The term “soul surfer” is thrown around a lot in the surfing world. It’s the name of a song and a film, both of which are well-known in the sport, but it goes much deeper than that.
If you’re a soul surfer, it means you are passionate about this sport in a unique way.
The Birth of Soul Surfing
In the 1987 film North Shore, the protagonist, Rick Kane, loses a surfing competition when the antagonist, Lance Burkhart, cheats his way to victory. Rick’s friends and mentors are outraged, but he reminds them that the goal is not to win, but to go the distance, saying, “it doesn’t matter to a soul surfer”.
Initially, Rick is taught the ways of the “soul surfer” by his mentor, Chandler, played by Gregory Harrison. Chandler is a shaper and surfer who has a deep passion for the sport.
He’s not interested in competing and winning, and cares only about the art of riding the waves. He teaches this mentality to Rick.
Chandler, and North Shore in general, popularized the idea of the soul surfer, but it didn’t create it.
The first time that the term Soul Surfer was used was back in 1963, when Johnny Fortune, a guitarist from Southern California, recorded an instrumental of the same name. The term was relatively common in the 60s and 70s and this is when it began to assume its current meaning.
What is a Soul Surfer?
One of the simplest descriptions of a soul surfer is someone who has a deep passion for surfing and loves the sport intensely. But of course, that could be said for all surfers.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who only surfs for the exercise or because it earns them money.
In reality, it goes much deeper than that.
A soul surfer is someone who doesn’t care about competition and is only in it for the love of the sport.
They are also more likely to:
- Ride the spots less ridden.
- Use their local shapers.
- Focus on eco-friendly clothing and surfing equipment.
- Meditate and perform yoga.
- See surfing as a religion more than sport.
- Feel disconnected when they are away from the surf.
- Consider themselves to a thalassophile (someone who has a love of the ocean).
Examples of Modern-Day Soul Surfers
We mentioned Chandler from North Shore as being one of the archetypical soul surfers, but it’s not just the reserve of fictional surfers and there are some professionals and even former champions who deserve the title of “soul surfer”, including:
It’s debatable as to whether Bethany Hamilton fits the description of a soul surfer, but she’s the one most closely associated with this term.
In 2003, Bethany Hamilton lost her left arm in a tiger shark attack. She was just thirteen at the time, and despite the devastating accident and the lasting damage that it caused, she didn’t give up and continued to surf.
In later years, Hamilton published the book Soul Surfer, which was later turned into a film directed and co-written by Sean McNamara and starring AnnaSophia Robb (as Bethany Hamilton), as well as Helen Hunt, Dennis Quaid, and Carrie Underwood.
Bethany Hamilton has appeared on countless TV shows over the years (including The Amazing Race, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and The Tonight Show) and she has also written several books.
She still competes professionally, but she also teaches surfing to others and has spent a lot of time and money getting disadvantaged kids and disabled kids into surfing.
A lot of the work she does revolves around her Christian faith, but it’s all connected to surfing in some way.
Rob Machado was born in New South Wales, Australia, before moving to the United States, where he became a professional surfer.
Machado no longer competes on the tour, but he still surfs on a regular basis and describes himself as a soul surfer.
The Surfing Walk of Fame inductee, like Rob Machado, devotes a lot of his time and money to charitable causes and is arguably the most decorated surfer deserving of the soul surfer moniker.
Dave Rastovich, or “Rasta”, is a self-proclaimed “hippy” and eco-warrior, as well as a thalassophile. The New Zealand-born surfer dropped out of the tour to focus on activism, but he continues to surf regularly and clearly has a passion for the ocean.
In 2004, Rasta is said to have been saved from a shark attack by a dolphin. After that incident, he founded Surfers for Cetaceans (S4C), and has devoted himself to saving dolphins and whales.
Dale Webster, or “the Daily Wavester” as he is affectionately known, is a passionate surfer who currently holds the record for most consecutive days surfing. He visited the surf for 14,641 days, more than 40 years!
The run began in 1975 and ended in 2015 when he went for a kidney stone operation aged 66.
Throughout that four-decade period, Webster braced hurricane-force winds, sharks, car problems, health problems, and everything else that life and the ocean could throw at him. But he persisted and continued to surf regardless.
Anyone who performs an activity every day for 40+ years is clearly passionate about that activity.
Learn More About Soul Surfing
You can learn more about soul surfing by reading about the lives of the aforementioned surfers. We also recommend watching this beautifully-shot video, which follows a woman named Robyn who began surfing way back in 1963 and still hits the waves whenever she gets a chance.