Let me guess. When you saw the words “Black” and “surf” in the same sentence you knew this had to be a misprint. I’m even going to go out on a limb and guess that you thought that there was no logical reason “Black” and “surf” should ever go in the same sentence. Except for the sentence “Black people don’t surf”, the words “Black” and “surf” seem like the most unlikely of combinations.
Guess what? Black people do actually surf. We ski, ride horses, perform ballet, figure skate and do a host of other things that sound and look strange when you put the words “Black people” in front. We don’t partake in what can best be described as fringe activities in mass but we are certainly represented in almost everything the majority population is involved.
NOT A MALCOLM GLADWELL BOOK
Now that we’ve cleared up the relationship between “Black” and “surf”, I’ll continue. Spoiler alert: If you were thinking that this is the story of a father who lived near an ocean who taught his son to do something most Black kids don’t do, you would be wrong. To my dismay and my son’s disappointment, I don’t live in a tropical location where I am blessed with sand, palm trees, an ocean, and sunshine almost every day. Regrettably, I live in a flat, soy bean and corn farm filled, landlocked Midwestern city.
How then did I teach my son to surf? Well, I can assure you that I didn’t do anything extraordinary. Teaching my son to surf is not the story of an outlier or at least it shouldn’t be. What I taught my son is actually something all children would benefit from learning to do.
Surfing as I now like to call it is a figurative expression describing the child who is mentally, physically, and emotionally able to adapt to the ever changing landscape of life. Teaching a child to surf is a minimum requirement of good parenting. Like the coach of a world class surfer, parents who are serious about seeing the hopes and prayers of their children come to fruition must train their children to surf.
Last spring break, my son and I met in Los Angeles. During our visit, we had the good fortune to visit a friend who was literally teaching his toddler and preschooler to surf. As we watched both precocious young men fearlessly surf in the Pacific Ocean, I realized that the training the young men were receiving to become great surfers was nearly identical to the training my son continues to receive so that he may one day become a great man.
Remarkably without having to adorn a wet suit, embarrass black swimmers and surfers everywhere, and suffer the ridicule of being shown up by two intimidating child surfers, I came to understand and appreciate the exceptional beauty in surfing. As I intently watched, as others paddled out into the Ocean and road the waves of the Pacific, I realized that like my friend was doing with his two sons, I had been doing the same thing for my son. I too had been teaching my son how to surf.
ALL CHILDREN MUST LEARN TO SURF
Thanks to my friend and his sons, I can confidently say that surfing is cool regardless of your race, gender, socioeconomic background, or geographic location. In fact, I am such a big fan of surfing that I want you to be able to check to see if you are raising a surfer. So without further ado, here are nine critical things all surfers master.
1. Learn To Stand (Up for yourself) – Before a surfer can ride the board, they must first learn to stand. Similarly, if children have any hope of reaching their God-given unlimited potential, they must first learn to stand up for themselves. Do your child a favor. Please don’t raise them to expect another to do for them what they are unwilling to do for themselves.
2. Get Comfortable (In Your Own Skin) – The next step after learning to stand is to become comfortable standing on the board. One of the great but overlooked challenges children face is learning to be comfortable in their own skin.
In Hamlet, Polonius said “To thine own self be true.” In the modern world, Polonius words are identical and almost as useful as the words spoken by the great poet, Terrell Owens – “I love me some me”. Make sure your children know that you love them. More importantly, just like Mr. Owens, make sure your children unequivocally love themselves.
3. Be Coachable – Few people learn to surf. Even fewer people learn to surf expertly without having a coach and being coachable. Similarly, the chance that a child will reach their full potential is enhanced when the child is taught to accept good instruction. Moreover, the likelihood that a child will maximize their potential is improved when the child has parents (coaches) who are totally committed to doing what’s in the best interest for their child.
4. Know the Basic Etiquette (of Life) – There is a protocol to surfing. Without the protocol surfing would be less safe and less enjoyable. Absent surfing etiquette, there would be splashing and crashing all over the beach.
Life also has a decorum. And children who know the basic etiquettes of life are generally the children whom other parents rave about. Children who are reared in the basic etiquettes of life are also the children society is most likely to promote and help move forward.
5. Decide Where You Want to Go (Catch the Wave) – It’s fairly obvious that surfers are clear about where they are going; they paddle with purpose to a predetermined destination to catch a specific wave. The decisiveness of surfers is no accident. Surfers are very decisive because for as much fun as the water can be, not knowing where you are going is dangerous for the surfer and anyone in close proximity.
Similar to surfers, children are capable of achieving so much more when they know where they are going. And like the surfer, a child should be allowed to choose their own path. However, parents would be wise to never forget that a child’s journey is improved when they know why they are going, where they are going, and how to get there.
6. Submit To Small And Slow Progress –Surfers must not only learn to go slow but those truly serious about mastering the art of surfing know that from the start they are required to begin with the small waves. Surfing is like any other vocation. If you take on too much too fast you just might go off course, sink, and drown.
Children should be taught that mastery of any subject matter is impossible absent a complete submission to the “rule of small and slow progress”. Experience teaches us that the adults we revere were first the children who were trained to avoid being overwhelmed and the children who were willing to endure the arduous process of small and slow.
7. Understand that You’ll Have to Work – It might look amusing to hang out at the beach all day but don’t be fooled – surfing is hard work. Balancing oneself on a small board, paddling back and forth out in the ocean, battling gravity, and fighting against nature is anything but child’s play.
Equally, children who dream of being successful at anything and at any level should be raised to expect that nothing worth having comes without hard work. There are no shortcuts to riding the waves and there are absolutely no shortcuts to mastering life.
8. Expect To Wipe Out – My educated guess is that there has never been a surfer who hasn’t wiped out. Wiping out seems to be inextricably connected to surfing. You surf and you wipe out – rinse and repeat. Life is no different. One day, you perform better than any previous time and the next day you can’t seem to do anything right.
Children who understand the significance of wiping out find solace in the face of difficulty and tragedy. Children who learn to surf know that after a wipe out often comes a hang ten. Hooray for wipe outs!
9. Keep Getting Up (It’s the Only Way to Ride the Waves) – Surfing is an exercise in standing futility. You stand and you fall. And yet in order to ride the waves – standing futility – falling down and getting up and doing it all over again is mandatory.
If children have any chance to fulfill their hopes and dreams, parents must raise them to be undaunted by failure. In order for our children to be able to change the world and make it a much better place than when they arrived, we must prepare them mentally and support them emotionally to get up every time life knocks them down.
If you don’t believe me, perhaps you’ll take the word of someone much smarter than me. “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” – Confucius the original surfer.
So those are the nine critical things surfers should master. Now let me ask you a question, “are you raising a surfer?” If you are congratulations! If you aren’t raising a surfer, may I ask another question, “what are you waiting for”?
Use the aforementioned list to get started raising your surfer. Start right now because there is no time to waste for any parent who wants to raise a child who is not merely willing to catch the waves but who is ready and able to ride the waves of life.
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