How Surfing Unlocked My Meditation Practice

When the Irish surf went flat I decided to make my own weather.

by Tyrell Mara

I touched down in Ireland frothing for the surf.

I had two weeks in this beautiful country with my wife’s family. I had surfed Ireland earlier in the year and knew what kind of waves this coastline was capable of producing, and I was ready to score.

Surfing, and the adventure of finding great waves, has always been my outlet. It’s as though in those salty waters I am able to shed scar tissues of the stress, intensity, and energy I invest with reckless abandon on a daily basis. Having come off of an incredibly career-driven first half of 2016, as well as finishing my first season throwing discus in preparation for the 2020 Olympics, I was more than ready for liquid rejuvenation.

We checked into our hotel and then I checked in with my local connections; where was there going to be pumping, rugged, and remote surf to throw myself into? The answer was dream crushing.

“It’s not looking good,” my friend said.

“Okay, it’s not looking good over the next few days, but how about that swell on the map for early next week?” I rebutted, searching for the silver lining.

“Too much wind — worst kind of wind. I can’t believe it doesn’t look like one day is going to line up for you.”

No way.

The opportunity to travel all the way to Ireland with a young child, demanding career and Olympic training is next to impossible. How could this happen? I spent the rest of the day sulking and cursing the Universe. When the storm of frustration had passed, I quietly acknowledged a deeper truth that was rising up. This time out of the boardroom and off the track is precious to me. It nourishes my soul, my family, my leadership passion and Olympic pursuits. With my church — surfing — out of the equation, how could I make the most of it?


Three months ago my whole being was crying for help — life was getting to be too much. Day after 16-hour day was divided between my career in leadership, Olympic training, and my family; I was loving the challenge, but I admittedly had stepped onto a hamster wheel, leaving no time for myself. It was time for a change.

I vowed to get up each morning before the sun (and, more importantly, before my wife and daughter) and spend 30 minutes in a mindfulness practice before starting my day. This practice was made up of 10 minutes of meditation, 10 minutes of discus fundamental movements, and 10 minutes of writing and reflection.

I had no expectations that this practice would change my life, I simply believed that my entire psyche would be better off for it. But as the days and weeks passed and I weaved together hours of practice, everything about how I was showing up changed. My energy, intention, emotions, and presence were being charged to new levels. As demands at work got exponentially greater and I moved into peak performance season preparing for Canadian National Championships and Rio Trials, I became more vibrant and radiant with each passing day.

In Ireland, in the absence of the waves where I often find refuge, I decided to double down on my meditation practice.


For the next 15 days in Ireland I made a religious effort to honour this practice. It meant stopping everything, finding a tall upright seated position and shifting all of my attention inwards. I ended up doing this in airports amidst 24-hour travel days, surrounded by the entire family, and during roadside pit stops. Whatever it took, I made it happen. Such a small devotion, but how quickly it became one of the highlights of my trip.


As the days passed, this is what I found in my practice:

1. Filling Myself Up

Meditation continues to gift me with an incredibly resilient mindset. Every day after completing my meditation I feel full, satisfied, whole and complete, as if I have accomplished the number one task of self nourishment for the day. I am able to easily flow, and show up with a huge capacity to be present and enjoy the day’s experiences. I am able to buffer inevitable daily stress and tension before it arises.

2. Going Deep

Journaling has been an outlet for uncovering insights, learnings and life lessons since I was 9-years-old. Through this meditative practice I’ve created space to intentionally and consistently write. I am amazed, excited and at times shocked with what comes from these writing sessions, from examining how I view the world to questioning parenting and leadership styles. When there is no filter I can let my mind wander and drift, and it’s incredibly enlightening.

3. Profound Insight

We have hundreds of thousands of conscious thoughts each day. The vast majority go unnoticed and aren’t retained by our conscious mind while our subconscious mind processes and distills these thoughts into valuable insights. The problem is that we never allow ourselves the space or time to let these thoughts bubble back up to our conscious thinking. Meditation unlocks this door. Countless times in the 15 days I spent in Ireland I was able to acknowledge learnings that floated effortlessly up from stress-amp’d thoughts of the previous days and weeks. While I continue to make an effort not to obsess over these thoughts in the meditation itself, the practice of writing directly afterwards allows me to capture the learning that seemingly came out of nowhere.

I returned home not having scored the Irish waves I’d been daydreaming about, but I had uncovered a new temple, a new practice that empowers me with deepend capacity, intentional presence, and a renewed perspective on learning. This was a new pillar in living my life to the fullest.

Tyrell Mara is at his best when chasing Big Hairy Audacious Goals. Currently, his sights are set on the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, throwing discus. Through his journey he finds passion in guiding others in chasing their own dreams and goals, of every shape and size. Follow him on Instagram and Facebook.

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