Wave Theory

Sam Buffa knows the best spot to gain perspective on life in the city: on his surfboard.

Photography by Joshua Simpson

As told to Carsten Knox

I’m at Gilgo Beach on Long Island. The early morning sun is shining off the ocean, and as soon as I arrive I see a group of my friends out in the water. I quickly wax my board and paddle out to say hi. We’re laughing, joking, and goofing around. As I catch a wave, I see a friend to my left and another to my right. With a big splash, we jump off at the end of our ride.

That’s a good day.

Although I lived in Northern California as a kid, I grew up riding motorcycles and didn’t surf much. I moved to New York when I was 18, and I loved the edgy feeling of the city. Surfing never crossed my mind.

But the New York City lifestyle is demanding. It means working hard and playing hard, and after living here for a while I needed something to give me a break. I’m not a gym guy, but I had heard there were surfers out here.

I decided to give it a try. I’d surfed a little in California. At least I knew how to get up on the board and how to ride a wave. By no means was I good, but I got better.

Surfing has been a savior for me. I wake up at the break of dawn, around 5:30 a.m., and head to the Rockaways to surf. I can get there from my house in Brooklyn in 30 or 40 minutes. I get in a couple of hours of surfing and I’m at work by 10.

So I’ve already had this great time before I even start my working day. I’m out there in the water looking at the horizon. I don’t see the city—all the other stuff going on in my life goes away. There’s just surfing.

The water is different every day. Some days the waves are big; some days they’re small. One time last year the waves were 10 or 12 feet high. I definitely had a moment when I was a little freaked out.

I took waves on the head and got held underwater for a little while. But after you get past the fear and catch a couple of good waves, it becomes a new normal.

Motorcycling and surfing share that special moment when the whole world seems to narrow down to a single point, and that’s all you care about. There’s also the camaraderie, the social aspect, the shared experience with good friends.

Surfing is simple and not very expensive. If you’re surfing only in the summer, a wetsuit is not mandatory. You just buy a board and some wax and you’re good to go. You can find space for that even in a small New York apartment. It’s great when you can wake up, throw the board in the back of the truck, and just go.

This article also appeared in the October 2013 issue of Mindful magazine.