The importance of contrast

October 2, 2016

On a recent trip to Bali, I decided to take a few beginner surf lessons. After two weeks on the island I had already spent plenty of time relaxing and sightseeing and I figured surfing would be a good way to burn some energy. The Lonely Planet guidebook described Bali’s Kuta Beach as ideal for learning to surf and suggested a surf school, so off I went.

After half an hour of theory about waves and proper positioning on the surf board, our group of instructors and students headed to the beach. We waded into the ocean and, one by one, lined up to catch a wave, then paddled frantically to try to stay in front of it. On my first few tries, the instructor gave me a good push to help me gain speed.

The first time I caught a wave and managed to stand up was awesome. The wave pushed me toward the beach much faster than I'd expected. I won't pretend I was sweeping left and right and doing back flips, but even the few seconds that I stood on the board riding the wave were incredibly fun. How come I had never tried this before?

I wanted more. Two lessons later I was catching bigger, unbroken waves that propelled me toward the beach at tremendous speeds. After six or seven hours of personal instruction I felt I had at least some skill. I asked myself, “Why shouldn’t I spend a good chunk of my life doing this, riding the waves, which is clearly so much more fun than typing away at a computer screen?”

It struck me that a substantial portion of my fun surfing came from how different it is from what I usually do. It's the contrast. It's why I bet you ate some of the best food you've ever tasted when you were quite hungry. It's why, after surfing, I just wanted to get out of the sun for a bit, even though the availability of sun and beaches was a big reason I was in Bali to begin with.

The bigger lesson for me is that I should appreciate the role of things that aren't fun. Writing, mopping the floor, physical exercise―they set the stage for properly appreciating the written product, the clean floor, and the healthy body. Spending plenty of time in front of a computer screen set the stage for how much I enjoyed surfing.

And now that I've written this post, I'm sure I will properly appreciate the great novel I'm reading.

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