swergold photo by shelton bishop

Surfing for Sanity

I’m an addict and I’m not ashamed to admit it. The first thing I do every morning is check surfline.com’s Ocean Beach Cam. For most of the year Ocean Beach is inconsistent at best, with infrequent swells and unfavorable winds.

During the winter however, it comes alive. The cold air inland of the bay creates easterly winds, making the waves hollow.
At the same time, the winter brings in large swells from the north and west. When these two variables align, Ocean Beach turns into cold water paradise. Lucky for me, these world-class waves are less than a half hour from my home in Mill Valley.

With an explanation of my surf addiction to my counselor, I was able to arrange my schedule so that I’d have a free first period. This allows me to surf for a whole two and half hours before my first class on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

As a surfer there’s a feeling you get when the waves are pumping. You feel like if you’re not out there, you’re missing out. If I’m not surfing I get anxious. My voice might tremble, I’ll tap my feet, and if I’m in school I’ll ask my teacher to go to the bathroom so I can watch the waves on the Surfline cam. No, I’m not a maniac, I just have a surfing dependency.

I can’t sleep the night before a big swell. I toss and turn in my bed, knowing that in the morning I will be putting myself into a dangerous situation. My parents worry too, but they  trust my experience in the ocean.

It’s early November, usually when some of the first big swells of the year start to hit. On this Tuesday morning my alarm clock goes off at 5:45 a.m. I’m already awake though. Butterflies in my stomach, I know that today has the potential to be really good. I scarf down half an avocado before heading out the door, with my backpack in one arm and my surfboard in the other.

After checking the waves up and down the beach, at around 7 a.m I get in the water. I know that paddle out is going to be brutal. To my surprise I’m out in the line up within 25 minutes. Today I get lucky and only took one 15 foot set on the head on my way out.

Once I’m out there I marvel at the sun as it rises over the city. I look back towards Marin and think about how most of my classmates are probably on their way to school right now. I’m lucky enough to snag  five or six good waves before I look down at my watch, which reads 9:05. I have to be in class in 40 minutes!

I paddle in, change and start the car as fast as I can. The clock on the dash reads 9:20. I pull into a half passing parallel parking spot, in a ditch past the field house at 9:42. I know it’s going to be an all out sprint to class.

Shoes in hand, I sprint through the BPL, acquiring many judgmental looks from my peers. Up three flights of stairs I slide through the door to my second period class just as the bell rings. As I sit in class, I can’t help but feeling like I just got away with something. It’s only 9:46 and my day is already made.

This feeling of satisfaction helps me stay focused in school for the rest of the day. I’m not the only one who has noticed this phenomena. Junior Gary Griffis said, “I am totally awake when I get to school…Waking up at 5 in the morning to go surf is also easier than waking up at 7 for school because I want to get up and go surf.” Griffis also feels a bit neurotic when the waves are good. “I get super excited for the day to end so I can go straight to O.B. [Ocean Beach] and score.”he said. Maybe this extreme enthusiasm we have fuels us in the classroom.

There also appears to be a direct correlation between surfing and GPA. Prior to 2016 I surfed roughly twice a week. However, in 2016 I surfed more than twice that much, sometimes up to three times a day. While one might expect my grades to plummet due to the mass amount of time spent in the water, the exact opposite occurred. In the 2016 fall semester my GPA was the highest it had ever been. Surfing almost everyday helped improve my overall happiness, in turn making school and homework more manageable.

The correlation between the ocean and mood has been documented. According to Stanford University neuroscientist and psychologist Philippe Goldin, 70 percent of our bodies are salt water.

Goldin said to the Santa Cruz Sentinel News, “There’s no lack of clarity that we came from the ocean.”

Dr. Michael Merzenich, a professor of neuroscience at UC San Francisco, told the Sentinel “This evolutionary connection to the ocean explains some of its draw.”

Pardon my occasional tardiness, and dripping wet hair, I’m doing this for my own betterment. Surfing helps improve my overall quality of life. In my case, there is a direct relationship between surfing and academic achievement. So the next time the wind turns offshore and the waves are big, you’ll know exactly where to find me.

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