How Surfing Helps Me Explore the Unconscious Mind

Joseph Dana
4 min readJun 22, 2022
My local break. Kommetjie, South Africa.

The wind is blowing strongly from the South East. It’s 9:30 on a Tuesday morning. Most people are at work, but a small group drifts in the cold South Atlantic, waiting for the next set of waves to roll in. We don’t know each other, but there is camaraderie in our common purpose. I paddle towards an oncoming wave with a tinge of hesitation and fear. I dig my arms deep into the water to gain speed to catch up with the wave. Everything clicks into place and the wave’s energy lifts my board. I push up to my feet and fall through the air as the wave hollows out below me. With a burst of speed and power, I am gliding across the face of the wave.

Despite all the raw energy around me, everything is strangely still. I am in a state of suspended animation where only primal emotions register in my mind. I drive faster and faster down the line until I shift my weight to my front leg, lean back, and sink the board’s rail into the water. All the momentum I have gathered pulls me through a deep carve until I turn back towards the open face of the wave.

After this burst of energy, the wave dissipates. I kick off and paddle out towards the back line again. The entire experience lasts for less than a minute, but I have been transported to another reality somewhere between conscious life and a meditative realm. For that fleeting moment, nothing else in the world matters. I am present.

In between these flashes of brilliance, surfing affords an inordinate amount of time to sit in the ocean and look at the horizon. All that time alone in the elements has become a vital part of my adventures into the unconscious. The ocean’s vastness is a true refuge and dilutes a certain sense of self.

I used to feel ashamed of the amount of time I spent surfing. It’s one reason why I have resisted writing about surfing. Riding waves can be a lot of things but all of them require large amounts of time that most people don’t have.

In fact, riding waves makes up a surprisingly small amount of the time I spend out surfing. Most of my time is spent thinking about surfing, looking at weather charts, reading forecasts, talking with friends about which spots will be best on which swell, considering which board to use for the conditions, driving to different surf spots, putting on and…

Joseph Dana