Written in 2017.
I put on my board-shorts, ripped a coffee, and walked towards the Indian Ocean with 50,000 Rupiah in my pocket, the keys to my hostel dorm room, and nothing else. As I strolled towards the ocean, it felt like I was going to meet a high-school crush. The search for the perfect wave is a new journey for me, but I feel like in some ways this search has been in my blood since before I even tried surfing seven years ago, and on some level has even shaped the path of my life since. I always knew that when the time was right that the search would begin, and never end. Today I felt like I took a huge step; not by achieving anything, but rather by gaining some understanding.
I stayed in the water for eighty minutes, which is about all my pasty white skin could handle under the Balinese Sun. The waves were kind of flat, and it was rather busy. I flirted around the edge of the bustle for the first fourty minutes or so, paddling, and not doing much of anything. I was scared to put myself out there. Scared to fail. Scared to get in the way. Scared to take up any space.
But, as I usually do when I’m existing on the outside of things and looking in, I watched, and learned.
I watched one particular surfer who seemed completely content with simply sitting on his board, looking out across the ocean, and waiting for it to send a gift in his direction. Twenty minutes went by and he didn’t attempt to catch a wave, nor had I. Was he even surfing? Watching this surfer taught me a deep lesson. He wasn’t catching waves, but he was surely surfing. What he was doing was no different than spending a day fishing and not getting a single fish in the boat. You are still fishing. I realized that you can only lose at surfing if you try to win.
I let go of that urge to achieve something and just tuned into my senses. Noticing the sound of the water lapping over my pink board and looking at the water magnifying the globs of wax on its surface. Noticing how the water gave my feet a sense of weightlessness as my they hung in the blue. It was bliss. I had found flow.
Something clicked. I had to let the wave come to me. I couldn’t put my head down and grind my way into a good wave. The brute-force attack I have used my body for in other sports would give me no return here. My opponent, and team-mate in this world, is the omnipotent ocean, and any opposing force I exert will be useless.
Sitting there floating,...just existing...I felt like for the first time I was surfing and I hadn't even caught a single wave. I was in the ocean waiting for my wave to come. Not forcing. Not over-extending. Letting it happen. My peaceful, almost meditative state eventually led me into the crowd, and I felt like I now belonged in the search. By giving up control, by not trying to win, I found my way in.
I waited another twenty minutes or so, and had been in the water for about 75 minutes. I still hadn’t attempted a single wave, but that was ok and my time was not wasted in waiting. And then it came. My wave. I let the wave carry me, and although my stand-up was clumsy, I let it happen and rode the best wave of my life. As I rode the wave I smiled like an 8 year old with a popsicle at a carnival. It was beautiful.
I waited almost 120 minutes to catch a single wave and rode it for no more than 15 seconds. But it was the best day of surfing in my life.
This experience made me think a lot about my evolution in weightlifting and how society often approaches pursuits in the realm of fitness. Just like surfing, weightlifters are working with and against an unbreakable and eternal force; gravity. And they are also searching for perfection. Perfect control of body movement to allow you to lift the most weight possible from the ground to over-head.
But this chasing of perfection gets lost in translation. Instead we want the PR for instagram or rush into weekend competitions where its all about more more more. I ask why why why? Many weightlifters and exercisers in general forget to be patient and do not respect the process of learning and adaptation as a result. We want the PR now, and expect it to come, rather than giving into, and enjoying, the process while letting the results happen. Weightlifting can become really frustrating if you expect to PR on a frequent basis and make that the only validation of your time spent weightlifting. You rush to the mountains and don't enjoy the forests on the way.
Do we really only lift so we can experience a PR every once in a while? I have been there swearing at the bar, and myself, because I didn't get the PR I was expecting. The PR I felt I deserved for some reason. A little number ruined my experience of something I claimed to love. I didn't get the PR so the past month or two were wasted? Something is wrong there. Focusing only on achieving changes the experience.
The goal of weightlifting is of course to lift the most weight possible, but is that the only way to approach weightlifting? As a competitive sport? Is it so crazy to think you can be weightlifter and not focus on lifting more weight or winning, but rather lifting the same weight better? Moving more beautifully? Simply enjoying performing the lifts? Mastery?
To use the fishing analogy again, how frustrating would it be if the only reason you fished was to catch a bigger fish every time. Those who fish do not operate this way. They talk about the water, the fight of the fish (even if it was a small one), and if you drag this out.. it is more about the experience than the result itself. Of course pulling in a massive Wall-eye is exciting, but that comes as a gift, you can't force a fish to bite your hook.
Why can't weightlifting or fitness be like this? And hey, maybe it is, and I am blowing this out of proportion. Maybe I need to hear this more than anyone else. But how many times does it happen when you tell someone that you like lifting weights or spend a significant time lifting weights that the question right away is if you are any good, or do you compete, or how much do you lift, etc. Or, you've been doing this a couple years now, you should compete. It is like there is a certain level you have to be at or you are wasting time with it. If you aren't Brent Fikowski or CJ Cummings you have no business investing your time into your craft and you should resign to Netflix.
I am not anti-competition, don't get me wrong. I coach people who compete in the sport of fitness. I train hockey players who compete at the highest level. I spent eight consecutive years of my life foaming at the mouth for any kind of competition or chance to prove myself. I am probably not done competing either, even though I have taken a break. But, taking this break has opened a whole new world to me in terms of enjoying my relationship with fitness, and also opened my eyes to how strangely we view fitness as a society.
Because of our societies long standing obsession with competition and using it as the only validation for mastery or expression of a skill, people in the fitness world tend to think they always need to be lifting more, or doing more, or running further. Competition is great for the right people under the right circumstances, but I think viewing competition as the only way to prove, justify, or express your fitness is a very narrow way of looking at things.
People surf their entire lives, searching for that perfect wave and may never compete. Does this mean that they never progressed? That they are not capable? That they are not good enough to compete? The fitness world could take some lessons from surfing.
I still invest a lot of time into eating healthy, lifting weights, and chasing mastery. Remove competition, and only the motivation and reasons why I do what I do have changed, not my lifestyle. I am not on this path because I am trying to win anything. I do this because it is what I love to do, and I don't need some sort of achievement to justify it anymore.
It feels right. It feeds my soul, and quiets my demons. That is why I do it.
So I ask....are you not a weightlifter in the truest sense, if your heart is filled with excitement as you lace up your lifting shoes, filled up a little more with anticipation as you chalk up your hands for the first time, and then feel a sense of euphoria and relaxation as you wrap your hands around the bar and know that for the next couple hours all that matters is you, the bar, and gravity?
Is someone who experiences weightlifting like this not more of a weightlifter even if they can only snatch 60kg, than the ex football player who could power snatch 75kg on his first day? Or dare I say even the Olympian who no longer does it because of enjoyment but out of obligation? If you are only focused on competing and the numbers, well then you'd consider the football player more of a weightlifter than someone who truly loves, experiences, and appreciates weightlifting as a life-long journey. A litmus to test oneself against, not concerned with others. Numbers only matter if you want them to, and competing only validates your experience of weightlifting or fitness in general if you want it to.
You don't need to compete to sink your teeth into something. You can chase mastery. It is just as noble. Be part of a journey, and enjoy the search.
I have hit on a couple of things in here for consideration and reflection.
-Society has forgotten that Mastery, and even enjoyment, is as noble a pursuit as winning or competing.
-Is competition the only way to validate dedication to fitness or weightlifting?
-Is moving more weight necessarily better, or more meaningful, than moving well, or simply enjoying your time in the gym more?
You decide, don't let someone else tell you.
Thank-you for reading.