Three months ago, I traded my flannels for board shorts and ventured far from the snowcapped Colorado mountains to the sapphire coast of Sri Lanka. For many, Sri Lanka remains a palm-speckled mystery that is slowly beginning to unravel among outdoor adventurers. With world-class national parks and a budding ecotourism scene, this island nation is overflowing with opportunities to be among the wild. It wasn’t an easy decision to leave Summit County, my winter playground for two decades; however, I left with one simple goal in mind: learn to surf.
I can trace this unexplained longing back to my childhood summers in Denver’s landlocked suburbs; stretching out my hand while skateboarding as if I was grazing the edge of a wave. I can proudly say that I have accomplished my goal. I can catch overhead waves, navigate larger reef breaks, and keep up with those I used to watch only from the safety of the shore. It was never easy, sometimes spending countless hours paddling and never catching a wave. It was in these quiet moments where I recognized the similarities of skiing and surfing. Seemingly opposite, the surfer and skier share a lot more in common than expected.
The most obvious similarity is the etiquette. These sports require a vigilant awareness of your surroundings while respecting and maneuvering around other participants. It’s difficult, often scary, and I pissed a lot of people off when I first started. Whether the water is frozen or fluid, I found any progression required a stern opposition to the notion of a comfort zone.
Next, I took note of the culture. Just as life’s problems didn’t exist at Rocky Mountain altitudes, they seemingly couldn’t make their way into the open water either. Although these sports are highly individualistic, the communities that gather because of them are genuinely enthusiastic, magnetic, and mostly just a good time. Each has their own scene, icons, and oddities, but what remains are good-hearted people enjoying their time outside together.
The largest commonality between skiing and surfing is that it embodies this unexplained desire to be completely surrounded by nature. To become a surfer, I recalled the practice, patience, and faith in the uncontrollable while learning to ski as a kid in the backcountry. These environments are not even meant for human survival yet I demand to be a part of it. Why? Because it enables me to be consumed by it all; the adrenaline, breathlessness, and awe of working alonside these forces is both humbling and empowering.