Freud and the Beach: An Oblique Commentary on Surfing and the Psyche

by Owen James Burke

The concept of surfing in New York is verging on myth and paradox, merging mean streets and epic waves.

Surfing doesn’t have to be philosophical, but there is certainly no doubt as to whether or not it can be. Andy Martin and award-winning photographer and filmmaker Norman Lomax took to the streets of New York after the Quiksilver Pro had been on Long Island to explore what it is that makes surfing so uniquely transcendental. Looking at the writings of Freud, Sartre and Camus, Andy Martin considers the philosophy of surfing.

“In ‘Being and Nothingness,’ Jean-Paul Sartre recommends skiing as a model of human behavior,” says Martin. But there’s something wrong with skiing still, says Sartre, who says that skis leave behind tracks. The ideal form of gliding would then be sliding on water, he continues, which Martin hopefully takes to mean surfing (though he admits it was probably water skiing Sartre was imagining).

Surfing In New York is also a metamorphisis and a liberation from the confines of the city, as Martin would have Freud look at its function — a birth and a rebirth, or a liberation and a release. But what about Hawaiian surfers whose lives on an island are surrounded and almost even clouded by surf, don’t they very nearly live within their surf environment? Is someone reborn every time they walk 20 yards across their beachfront houses to enter the same waves they do day in and day out? Sure, why not? Because such a lifestyle may not be so cataclysmically metamorphic as it is in New York, but, as Sartre would say, it still brings about a more heightened sense of awareness:

Perhaps there is no activity that is not potentially philosophical, but it has always seemed to me that the collision of (as Sartre would say) the in-itself (the wave) and the for-itself (the surfer), with all its possible outcomes of pleasure and pain (the wipe-out and the hold-down), and especially the tube-ride, with its narrative of being buried and then (ideally) re-born, naturally gives rise to a contemplative state.

Andy Martin lectures at Cambridge University and his new book, “The Boxer and the Goalkeeper: Sartre vs. Camus,” will soon be released by Simon and Schuster.

*nytimes, movingcontent*

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