Monday, January 14, 2008


i·den·ti·ty (-dnt-t)n. pl. i·den·ti·ties
1. The collective aspect of the set of characteristics by which a thing is definitively recognizable or known[...]
2. The set of behavioral or personal characteristics by which an individual is recognizable as a member of a group.
Source: TheFreeDictionary

What are some of the things that come to mind when people ask you what you are? Not who, but what? What's your identity? For most of us, it's more than one thing - sure, we're all human beings. Then there are the roles we play (father, son, professional, etc.). And for many of us, windsurfer is a big part of that. It is for me - windsurfing being my passion, being a windsurfer is definitely a piece of that package that's my identity.

So when I was off the water for about 2 1/2 months with a bum shoulder, did that make me less of a windsurfer? Yes - I wasn't constantly behaving like a windsurfer (such as frantically checking the wind, keeping an eye on the forecast, trying to carve out time for a session, working on gear). Except when I still was (such as obsessing about gear choices for next season, reading windsurfing sites on the net, training in the gym to prepare for next racing season, driving by the bay on windy days to at least get a visual). So then it's really a No?

Funny thing, this windsurfing thing - once it's got you hooked, it's not like you're just dropping out while you're not doing it. There's something more to being a windsurfer than going windsurfing. I'm sure the same is true of other passionate pursuits, and it's what makes them different from pastimes and hobbies. The former are an outlet for something deep inside you - your personality, your character, your hopes, your self. If you're a passionate windsurfer, then that at least partially defines you, gives you an identity (or allows you to express you identity, more like it...). Whether you race, or live to sail waves, or spend hours working on your freestyle moves, you probably get what I'm saying. If, however, you think I'm completely off my rocker, then you're probably seeing windsurfing as a hobby or a pastime (or, also possible, you're right and I really am off my rocker...).

My injury was not severe. Within a week I knew that I wouldn't need surgery, and that complete recovery was virtually assured if only I put in the time, discipline, and work to heal up. Still, it made me think about what I'd do if I couldn't windsurf. I don't have an answer to that. I do know, however, that I'd need (and be able) to find another outlet for that passion. I don't know what I could find that would scratch that same itch, or even if that would be necessary - perhaps I could be just as happy and immersed in something not involving speed and water. I didn't have to really go there - knowing that I'd be back, the person at the gym working on his rehab was a windsurfer getting back on the water. I had the luxury of not having to solve the identity puzzle.

In the last couple years, I've found that what creates identity in the sense of the second definition above (the group membership piece) is more about the passion than the actual outlet. I'm a windsurfer, but as a competitor I feel kinship with those who are competitive in all kinds of other things as well, whether they're triathletes or rowers or kayakers or soccer players - as long as they are truly into their thing so you can see them light up when they talk about it, I feel like we're members of the same tribe. Same goes for others who may not have a competitive bone in their body, but who are passionate members of the water tribe - surfers, swimmers, sailors, rowers, and with a bit of a phase change skiers and snowboarders.

Nonetheless, after a few good sessions (and no adverse effect on my shoulder), I somehow feel more settled. Sure - I'd be OK if I couldn't windsurf again; my identity is more rooted in the passion than in the activity itself. And surely, there'd be tremendous potential for personal growth in the challenge of finding something else that lights me up the same way. But there's a reason I've chosen that outlet (or is it more a matter of it having chosen me?), and for now, I'm damn glad that it's still in my life.

Sail on!

1 comment:

PeconicPuffin said...

For one thing, during long stretches of time when I'm not windsurfing I'm still thinking about windsurfing. I can look at a grass lawn and not think about golf. But I can't look at trees bending in the wind without thinking about sail sizes. If I see whitecaps in a water scene in the middle of a movie I think about windsurfing. My inner windsurfer is always ready to rig and sail, regardless of limitations place by my body, my work, the weather, whatever.