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Embrace the Quest

embrassthequest1Jaimal Yogis’ book rides the wave between Zen and surfing

Any self-respecting surfer who’s paddled out into the ocean’s fury and caught a wave knows that Zen and surfing are inseparable. It’s just that most don’t know it—yet. Now with Jaimal Yogis’ new book “Saltwater Buddha: A Surfer’s Quest to Find Zen on the Sea” (Wisdom Publications, $15.95) the connection between the two is at last articulated, coming full-circle into the reflective light of the ocean. Yogis will be speaking about his book at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, May 5 at Bookshop Santa Cruz.

This breezy, coming-of-age tale is, in fact, a memoir, a quest for pelagic vitality and terrestrial enlightenment all rolled into the spiritual spindrift of Zen. Much as surfing requires countless days spent flailing at the mercy (and often merciless) power of the ocean, Yogis’ Zen quest is just as hard-earned. But by using Zen to comprehend surfing, and surfing to sort out Zen, “Saltwater Buddha” gets about as close as any previous surf narratives to answering the question: why surf?

One of the answers, among many that Yogis proposes, is that Zen and surfing are somewhat historically linked. “Just about the time Bodhidharma showed up in southern China, the Polynesians, largely regarded as the most deft sailors ever, were navigating by the stars to Hawaii, where surfing was most likely born,” Yogis writes in the book.

But it’s the energy of water and waves themselves that make the most fluid connection in the book. And as anyone who has caught a wave knows, the ride transcends time. Awareness is heightened. Focus is all encompassing. You are one with the wave, one with the ocean. “There was only this and this and this,” he writes. “Just power and presence.”

Like the ebb and flow of the tides, “Saltwater Buddha” floats between the esoteric surfing/Zen connection and the real life of a young man coming to terms with adulthood. He makes his escape from his wave-less teenage life in Sacramento to the island of Maui. There he buys a used surfboard, but finds this no paradise. Yogis realizes he must grow up while retaining the innocence of his Zen quest. What better place to move to? Why, Santa Cruz, of course.

There, amongst the organic background of Zen centers, yoga studios and macrobiotic diets, he encounters the infamous “surf Nazis.” A red tide of testosterone seeps out of their wetsuits, polluting the water with un-Zen-ness.

Surfing Steamer Lane, Yogis is forced to reconcile with this disconnect, a challenge that continues to this day. “If you can see that the person is acting stupid because he or she wants to be happy just like you,” he says, “but literally hasn’t been given the tools to connect to the deeper part of himself or herself, you can feel compassion and hopefully avoid conflict.”

Yogis now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Just 29, he says he wrote the book, in part, to investigate the connections between Zen and surfing for himself as much as for his readers.

“Within that investigation,” he says, “I hoped that there would be glimpses at the heart of surfing and the heart of Zen, and that this would help people see these traditions with more respect and authenticity, something that is often lost in marketing schemes and the blur of modern life.”

Though Yogis is not the first to point out that surfing has lost much of its “soul” to the commercialization of the sport, he may be the first to make the point that both Zen and surfing have been marketed beyond recognition. “For people who are more interested in authenticity,” he says, “I think we can try to live that authenticity—live from our Buddha nature, you might say—that means constantly asking ourselves if we’ve been caught by a marketing scheme or if we’re really living our own truth, whether that relates to surfing, Zen, or something else entirely.”

It’s a tall task to ask of a little book, but one that Yogis deems entirely possible. It’s pretty simple: “I guess what I’m trying to say,” he writes at the conclusion of “Saltwater Buddha,” “is that I’m learning to not want to be someone else, to just be who I am, as is, with nothing extra added on.”


Jaimal Yogis will be speaking about his book, “Saltwater Buddha” at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, May 5 at Bookshop Santa Cruz.

 

 

This breezy, coming-of-age tale is, in fact, a memoir, a quest for pelagic vitality and terrestrial enlightenment all rolled into the spiritual spindrift of Zen. Much as surfing requires countless days spent flailing at the mercy (and often merciless) power of the ocean, Yogis’ Zen quest is just as hard-earned. But by using Zen to comprehend surfing, and surfing to sort out Zen, “Saltwater Buddha” gets about as close as any previous surf narratives to answering the question: why surf?

One of the answers, among many that Yogis proposes, is that Zen and surfing are somewhat historically linked. “Just about the time Bodhidharma showed up in southern China, the Polynesians, largely regarded as the most deft sailors ever, were navigating by the stars to Hawaii, where surfing was most likely born,” Yogis writes in the book.

But it’s the energy of water and waves themselves that make the most fluid connection in the book. And as anyone who has caught a wave knows, the ride transcends time. Awareness is heightened. Focus is all encompassing. You are one with the wave, one with the ocean. “There was only this and this and this,” he writes. “Just power and presence.”

Like the ebb and flow of the tides, “Saltwater Buddha” floats between the esoteric surfing/Zen connection and the real life of a young man coming to terms with adulthood. He makes his escape from his wave-less teenage life in Sacramento to the island of Maui. There he buys a used surfboard, but finds this no paradise. Yogis realizes he must grow up while retaining the innocence of his Zen quest. What better place to move to? Why, Santa Cruz, of course.

There, amongst the organic background of Zen centers, yoga studios and macrobiotic diets, he encounters the infamous “surf Nazis.” A red tide of testosterone seeps out of their wetsuits, polluting the water with un-Zen-ness.

Surfing Steamer Lane, Yogis is forced to reconcile with this disconnect, a challenge that continues to this day. “If you can see that the person is acting stupid because he or she wants to be happy just like you,” he says, “but literally hasn’t been given the tools to connect to the deeper part of himself or herself, you can feel compassion and hopefully avoid conflict.”

Yogis now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Just 29, he says he wrote the book, in part, to investigate the connections between Zen and surfing for himself as much as for his readers.

“Within that investigation,” he says, “I hoped that there would be glimpses at the heart of surfing and the heart of Zen, and that this would help people see these traditions with more respect and authenticity, something that is often lost in marketing schemes and the blur of modern life.”

Though Yogis is not the first to point out that surfing has lost much of its “soul” to the commercialization of the sport, he may be the first to make the point that both Zen and surfing have been marketed beyond recognition. “For people who are more interested in authenticity,” he says, “I think we can try to live that authenticity—live from our Buddha nature, you might say—that means constantly asking ourselves if we’ve been caught by a marketing scheme or if we’re really living our own truth, whether that relates to surfing, Zen, or something else entirely.”

It’s a tall task to ask of a little book, but one that Yogis deems entirely possible. It’s pretty simple: “I guess what I’m trying to say,” he writes at the conclusion of “Saltwater Buddha,” “is that I’m learning to not want to be someone else, to just be who I am, as is, with nothing extra added on.”


Jaimal Yogis will be speaking about his book, “Saltwater Buddha” at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, May 5 at Bookshop Santa Cruz.

 

 

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