Thoughts & Insights

Waves – Divine Beings of the Ocean


“At tide, Hawaiian natives went out into the sea, equipped with boards made of balsa and sequoia wood, in order to accompany the waves, until they reach the shore and cease to exist. According to their understanding, the waves are godly beings of the sea.” ‘He’e nalu’ is the Polynesian expression for gliding atop a diminishing wave. The wave is a divinity, facing its unstoppable death, and riding it may be seen as a dance of death, with which the wave is supposedly invited to return and therewith maintain the circle of life, such that the sea’s retreat is not its final retreat.

Frédéric Shiffter in the series “Philosophie” as seen on arte tv on 20 November 2011. “Surfing was once a dance of death”

Frédéric Shiffter, a french philosopher and littérateur, published a “Philosophy of Surfing”. He sees surfing as a mystical experience. He describes it as “becoming one with an element of nature; merging with it”. The instinct-driven anticipation for the right wave and the right moment, which will never recur in that exact manner, has a sad undertone for Shiffter, which he describes as “the melancholia, which is part of every wave”.

“A wave never dies in secrecy, but rather celebrates its decay before the very eyes of humans. As it approaches shore, hurdling its last obstacle of sand or rock, it rebels one final time, before collapsing with a dull rumble, that gradually ceases with a lasting thunder. The wave finally ends as it collides with a rock, or gets absorbed by a sand beach.” Finally, the spirit of the waves evaporates into foam, as it wets the faces, and torsos of onlookers. Then the wave takes its final breath at heart of a mortal, leaving melancholia as its final embodiment.

Is melancholia what remains of a wave in the human heart? Because we are unconsciously aware that we are witnessing the final moments of a ceasing element? Similar to the exhalation of the final note of Tschaikowsky’s Pathétique?

All quotations taken from Frédéric Shiffter’s book “Petite Philosophie du Surf” and the arte tv show from 20 November 2011. Find more information at