The Pacific Ocean waves in California are among the most famous in the world, and are challenged by nearly all of the world’s greatest surfers. For a sport that seems so straightforward, you quickly learn that the waves are unforgiving. To be a surfer, you must understand that there are many more opportunities to fail than there are to succeed, and that you must be decisive and attentive, splash away any doubts, and carry unrelenting confidence.

After my days surfing in the Pacific Ocean, I no longer associate surfing with the cowabunga-surfer-dude persona and familiar shaka sign. Men and women of all ages look to enhance their level of physical fitness and mental fortitude by tackling powerful waves. For me, what’s most beautiful about surfing is how you find solace feeling minuscule in the vast body of water that can swallow you at any moment without hesitation.

While you’re bobbing on the still water waiting for the next tide to come in, you look out and realize that surfing isn’t just a sport, it’s a religion. Like all games, there needs to be a meditative aspect for someone to feel passionate about what they’re trying to accomplish. The greatest athletes in the world are as great as they are because they want to practice not just with their team, but also when they’re alone. Think about any great poster athlete from any era—their work is their meditation, and it happens most when others aren’t watching. Surfing cultivates and demands a certain level of mindfulness and awareness, which is arguably the greatest tool an athlete can have in their arsenal.

I wasn’t alone in challenging the waves. Fourth-year UTM student Nader Hadi surfed along the coast of California as well. “My perception of surfing has changed; it takes a lot more than great surfer hair and a relaxed attitude to master the sport,” he says. “Even though I feel physically drained, I’m mentally satisfied after catching that first wave knowing I did something new and exceptional.”

Surfers executed several impressive moves throughout our time on the waves. However, the surfers who perfected the Hanging Ten were the ones who mesmerized Hadi. In this manoeuvre, a surfer stands at the tip of their board with their toes hanging off while riding a 10-foot wave. Years of gruelling practice has enabled surfing athletes to walk up and down their board, riding waves smoothly.

To even participate in surfing, you need a baseline level of physical  strength and conditioning. You aren’t just relaxing on a giant board, soaking in the sunshine; your arms will get exhausted and sore—you’ll feel aches you’ve never felt before. It’s no wonder why the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan will recognize the sport for the first time.

The key to surfing is to remain relaxed. If you are timid, your muscles will tense up, and you won’t be able to execute the proper technique that is needed to ride the big waves. Mental acuity is a significant part of surfing; you must create the conditions that facilitate success.

Surfers’ skills are tested by their ability to control their board when faced with challenging waves. There is more to surfing than just riding the wave. Turning the board back to the breaking wave, riding the top of a breaking wave, and surfing inside the wave as the mouth attempts to swallow you whole are a few techniques that a surfer must learn.

Smaller men and women surf better because their centre of gravity is closer to the water, decreasing the likelihood of falling into the ocean. Most, if not all, competitive swimmers have a very lean athletic frame, enabling them to manoeuvre and torque their bodies to float along the tides.

You’re going to get frustrated repeatedly. You’ll howl at the moon to pull the waves a little bit less, or smack the water for making you fall. One thing you’ll always have with surfing—other than failing—is the opportunity to get back on the board and try again. What are you willing to struggle through to get the results you want? Through failure is opportunity, and through opportunity is a connection to the mystifying sport of surfing.

There’s a small platform within the World Surf League for surfers to compete and show off their skills. The WSL runs an annual championship tour, hosting top surfers in some of the most lucrative surf spots around the globe.