Matt Niswonger
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This is the Way

Surfing is an obsession that involves constantly tracking the ocean. The ocean will be doing a certain thing at a certain spot at a certain time, and surfers calculate the likelihood of ideal waves at some point in the future.

 A truly dedicated surfer will make certain he or she is there as the opportunity presents itself, with all of life’s commitments arranged around the cycles of the ocean. 

The optimal surf session is a fleeting goal. For beginners it’s standing up and moving from the whitewater to the actual wave face. For surfers like me it’s a better maneuver on the wave face, executed more gracefully than before. For others it’s ripping down the line at mach speed, completely at one with the fluid power of the wave while other experts watch with respect. 

As I write this I know what the waves are doing at my favorite surf spot. Not because I’m looking at the real-time cameras on Surfline, but because it’s 10:41am and the tide is rapidly pulling out to a low mark of -0.8 feet at 3:51pm this afternoon. Since the bottom topography of the reef at my spot creates the strongest waves at a tide height of about 2.5 feet, I need to be paddling out at approximately noon.

Before paddling out I will make sure my board is thoroughly waxed so I don’t slip. After I adjust my wetsuit and connect the surfboard leash to my ankle, I will enter the water and paddle over to the lineup. The water will be cold, but I will ignore that. The water will be crowded, but I will ignore that. The waves won’t be as good as I hoped, but I will ignore that too. When I get to my spot I will smile at other surfers and nod my head. Sometimes they will make eye contact and smile back, but other times they will not. Either way I have made an attempt to promote good vibes in the water and that is part of my ritual. Like a Japanese tea ceremony every action builds on the previous action.

When a wave comes, I look left and right to make sure the coast is clear, then I turn and commit. When the wave rises up beneath my board and I gain speed, I pop to my feet as smoothly as possible. If things go right I spend the next ten seconds riding a pulse of water in a blissful act of natural communion that every surfer lives for.

The goal is to surf as much as possible during the winter months when the waves are good and then switch to cycling. Mountain bike season begins when the trails dry out and I pull out my bike. Each ride builds on the previous ride. My legs hurt every day but I will start to get in shape. I clean my chain, make sure my tires are properly inflated, and check the sag on my suspension. Every step builds on the previous step. It’s the Japanese tea ceremony all over again, but instead of riding waves I ride trails. 

Sometime in late spring I pull out my ropes and lead rack and start preparing for Yosemite climbing season. I go to the climbing gym and train my finger strength. I research climbing routes and set goals that are challenging but not dangerous. Every step builds on the previous step. Every day is like a ceremony with moments of bliss as the reward. This is the life of adventure I’ve wanted my whole life. This is the way.

Thank you for reading my words. Can you relate? What adventures do you build your life around? Send me an email to and tell me your thoughts. We read each and every letter and print as many as we can.

— Matt Niswonger