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Singing the Song of the Surf

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Why you should care

Paul Schmidt’s love of surfing has fed an ambition to build the best boards for the best surf breaks.

Welcome to The Professionals, an eight-part video series that connects you to the hearts, minds and anything-but-ordinary days of the people who run things, do things and make things GO.

Paul Schmidt: Surfer, Surfboard Designer/Builder @ Paul Surf

The sun, the constant roll of water, waves, civilization behind you and an endless horizon spreading out in front of you … It’s no wonder that those who dig surfing do so rhapsodically. Despite how hard it is to actually do, surfing seems like it’d be a blast. Beyond that, action words typically reserved for other sports — killing, crushing, smashing — are largely absent with surfing, so no surprise at all that when we meet Paul Schmidt, a surfer with a thriving surfboard-building business outside of New York City in the Rockaways, he stakes a simple claim that for him, it’s meditative.

Even more than meditative, Schmidt says, “Surfing to me … that’s something that you can count on [that’s] just fun.”

And along with actually surfing, enabling others with his custom-built and painstakingly handmade boards closes the circle for Schmidt in a way that brings him happiness unlike other work experiences on dry land. “If you find joy in something just on a really basic level,” says Schmidt, “see how far you can go with it. Try to get lost in the details of that thing that makes you happy.”

Which, when you see Schmidt in his now-thriving shop bent over a board, either to make it or later ride it, brings it all home. While the boards he makes are not cheap, Schmidt says that’s almost as far away from the point as you could get. What’d be closer? The piece that’s all about wonder and a spiritual wholeness: “The time I put into the boards,” says Schmidt as he frames his “business” hope, is “that [it] kind of inspires people to slow down a little bit, be more present.”

A fairly solid way of saying, surf’s up.

Video by Thomas LaGrega; text by Eugene S. Robinson.

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