Surfing is a passion for me, as is conservatism. I watched the video of Garrett McNamara riding his world record wave and saw the elation in his face as when he described how it felt. It made me think about what surfing means to me and how much it has affected my philosophy and reinforced my belief in conservatism.
For me the core of conservatism is freedom–freedom to pursue your life in the manner you see fit, make the decisions and take the risks, revel in your successes and learn from your failures, and find those principles that are meaningful to you and live by them.
Surfing gives back exactly what you put into. Nobody can change that for you. But the playing field is perfectly level and nobody can hold you back either. To excel in surfing requires hard work and training– study to understand the water and waves, putting in your time and taking your lumps. But the personal fulfillment that comes from progressing and perfecting your art in the water is one that few get to experience because of the very effort it requires. So many sitting on the beach admiring the surf, so few picking up a board and surfing.
This principle sits at the very base of conservative thought. Simply stated, something given has no value. Leveling outcomes for people robs them of the sense of pride and accomplishment they would have derived from doing it for themselves. By giving people just enough to get by you take away their opportunity to truly live. The satisfaction that comes from choosing a path and succeeding in your goals cannot be given, but the tools to do so can. When people have those tools, they are far more likely to try.
Risk is a constant element in surfing. The better the wave is, the more risk there is in surfing it. Those machine perfect barrels you see on the cover of surfing magazines are shaped that way because of shallow, razor sharp reefs directly beneath, sometimes only inches under the surface. The best feeling in the world is getting tubed. The deeper you get and the longer you stay, the more amazing it is. It simply cannot be described.
I once watched a friend get the best barrel of his life, get out of the water, sit down on the beach and not move again for 20 minutes. He told me later he spent a good portion of that time crying from pure joy. But sometimes you get crushed by the barrel, go over the falls and pay a heavy price. It is part of the game and it cannot be taken away.
This is the element of conservatism that is often hardest to communicate– the pride and satisfaction that comes from taking risks and succeeding. If you have not had the experience it is hard to understand. It seems strange to hear people accusing conservatives of being heartless– desiring to leave some behind or keep them down. But failure is a primary way humans learn, taking that away robs us of the experience that leads to the next success.
Surfers know that when the surf is big and things are heavy, the only one you can absolutely rely on is yourself. The experience and training you bring to the water is the key to your survival. But sometimes it all goes wrong, and for most people it will at one time or another. I have watched cleanup sets take a whole lineup out. Their boards standing straight up and down like tombstones in the water, the surfers beneath fighting for their lives. But big wave surfers die much less often than you would think. It is because the first thing they do when they get to the surface is look around and see if there is someone who didn’t.
The mood in this country right now feels a lot like this. The problems feel too big to deal with. The people around you may be treading water or even under it. But the answer is pretty simple. It is not in some big government with their meager handouts and the strings that come with them. The answer is in ourselves, our communities, our friends and families.
Unfortunately we have a government that is telling us that if we just tread water long enough, they will come save us. It has never happened before and it won’t this time either. We need take matters into our own hands and help others to do the same. Otherwise the next set of waves is going to roll right over us.