Riding waves is riding life

~ Tonia Farman, aka “Nalu”
Executive Director, Athletes 4 Cancer

Surfing is more than just standing up and riding that surfboard. You are riding life.

Life is just a series of waves — sets, really — that come and go, all the time. There are peaks and troughs, some big, some small; some exhilarating, some intimidating.



You can choose to face the wave or turn your back to it, but some wise one once said  “never turn your back to the ocean.” It’s true. Once you turn your back to it, you fail to see what’s coming and are unprepared for the fallout ahead. I have learned that the hard way so many times in surfing. That said, there is one common ripple in all waves that serves as a metaphor for life: How you react can determine your outcome.

Learning to face those waves can be physically and emotionally daunting. Ripples of fear and anxiety permeate through the body. The heart races, the mind takes over and you’re faced with a decision to be made in seconds….

Do I paddle over it and pass it by?

Do I turn a blind eye and hope everything will just work out?

Or do I turn and paddle with all my might and intention to pull up, get up and ride the energy moving below me.

This is life. 


People sometimes ask me how surfing helps people who have been through traumatic cancer battles.  I’ve heard… “it sounds like summer camp,” or “surviving cancer doesn’t sound so bad!” Let me tell you.

When I watch anxiety take over a participant at Camp Koru, sitting on that board in the water — someone who has lost all confidence in their body to function, let alone provide any strength to paddle — then see them choose to give everything they have to get up on that wave and ride it, experiencing physically moving forward under moving water… and when it’s over they break down in tears of joy, struggle, empowerment, disbelief… then belief. Belief that they did it. Belief that they can do it.

This is what the ocean teaches at camp.  It’s one of the most beautiful and powerful lessons from Mother Nature.

I am continually inspired by what happens at camp. I hear the struggles these young people have gone through to get here — we’ve had women in their 20s who have lost their ability to have children, sarcoma survivors who are learning to walk and run again after losing a leg to cancer, leukemia survivors recovering from bone marrow transplant complications and breast cancer survivors who firmly attest that this is not a “good cancer”, and so many more. Every cancer and story is different with each individual facing unique challenges. Their experience on the water is as personal as their experience with cancer.

The best part, however, is that when camp participants come off the water, they have others to connect with about what they are going through. They are not alone. They have a community of peers that understand, empathize, and high-five! There is a sense of normalcy found in shared struggle and community is the product.

The community created at camp from the surf experience is unparalleled to anything most of these young survivors have at home. So when they do go back home to the waves of life, they do so with a lineup of peers cheering them on, supporting them through the peaks and troughs of life.



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