reflect nature’s complexity and diversity. You may also gain better knowledge of when the best waves will come. Win-win!

Final remarks

Connecting to nature through surfing - surfer in water

The suggestions above are only a handful of examples of how you can connect to the ocean holistically, that I’ve practised myself or experienced in my travels. 

Of course, there are many other ways to feel connected to the natural world, so choose whichever works best for you. Similarly, the ideas above are flexible to suit different situations, so feel free to adapt them to wherever you are.

Hopefully this has helped to open up a few doors or provide a different perspective on how to feel connected to the ocean beyond just the physical aspect. Now get out there and try them for yourselves. Happy surfing!


Thibaud Sulzer is a Masters student studying Outdoor Environmental and Sustainability Education. His interests lie in environmental philosophy, flow state and human connections with nature. When not studying, you’ll usually find him outside, either on cold-water swims, surfing or hiking in the Scottish hills. From January 2023, he’ll be living in different eco-communities to further develop his nature-related skills.