Cold-Water Eden: Surfers Spread the Love of Christ

Summer's here and the time is right for reflecting at the beach.

By Mark Judge Published on June 2, 2023

Recently in Puerto Rico, an incident happened that should be inspirational to all Christians. It involved the group Christian Surfers United States. They were approached by someone who had nasty things to say about them and then posted negative comments on social media. The surfers responded with love.

The story gets told on the group’s Facebook page by Delaney Pardue:

While stretching on the beach and talking about the upcoming sesh, a local approached them made some accusations against these visiting surfers and went to blasting them on the socials! It was totally one sided and only stirred up emotions in an already tense situation. What was said on social media by the local was hurtful, became personal and most of all [was] untrue.”

Pardue goes on:

The Christians were devastated at the false allegations but instead of reacting in anger and returning fire – they prayed. Praying for Jesus to bring peace and light and love to this hurting community. After seeking the Lord, they decided to put love into action. That afternoon they grabbed trash bags and gloves and went back down to this popular break, to clean up trash and pray. While they were picking up trash, the people lining the beach and hanging in the parking lot began to ask questions. They began expressing gratitude and videoed these surfers and their efforts to clean up the beach. When the Christians Surfers were asked, “Why are you doing this?” Their response was “Love for God, His creation and respect for the locals.”

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We read in Romans 12:21 “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Jesus spoke these words in Luke 6:35 “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.”

The result of this action was joy and brought some peace to the tension. There were even those that asked for prayer for themselves, their loved ones and their community. As we surf, let’s not forget we rep Jesus in and out of the water. Matthew 5:16 “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

A Different Baptism

Surfing is an activity charged with joy, beauty, and the incredible might of God. It’s like when sex ed teachers talk about lovemaking as a biological imperative — when it’s obvious that such intimacy is, as Pope John Paul II once said, “an icon of the interior life of God.” There is also, and always has been, and crucial importance in the role of water in the Christian faith. Baptism obviously, but also the role water plays in the Bible from Noah’s Ark to the disciples as fishermen to the piercing of the side of Jesus. Surfing is thus drenched with Christian symbolism.

I recently felt that godly power when I began a conversion from skateboarding, which I have done all my life (and will always do) to surfing. Or rather, attempted surfing, as most of the session was sent going head over backside in the rush of waves. Still, near the end I did manage to get up for a few seconds.

It was blissful, confirming what I have always thought: God provides us with many ways to attain euphoria, and none of them have anything to do with drugs or alcohol. Too many Christian stoically squirrel themselves away from the world. As I wrote previously at The Stream, God wants us to enjoy the natural world, provided we always have the right appreciation in mind. The ocean is not Gaia or some New Age spirit or the kingdom of Trident. It’s the creation of the everlasting God, who is love itself.

Simple, Not Easy

Surfing is one of the most difficult sports on earth. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, wiped-out, and totally powerless. In his recently released and wonderful memoir Cold-Water Eden: One Man’s Pursuit of Ireland’s Legendary Waves, Irish pro surfer Richie Fitzgerald describes being a kid in western Ireland and trying to do there what no one else had ever tried: surfing.

With only a makeshift wetsuit cobbled together with spare parts and wool cloves, Fitzgerald was a disaster his first time out. Except, that is, for the few seconds he actually got up on the board. “There was something about the feeling of sailing on a moving wedge of water that’s otherworldly. I just couldn’t shake it. I found my sister upstairs and said, ‘Hey Frankie, is it OK if I come surfing with you again next weekend?’ to which she replied, ‘I knew you’d enjoy it.’”

Fitzgerald is much kinder to Christians than the heckler in Puerto Rico. As a teenager in Ireland in the 1980s, he had visits from Christian missionaries, who would give him pamphlets about avoiding sin. Fitzgerald, a teenager at the time, was obsessed with girls. But he kept a connection to the old local priest: “Father McNulty was the real deal with a direct line to God, and we knew it. He would absolve you of all your sin, and thank Christ for that.”

Drunk with Joy

In his book The Drop: How the Most Addictive Sport Can Help Us Understand Addiction and Recovery, writer Thad Ziolkowski explores surfing and its relationship to addiction. Ziolkowski argues that both surfing and drugs and alcohol offer an escape into a “liminal state.” It’s kind of a place in between heaven and earth.

The beach, he argues, is a spot between the everyday world and something grander, both primal and real and yet dreamlike. Drugs and booze offer a fake passage to this state, whereas surfing offers a healthy, fun and natural way to feel the presence of God. I found the surfing highs amazing and my wipeouts were more bearable if I always kept my focus on Jesus and never lost respect for the might of his awesome creation.

 

Mark Judge is a writer and filmmaker in Washington, D.C. His new book is The Devil’s Triangle: Mark Judge vs the New American Stasi.

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