Twelve years ago, I did something I never thought I’d do: I learned how to surf. I was at that awkward middle school age where up until that point, I conformed with everyone around me. My friends were athletes, so I started running track. My friends were honor roll students, so I was too. BUT none of my friends did anything aquatic and luckily, the stars aligned and I decided to not conform at the right time. In middle/high school, each student had to belong to some extracurricular club that met once a month during designated club days. This particular year was the inception of the short-lived “Learn to Surf Club” (how Hawaiian can you get?), which was disbanded a couple years later due to liability issues. However, I was one of the first members in that club, and along with a couple dozen other students, learned to surf over a several month period at Waikiki Beach. Perhaps the most memorable moment was the day we got to surf with 10x world champion Kelly Slater.
Nearly a decade after learning to surf, I took up snowboarding with relative ease at Snoqualmie, and have ever since maintained that the two sports are more alike than different. After resuming surfing following a 2 year hiatus, my perspective has changed. Surfing and snowboarding utilize many of the same postures and balances, and both require boards rather than skis, but that is about where the similarity ends.
Surfing requires a ton more effort and energy than snowboarding in that surfers must first catch a wave before learning to ride it. There’s no lift to escalate you up a wave unless you’re hopping off from a helicopter, and there’s a whole other set of knowledge you must learn about how waves work. Also, there are no black diamonds to warn you of dangerous conditions; you simply have to rely on your instincts and fellow man to know whether conditions are rough or not. Then there’s the challenge of popping up from the board once you catch the wave, otherwise you end up bodysurfing (which is fun in its own right, but so different). On the soft side, landing on water after a wipe out means less chances of bodily harm, unless a rocky reef is there to meet you instead. However, knowing swimming basics is an absolute must. In essence, it’s a bit tougher to really get good at surfing until you first perfect the art of wave catching.
Snowboarding, on the other hand, is simpler to practice since the lift gets you to the top, and you’re in charge of maneuvering your way down. Once you get balanced and figure out basic turns and how to stop, you’re golden. The rest of the techniques (carving, tricks) come with time and, unfortunately, a high likelihood of bone breakage, since water in solid form is much less forgiving. Also, snowboarding is way more expensive than surfing, once you factor in the cost of boots, bindings, a board, clothes, transportation, and a lift ticket. Surfing on the other hand will only run you ~$500 for a board, a swimsuit, wax, and a quick jaunt to the beach.
Is one better than the other? I really can’t say, since I thoroughly enjoy both. However, I am just as inclined as anyone else to admit that the warmer temperatures associated with surfing are more than enough to sway my vote in that direction. A possible solution? Live/vacation near Mauna Kea on the Big Island, where it’s sometimes possible to have the best of both worlds.