Lessons from Surfers and Skaters

Vacation gives you that mellow space to just settle in and be observant. The calendar is not pressing. No house to clean. Minimal work required. And if you’re lucky, someone saintly is keeping your kids for you.
This week, I’ve had that kind of vacation with my husband. My in-laws have had our children in El Paso for 5 days, and B. and I have traveled out to Huntington Beach, California for some seaside respite.
I’ve been sitting on a beach towel watching the surfers. And I’ve been sitting on the boardwalk benches watching the skateboarders. Here’s what they’re teaching me.
One surfer yesterday stood on the beach, his board laying next to him. He widened his stance and did several squats in a row. Down, down down he’d squat, warming up his quads and hamstrings…those necessary muscles for jumping up onto the surfboard. All the while he never took his eyes off the water. He gazed a hundred yards out, out there where the surf breaks, where he was set to be. I liked his hyper focus. It was vulnerable. It was sharp and ready.
He was assessing the waves. And mentally turning down the volume on distractions. His whole body—his sun bleached hair and leathery tan skin said, I’ve done this before. His physique was wiry and strong. It said, I ’m prepared for this. And his steady gaze on the waves said, I’m committed to this.
The surfer has practiced his sport. He is either a seasoned surfer or he will be one day. It doesn’t matter. Only the work of practice matters. Practices always gets it’s reward. By nature of repetition, we improve.
Then I watched the skateboarders. Their practice said the same thing.
I watched a boy who was 9 years old, the youngest one in the group. He’d start at the top of the ramp, drop his board and hop on. Down he’d sail on the board, only once he’d pedal his foot on the ground to increase momentum.  After that one foot thrust, he’d come to the lip of the opposite ramp and up he’d fly. In the air he’d take another risk—he’d twist his body at the waist and his feet too, so that his board would flip over. And that was the moment for which he practices, that he might land both feel on the board again. That his two feet might find their footing on the wood after the jump.
As I watched him I considered how all his practice is for that particular moment…to gather his speed, strength and sheer will to complete the trick.
Practice gets it’s reward. In fact, practice is it’s own reward. Athletes know this deeply. The surfers and the skaters at Huntington Breach reminded me that practice is the aim. You can’t hate learning if you want to be very good at something. The great Brazilian soccer player, Pele said it precisely, “Everything is practice.”

“What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me– practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:9

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