10 surfing life lessons from Jack Viorel

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Jack Viorel, founder of Indo Jax Surf Charities, experiences his own moment in the waves. Photo: Richard Perry

Jack Viorel, founder of Wrightsville, North Carolina's Indo Jax Surf School and Indo Jax Surf Charities, says what surfing teaches is deeper — and wider — than any ocean. His twin ventures expose special-needs and at-risk kids to the dynamic ocean environment at free weeklong surf camps.

"We believe the ocean has healing properties, and that inherent in learning to surf are life lessons and skills that cannot be taught elsewhere," Viorel says. Here, he shares 10 ways surf camp might just be a metaphor for all of our lives.

Fear is OK

Many people today have learned that if something is scary, they shouldn’t do it. We spend the week working through fear and teaching that fear is OK. Being comfortable while being scared is second nature for surfers, and that lesson is so valuable as people move on with their lives. After that, you can tackle tough, scary issues — not run from them.

Awash in mental flexibility

Basketball, for example, is indoors. The court is standard size, the hoop is always 10 feet tall, and the ball always bounces. But surfing is never the same. The ocean changes every hour, every minute, and you really have to learn to be flexible and take advantage of what you can each time you go out. Some days are good, some are bad, and some get rained out, with everything in between.

Who needs screens?

You don’t need anything when you're at the beach. You can play in the sand and just body surf if you have no equipment. We teach that you can enjoy the beach whether you have a surfboard or not. There's always something to do. The beach is the best playground there is.

The magic of the living ocean

For some people, it's shocking that Mother Nature can offer such a great experience. Saltwater on your skin, wind in your hair, and being covered in sand are all healthy physically and emotionally, and to a degree that many have not experienced before.

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A building wave of trust

When learning to surf, most people are at least a little nervous when they head out into the water. Instantly you must put your trust in an instructor. Our students in particular haven’t had much luck with trust. But a week with the same guide, who gets them in and out of the water safely, can build a lot of trust. We see strong bonds built in a short amount of time.

Self worth by surf

For people with self-worth issues, like our orphans from India, getting some one-on-one attention with a surfing instructor is incredibly powerful. When a mentor helps you catch a wave, it becomes just you, the ocean, and the board. You become an individual walking on water. And when you get a good one, and everyone is cheering for just you, it’s even more powerful.

The power of persistence

Most days are average surf days that require a lot of paddling just to get a few waves. Waves are constantly pushing you back. You need to keep paddling; you need to negotiate your way out. But after a good wave or two you become self-motivated to work hard to get back to the lineup. The waves don’t always make it easy, but if you keep paddling you will eventually catch a good one.

Surfers and Participants have the time of their lives at the annual Surfers Healing Event in Wrightsville Beach, NC

An instructor introduces surfing to a participant at the annual Surfers Healing event in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina. Photo: Courtesy of Indo Jax Surf Charities

Wipeouts are part of the deal

Even the best surfers wipe out — a lot. Getting good at surfing means a ton of wipeouts. To many of the kids we work with, their lives seem like a wipeout. Surfing teaches that wipeouts are just part of the deal. When you learn to wipe out and go back out, that can translate to your own life. You can wipe out in anything you’re doing, but all you have to do is paddle back out.

Sea peace

Once you get out past the breakers, you’re free. So many surfers I know surf to get away from hectic lives. No one can bother you when you’re out there. You can float around, swim, ride a few waves, and laugh with your friends, but you’re untouchable. There is a freedom and an incredibly peaceful feeling in the ocean you can’t find anywhere else.

Practice to empowerment

Surfing is a difficult thing to master. It takes time, trial, and error. But, through practice, to get to the point where you can finally catch and ride waves is wildly empowering. It's a feeling of pride in accomplishment. You learn you can do anything you put your mind to.

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