Tim Winton is a leading Australian author who credits much of his skill as a writer to the flow he first experienced through surfing. An extract from his short story 'The Wait and the Flow' appears below, and provides an insight into the essence, as opposed to the science, of flow (at least as Tim experiences it) and as a fellow surfer I can read and feel his passion, and I'm reminded of the reasons I love to surf, any wave, anyhow, no matter the size, and why I so much enjoyed helping my son to catch his first wave!
To me surfing has always been a matter of beauty and connectedness. Riding a wave to shore can be a meditative activity; you’re walking on water, tapping the sea’s energy, meeting the ocean, not ripping anything out of it. Few other water pursuits are as non-exploitative. So having some major interactive pleasure in the natural world that comes without mortal cost – that’s precious, something to celebrate. The physical sensation of sliding along a wall of water, vividly awake and alive, is difficult to describe to the non-surfer; it feels even more beautiful than it looks. And for some men – men in particular, whose lives are so often circumscribed by an exclusively utilitarian mindset – surfing is the one pointlessly beautiful activity they engage in. There is no material result from two hours spent surfing. All the benefits are intangible, except perhaps the calibration of the mood. Everyone close to me knows that when I come home wet, I’m a happier man then when I left. Think of all the Prozac I’ve saved.
I credit surfing with getting me through adolescence. When I was lonely, confused and angry, the ocean was always there, a vast salty poultice sucking the poison from my system. If surfing’s addictive, and I’m bound to concede that it is, all I can say is there are so many more destructive addictions to succumb to. Even in my middle age it continues to provide respite. When I get in the water I slow down and reflect. That’s the benefit of all that bobbing and waiting. I wait and wait and then I glide and flow. I process problems without even consciously addressing them. The wider culture expects you to hurl yourself at the future. Surfing offers a chance to inhabit the present.
The wait and the glide have become a way of life. Strange as it might seem, the life of a novelist is often like that of a surfer. I come to the desk every day and mostly I wait. I sit for hours, bobbing in a sea of memories, impressions and historical events. The surfer waits for swells, and what are they but the radiating energy of events across the horizon, the leftovers of tempests and turmoils already in the past? The surfer waits for something to turn up from the unseen distance and if he’s vigilant and patient it’ll come to him. He has to be there to meet it. And when it comes he has to be alert and fit and committed enough to turn and ride that precious energy to the beach. When you manage to do this you live for a short while in the eternal present tense. And the feeling is divine.
That’s how I experience writing, which is its own compulsion. I show up. I wait. When some surge of energy finally arrives, I do what I must to match its speed. While I can, I ride its force. For a brief period I’m caught up in something special, where time has no purchase, and my bones don’t ache and my worries fall away. Then it’s all flow. And I’m dancing.