On Surfing

Mariah Ernst

Illustration by Matt Titone

Mariah Ernst hails from Maine and is based in New York by way of Indonesia. Her accent, her energy, and relationship to the ocean reflect her time in all of those places. Mariah works as a writer, and her work has appeared in The Surfer’s Journal, Primitive Skills, and Purple Fashion magazine among others.

Can you describe one of the most challenging aspects of surfing to you?

Surfing in a winter wetsuit remains challenging for me, the cold is no longer such as issue but the rubber resistance itself tests my agility. Self-doubt is still challenging. So is helping the sun to rise. Staying off auto-pilot and remaining vulnerable to mysteries. And eating too much for breakfast and surfing on a ball of undigested coffee, cacao, fruit pulp and yogurt substitute.

It’s been harder and harder missing the pleasure of surfing in warm clean water while choosing to live in New York City. Surfing in water close to my own body temperature feels to me like I’ve made it in life, for as long as I’m half submerged. It’s soothingly primeval.

As I get older, the distance between the nobleness of sacrificing other things to surf and not having those things gets larger.

What is one of the most redemptive or rewarding parts of surfing?

Waves that once seemed big do not paralyze or frighten me as much any more. It’s not that I’ve become braver, I think my body itself has realized it’s not in as much danger of dying as my nerves assumed. Surfing satisfies me and quiets my mind, which is all I really want from anything. I also love knowing what the moon is doing.

What has surfing afforded you in your life?

Surfing has been an outlet to feel afraid so I can value breathing more. It’s been a writing niche from which to pursue my ideals, practice my principles, and enjoy high octane stories. Surfing is pleasure and meditation. It’s initiated intimate bonds with other humans, with places and weather patterns. It provides an axis that’s always there whether I try to ditch it or not.

How long can you go without surfing?  

I haven’t gone longer than two months for the past seven years. There are analogs but nothing is the same.

How and when did you fall in love with surfing? 

I wanted to surf when I was 6 or 7; the basement tenant of our house in Maine kept a surfboard in our garage. I was foggy on the details, but I asked my mom if I could learn. She said no. I went to Indonesia when I was 16 and stayed with local families and went to local school. My host families forbid me from learning, but I picked up a Balinese prince from Seminyak, Agung, on the beach and asked him to teach me. I just always loved it.

What’s one of your pre/post-surf rituals you hold dear? 

Eating. Pre and post.

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On Surfing is generously supported by our friends at McTavish

Michael Adno

Michael is a writer and photographer born in Florida as a first-generation American to Austrian and South African parents. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Bitter Southerner, and The Surfer’s Journal among other magazines.

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