Surfing Experience and Lifestyle
Surfing is not just a sport, but also a way of life, with a wordless philosophy communicated effortlessly through photographs that inspire many people who have never even touched a surfboard.
Surfers live with the ocean, rising and falling with its waves. Their naturally photogenic lives are enriched not only by the healthy exercise of life at the beach, but also by the intercultural experiences that come with traveling around the world to find the best breaks.
In my early twenties, while working as an assistant chef, I began to look for ways to bring the surfing lifestyle into my work. Surfing was my favorite activity; that was what I did before and after work, and on my days off.
So I asked myself: Could I find work at the beach, or in the surf, and get paid for being in my chosen element?
Sadly, I was not good enough at surfing to be a professional surfer, but I had developed a personal philosophy of doing what I love, and loving what I do – and surfing was clearly what I loved to do.
I asked around at the five-star hotel where I’d been working, and sure enough, I was able to transfer to a new position at the same hotel, working with the beach and pool department as a lifeguard. From that day forward, my life changed.
I was getting paid to train as a lifeguard and swim on the beach every day, and encouraged to have fun surfing on my breaks.
Do what you love, and love what you do. Great advice!
Lifeguarding and Water Safety
After working on the beach and making ocean rescues for about three years, I applied for a full-time job as a Hawaii County Lifeguard. In 1992, I was offered an opportunity to attend lifeguard training at Huntington Beach, California, and soon become a certified California State Lifeguard, stationed at San Clemente, Orange Coast District.
Once I started college in 1994 and learned that I could study abroad in wave-rich countries like South Africa, Spain, and Taiwan, the idea of combining work, study and other life pursuits with surfing opened up a world of possibilities.
In 1998, after good day of surfing in Tel-Aviv, Israel, I made the decision to return home to Hawaii and start a surfing school. Based on my experience in lifeguarding, I named the school "Hawaii Lifeguard Surf Instructors" (HLSI), and set up shop at a beach house near Kahaluu Beach Park in Kailua-Kona (see photos below).
Hawaii Lifeguard Surf Instructors | Surf Lessons Hawaii
Over the next 5 years, I earned a living teaching others how to surf, and met a variety of interesting people, including international celebrities, movie stars and astronauts from NASA.
The surf school was an instant success. Everyone wanted a piece of the action. Before long every major hotel in the area was calling me to book lessons for their guests, and I had contacts up and down the coast. My friends and I had people of all shapes and sizes, backgrounds and abilities.
Most kids wanted to surf when they came to Hawaii, and most parents didn’t really know much about surfing and were terribly worried at the idea of it. So HLSI was there to provide a short, safe, surfing experience, and everyone got what they wanted.
Before long the school started to attract celebrities. Bobby Brown and Whitney Houston were at the house, Steven Seagal's kids with his ex-wife, actress Kelly LeBrock, Jeff Bridges with his three daughters. We treated the stars like family, barbecuing on the beach or taking them to local restaurants to eat after the day’s surfing. They loved it, and so did we.
The Space Ambassadors | Surfing with NASA Astronauts
One morning after a volunteer project at Kahaluu Beach Park in Kona, Hawaii, I met Scott Horowitz, four-time commander of the Space Shuttle.
Scott had just a few minutes to learn to surf, and so I geared him up, and we hit the water. Scott was a surf instructor's dream, naturally enough. As an astronaut, he had been selected for both physical strength and learning ability – so he was very close to the perfect student.
After his first wave, Scott exclaimed, "Surfing is out of this world!"
One thing led to another and over the next year I found myself imagining the entire shuttle crew to coming to the Big Island of Hawaii to surf and appear at local schools.
The next year Scott and fellow astronaut Pat Forrester came to Hawaii, officially representing the NASA Space Program, and appearing at schools across the island and catching a few waves.
I wrote a short article named, "The Space Ambassadors" to share the experience in the Kona Views Magazine.
NASA Astronaut Appearance Video | Shown to Big Island students during the Hawaii tour
Surf Resource Sustainability and Conservation
The more I traveled, surfed, and learned about the environmental issues at surf sites and other coastal areas, the more I was moved to study the social, economic and environmental significance of surfing.
After my MBA, I chose to do a Ph.D. in Environmental Management, dedicating three years of my life to researching surf site sustainability and developing the Surf Resource Sustainability Index (SRSI).
Currently, I am still surfing and sharing the surfing stoke with my students in Environmental Studies at Prince of Songkla University, Phuket, Thailand.
International Research Publications
Visit my Surf Tourism Research page for a complete list of publications on surf site sustainability and conservation, including international peer-reviewed journal papers, book chapters, and popular magazine articles. Select highlights and links below:
- 2012 | The genesis of a new body of sport tourism literature: A systematic review of surf tourism research (1997-2011). Journal of Sport and Tourism
- 2014 | Developing a surf resource sustainability index as a global model for surf beach conservation and tourism research. Asia Pacific Journal of Tourism Research
- 2014 | Investigating the importance of surf resource sustainability indicators: Stakeholder perspectives for surf tourism planning and development. Tourism Planning and Development
- 2015 | Measuring the conservation aptitude of surf beaches in Phuket, Thailand: An application of the surf resource sustainability index. International Journal of Tourism Research
- 2017 | Part 2: A systems approach – Chapter 2. Surf resource system boundaries. Sustainable Surfing
- 2019 | A social science index and conceptual framework for assigning weights in surf tourism planning and development. Tourism Planning and Development
- 2022 | From shades of grey to Web of Science: A systematic review of surf tourism research in international journals (2011-2020). Journal of Sport & Tourism
I hope you enjoy my photos and the information in the links provided.
If you feel motivated to learn more about these or other surfing experiences, or would like to arrange for me to give a public talk, please let me know – I’d love to hear from you.
–Steven 'Surf Doctor' Martin