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Conatus Surfing Services

Teleological & Nonteleological Surfing

Dion Mattison
Dion MattisonPublished on February 13, 2022

Up and coming Costa Rican super star, Sam Reidy, hits the end section at his local beach, Playa Hermosa (near Uvita, not near Jaco), last week. The word 'telos' in (ancient and modern) Greek means 'end' or 'goal', and is the root 't-e-l' in the words 'teleological' and 'nonteleological' that head this whopper of a newsletter. To think or surf teleologically is to do so with an end or a goal in mind. To think or surf nonteleologically is to do so without an end or a goal in mind. I want to make a case that are times when it's important to think and surf teleologically and other times when it's important not to. Aristotle is the most famous teleological thinker in the western philosophical tradition. At the beginning of the Nicomachean Ethics he writes:

Every skill and every inquiry, and similarly every action and rational choice, is thought to aim at some good; and so the good has been aptly described as that at which everything aims. But it is clear that there is some difference between ends (teloi): some ends are activities, while others are products which are additional to the activities. In cases where there are ends additional to the actions, the products are by their nature better than the activities.

Surfing is a skill (technē) that has many possible teloi (ends). What is crucial here is to wrap one's head around what Aristotle means by "some good" (agathoi tinos). Any possible telos should align with "some good", and we should probably understand this good to be a somewhat relative and moving target. Furthermore, in learning a skill like surfing certain ends beget others. The acquisition of specific skills and techniques is crucial for basic proficiency in any sort of language game, and especially in language games that line up under the category 'sport', as I conceive surfing to do. Learning to paddle is an end, as is learning to read waves, get to them, catch them, and intentionally ride in the direction they suggest in an intentional manner, i.e., on your feet, knees, or belly, depending on your desire and ability. For many the ultimate goal is to be able to get to one's feet, and so surfing has been portrayed and understood primarily as standing on a board. The "good" becomes identified with the goal of standing, and this often obscures all the prior teloi that need to be achieved before this greater one is possible. After one can stand and go left or right at will, moreover, this quickly becomes just one step in a never ending process of skill acquisition. The suggestion here is that when one expands the temporal frame of skill acquisition, the overall arc looks more nonteleological in the sense that once a certain end is accomplished, new ones present themselves unendingly. This is why many of us prefer thinking of skill acquisition in terms of 'process' and 'practice'. Such a view allows for backsliding, and in general adds temporal thickness and nonlinearity to our notions of progress. We can see that often when one is too clear and linear about achieving goals the further the end post moves away, the harder the fall, and the greater the disappointment when the goal is not reached (within the time frame one had hoped or desired).

Continued practice and application of oneself to skill acquisition is enough, i.e., it's a "good" in itself, so long as one applies what I am calling a "temporally thick" view. The "thickness" comes from an expansive notion of time in which ends can be realized. It's about realizing that you often have more time than you think to adjust your approach and to reset and reframe your goals. It also means having valued mentors and friends to keep you honest about "what you really did" or what that "tube" you said you got "really looked like" from an outside perspective. Video and photographic evidence in surfing and other sports can often be a completely bewildering experience when you see that that wave that felt so great and so fast looked far from it. This kind of "reality principle" in sports practices helps us readjust and reset our goals in a more reasonable manner. As a surfing coach it is super common that person comes to me thinking they're at a place to start learning turns. They want to "work on their bottom turn" etc., but it often turns out that we need to dial back and reconstruct the way they see and take off on waves first.

Two of my greatest insights from the Jan/Feb Costa Rica retreats came from students Em Joseph and Scott Miller. Em is a super athletic, critical type and was applying herself extra hard to every session, but continued to make similar mistakes, especially in her pop up (not looking high enough at the lip/popping up too far back on the board). Then in her last session, when not much was at stake because she had to get her taxi to Quepos airport, and thus didn't have much time to surf, she just completely let go of goal-oriented thinking and had one of her most fun sessions. She came in and said, "Oh I just needed to let go and have fun the whole time." In a similar vein Scott was super excited to get in the water and apply the notes from the day prior's video review and land sessions at the rancho. I noticed that in this endeavor his closeout to long peeling wave ratio was like 35 (closeouts)/3 (good ones). I told him that the closeouts aren't helping him make the changes he wants to see and that rather than go for tons of bad waves to focus on wave judgment and timing. He asked, "But don't I need as many tries as I can possibly get?" And I replied, "Only if the 'tries' are on waves that will allow you to work on what we've been talking about, i.e., wave judgment is the skill you need to acquire first. The more better waves you catch the more you'll really be learning to apply what I'm teaching you about looking down the line and getting your hands off the deck of the board the moment the feet hit." Additionally I told him to be honest when a wave is telling him, "You don't really want me, I suck." One ought not to want or need to go on those sorts of waves. Of course ones you thought would be good do turn out bad and that's surfing, but it is possible to move the closeout to good wave ratio from 35/1 to 3/10. That's just what happened with Scott when we adjusted his perspective.

Tip Video: Hit the End Section!

The end that eluded everyone this trip and which I realized eludes most average surfers the world over is what we call "hitting the end section" (as Sam Reidy is doing in the photo that leads this post). How fitting that waves 'end' and have 'endings' and 'end sections' and yet the process of wave generation is itself endless. It's a prime example of the fact that we can get this modicum of certainty within an ultimately uncertain ontological situation. Waves do have end sections and surfers can learn to hit them. Furthermore, ability to see and hit end sections should be a goal for all surfers aiming at proficiency, regardless of what sized board you ride. Hitting the end section is a 'good' in surfing. It punctuates a ride and demonstrates understanding of the interaction of rider, board, and wave. A truly proficient surfer understands waves, body, and boards well enough to hit the end section on feet, knees, or belly. For the most part you do need some kind of board to do this. What I mean is that you can't really hit an end section when you're body surfing because there is simply too much drag. You can get tubed body surfing, but that's a different desirable skill to acquire. Many of the surfers on the last retreats are ready to start hitting the end section (Galen, Luca, Em, Charlotte, Scott, Josh I'm looking at you). And so with them and many of you in mind I made this video:

As I write in the description, the four main ingredients are: 1. See the section and prepare for it early; 2. Open your chest and eyes to the section; 3. Move your back foot over the tail; 4. Point at it with your feet. If any of these are out of place it most likely will not work. You want to avoid: 1. Counter rotating the arms -- swinging the arms is not a part of this maneuver; 2. Trying to hit it from the middle or nose of the board -- you will pearl or dig rail; 3. Going for it too late. I would say the counter rotation of the upper body is the hugest mistake I see in intermediate to advanced beginners learning this and other turns. You don't need a huge wind up. It's mostly a horizontal move. The other is that most people surf with their front arm blocking them off, not opening to the wave or the lip.

Weekly Challenge: Hit the End Section in Your Living Room

Yep, that's right. Take the temporally thick view of surfing and realize that you can surf when you're not in the ocean. Watch the video above and mimic the moves of my and Andrew's bodies as we hit the end sections both backside and front side. Press pause a lot. Look at the body positioning. Mimic. Repeat. Try to notice some of the variations of end section hits and incorporate the variations. Close your eyes and envision that wedge coming at you. Load up. Aim. Point. Hit. Repeat. 2 minutes a day. You won't regret it.

Bonus Tip Video: Duck Diving

As I've been writing to the weekly subscribers, this was always going to be a video-heavy newsletter. We're working on getting super fast internet in Costa Rica, but for now I needed to wait until I was back in the US to make the educational vids I normally provide in both weekly (1x per week) and monthly (1x per month) newsletters. I worked on duck diving with Luca, Galen, Em, and Charlotte in Costa Rica and was super stoked to be able to get this footage so that I can break it down for them and for the rest of you. Interestingly the key to a good duck dive shares components with the end section hit. Namely, taking the time to set it up, and using your lower body to push the board under and using your upper body to stabilize and simply guide the move. The hugest mistakes people make are correspondingly to not give themselves enough time and to push only with the arms and not at all with the legs. As I note in the video, you can practice submerging the board with your lower body when you're out the back waiting for waves. I hope to make a video of how to duck dive bigger boards on my next trip. I can duck dive boards up to 7'6" and I'm 140-5 lbs. Andrew is 200-10 lbs and can duck dive a longboard.

Book Club: Lacan Pt 2 and Roger Hodge's Texas Blood

What a book club we had on Thursday! They're always incredible. This was one was extra. I think I write that every time. But it was really nice to have a slightly larger group. Nini Mai always follows along whether she attends or not, and this time she was not only able to attend but also to participate. The others were Roger, Fialka, and newcomer Christen Shea (who learned to surf on Lake Michigan of all places). Nini talked about how she has been comparing these psychoanalytic texts we've been reading to Buddhist and Daoist philosophies. We talked about the "goal" of health in the context of psychoanalysis and in philosophies more generally. This brings us right back to the theme of this newsletter. What is a goal or an end but an object of desire or a desired object? What informs our desire? How does our desire to obtain and incorporate (objects, skills, people) have certain styles and certain ways of being confounded? How are these styles of relating to our desire culturally informed, familially informed, or particular to given individuals? Why do we often do things that get us further rather than closer to achieving our aims (Scott and the closeouts)? Interestingly Freud has a paper called "Analysis Terminable and Interminable" wherein he explores the conditions for considering an analysis to have achieved its goal. The paper is itself inconclusive. It's unclear when an analysis ends. Lacan was famous for kicking people out of the session after they had a revelation. But that doesn't mean that they didn't come back for the next session, just that that particular session was over. Some small telos was achieved -- the analysand figured out something about herself -- but the larger goal of psychic health cannot be achieved through one psychic revelation alone. This has something to do with the role of the symbolic nature of language and its centrality in human life. Lacan says that language is what keeps us from murdering one another willy nilly. Not from murdering one another tout court mind you. Clearly we've never been able to do that from the perspective of our species on the whole. There is also an enormous gap between articulating murderous rage or reflecting upon it and acting it out. Even in the most rational of us it never fully disappears. If one thinks they're immune or have transcended it then I'd probably say that person is more psychotic than most (I think you may be able to eke out a political critique from that statement). Book clubber Roger Hodge has in fact written a book called Texas Blood which, among other things, is about the murderous rage that makes up the history of Texas border country (and is therefore symbolic of American history and politics more generally). After we do another Lacan book club on the second essay "On the Names-of-the-Father" this Thursday at 7p EST via Zoom (I will send link in an email), we'll read Roger's book and have a few sessions on it. I have already started reading it and have like 5 zillion questions on his historical research of the Comanche people. Remember that for regular book club attendance you need to be on a Conatus Everything Plan or higher.

Trips and Travel Updates

There have been some changes to my Costa Rica dates this winter. I have recently taken control of my family's business affairs (in conjunction with my brother) and have to return next week (Feb 22-25) to meet with lawyers, accountants, architects, and property managers. It's really exciting and is going to equate to enhanced CSC Costa Rica retreats as soon as 2023. We'll be running a much fuller retreat season down there next winter and will start booking them this summer. I'm not opposed to surfing NY and CA (and other places) in the winter, it's just that we're able to get in so many reps per day down there that it doesn't compare. For the same reason I've extended my March CR stay: March 8-29th. The retreat portion is full, as I need the last week to do more business stuff on the property. If you've been in touch with me about a la carte coaching down there that week, just stay in touch (a la carte coaching looks more like coaching at home -- I don't cook for you, transport you, or house you -- I just meet you at the beach and we surf/film and then go do our own things). I'm back in NY first two weeks of April then off to Chile for another two weeks. Back in NY all of May and June and start of July and hope to do a ton of coaching here. July 13-20th trip to Salina Cruz is nearly booked. Josh at Mulcoy Travel says there are 6 rooms open, but I'm nearly at the capacity of what I can handle in terms of my coaching bandwidth (6 ppl). There will be a second week of coaching in Sayulita, Mexico. That one will be all levels and I hope to be making more solid plans for it this week. A big factor is how long I want to stay in Mexico City to eat tacos (currently obsessed with Taco Chronicles on Netflix). After that I don't have much travel planned.

Last Lines

Welp it's dumping snow outside. Not really sticking. It was 60 degrees at high noon yesterday. Had a fun session at 62nd with Angela and Khadija. Started the morning off with an epic yoga session at the clubhouse with Evan. Chances are high for another Evan-led yoga class this coming Sunday. We may need it if the storm that develops on Thursday and Friday pans out. Don't hold your breath though. There was supposed to be a nice system building for Valentine's Day and that has pretty much gone the way of the dodo bird. The Pacific is a completely different story however. It just keeps pumping. Swells all have a pretty strong westerly component which has been really good for Orange, LA, and San Francisco counties. San Diego and Monterey have had waves too, but they really do prefer that there is more north in the swell direction for the premium breaks to light up. Hawaii has had enough variety for everyone so long as they know their limits. Europe has not stopped pumping either. All this stuff that doesn't make swell for us on the east coast, hits them. Costa Rica just always has waves. Sometimes smaller, sometimes bigger. I stop looking at swell forecasts when I'm there.

I'm coaching this week in NY so long as there are waves. I've found that I really have zero tolerance for shitty conditions and cold water, but very high tolerance for cold water if the wind and waves align. Yesterday was a good example of totally good enough surf to suit up for. I'll also be coaching the first week of March, so if you're in a package, eyes glued on forecasts and text me to get in.

Recent Barahona order has been delivered. If you have a board in this order please settle up with me via Venmo, and schedule your pickup! This also means it's time to do another order. It takes 3-5 months for the boards to arrive. May as well call it like it is. We aim for fast, but the supply chain is still screwed, and well, board building just takes time. If you're interested in ordering a board in the next round, do get in touch.

The pro surfing season for 2022 is on its way. We were a bit too busy in CR to catch up with all the action at Pipeline but it was an epic event. The GOAT Kelly Slater and young gun Moana Wong took it out in commanding style. The CSC Fantasy Surfer for Charity got under way. We only have 3 people who donated this year, however, so if you play I'd really like you to contribute something so that the winner has something to donate for their efforts. We raised $600 last year. For details about joining or contributing email me! The waiting period for Sunset Beach has begun. I've got my teams all set up. Looking like Monday or Tuesday for a start. It could be very large and very exciting! Happy to organize some Zoom contest viewing if the event aligns with flat surf here.

I have sent this monthly newsletter to EVERYONE: free, monthly, and premium level subscribers. I won't send out another free one for at least 4-6 months. If you're liking what you're reading and learning do upgrade to monthly or weekly, and use the referral link on your SubKit to send to friends. Upgrades are easy too if you want to participate in book club or get involved with remote coaching. Next week it's back to just the premium subscribers, so you with the monthly subs can expect another in March (probably from Costa Rica). Please note that if you have any trouble viewing videos or content in your email to go to your SubKit and view the post there. If you missed any past posts, you'll be able to access them through your portal (provided they're at the level to which you subscribe).

All of the YouTube vids in this post are currently unlisted so that you are rewarded for subscribing, thus getting content before anyone else. I'll make them public in a week or two. As a bonus thank you for following me, I've made a B Roll vid of the funny outtakes from our CR Retreats:

We aim for clean humor and point the gun at ourselves. There is just too much shit going on in front of our cameras not to document it and have a laugh!

In closing, I hope you can find the joy in both teleological and nonteleological surfing. There is a time and a place for seriousness and goal setting and another time and place for letting go and trusting the process. I think both are pretty darn important in our ongoing endeavors to realize our potentials (that's basically just the rule of the conatus in Spinoza)!

More waves more joy,

Dion

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