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Water ballet? Photo by Chris Ahrens
Columns Waterspot

Waterspot: Surfing as dance

By one common definition a sport is “an activity requiring skill or physical prowess and often of a competitive nature.” 

So, if surfing is a sport where does that leave the vast majority of today’s beginning surfers, most of whom possess little skill and few of whom will ever compete? 

While I do think of surfing as a sport when it is done for points, most of the time it fails to meet the definition above.

So, if surfing is not a sport, what exactly is it? To pin the tail precisely on the behind of our little donkey is not possible, but here are some stabs at other definitions. 

Some would call it an all-consuming lifestyle where everything from the actual act of surfing, to language, music and dress consume the personality. While true for some, a large number of surfers leave this aquatic activity behind once they exit the water. 

 A smaller number still call surfing a spiritual activity, suggesting that each wave ridden brings them closer to God. 

From this group are those who consider surfing a type of yoga, where the student bends the body in an attempt to reap certain deeper benefits. 

When the surf is good and you’re moving rapidly down-the-line, surfing can be all of those things and none of them. 

At such times it transcends labels and drifts into a category where dictionaries are of no use. 

But most of the time Southern California waves are fairly slow moving, and offer the surfer a chance to contemplate both the wave they are on and the approach they have to it. 

At such moments surfing is a sort of dance performed on what a documentary of the same name termed a “Liquid Stage.”

Surfers employ various dance styles — some quick and jerky, others deliberate and posed, while a select few fall into an inner groove dictated by soundless music. 

The best follow the lead of the wave in something that approximates a timeless ballet. Young, inexperienced surfers, on the other hand, can appear to be doing a nervous sort of jitterbug. 

Surfing Twerkers stick their butts out and wiggle around without apparent embarrassment. 

While I have yet to see modern dance, or anything interpretive in the mix, I suppose the majority of today’s top shortboard surfers would be related to hip-hop, if anything. 

Topping the charts are Brazilians Gabriel Medina and Filipe Toledo who, spending as much time in the air as the water, could play the lead to a saltwater version of Peter Pan. Liquid stage performer, former World Champion, Hawaiian-born John John Florence often takes a curtain call when combining the grace of ballet with the best of the aforementioned art forms. 

As for you, listen for the music in your head and tune into your own channel. Invent your own dance if you must and ride to the rhythms you know.