The Church of Yew

An argument for surfing as a religion

| posted on April 18, 2013

A tropical Mexican pointbreak, ain't it just divine? Photo: Stoner

Of all the wacky ideas I’ve heard in my life, possibly the wackiest came from an unlikely source: George Downing. A friend told me that at one time George was trying to make a serious bid to have surfing declared an official religion. When I initially heard this, I thought it was one of the silliest things I had ever encountered.

Now I’ve changed my thinking. In fact, I’ve done a complete 180.

I owe much of my change of heart to Wikipedia. To define the term “religion”, the site used the following words and phrases: Worship. Prayer. Universal belief systems. Claims of spiritual transcendence. Specific narratives, symbols, traditions, and sacred histories. Something that gives meaning to life and drives behavior. Rituals, feasts, funerary services, music, and art. Mantras. Purposeful choices to live lives of poverty to be closer to it. Pilgrimages.

And then the lightning bolt struck me: Surfing is more religious than religion is.

So given this divine revelation, let’s take it another step. Let’s claim it. Let’s give this religion of surfing a name. I don’t know, something appropriate, maybe slightly irreverent or fun…like how about The Church of Yew? And then maybe we could have cool sayings like Yew Dukefari, in acknowledgement of our patron saint of Aloha.

I’m totally serious. In fact, I’m actually starting to feel a bit rapturous just thinking about all this. Well, that and the potential tax-exempt status.

  • Chongo

    I’m in. What time is service?

  • Greg

    This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever read.

  • Dave

    The idea of making surfing a religion is downright dangerous. It won’t change your status before the creator of the universe. Worship the creator, not the creation.

  • Johnny B

    Dave, the wave is the creator of the Yew. Without the wave, the Yew doesn’t exist. And without You, the Yew doesn’t exist. Just like the Ying and the Yang complete each other, the You needs the Yew as much as the Yew needs the You. It’s like many chains in the big circle of life (which is a barrel). May the cosmic energy of Bhodism and the peace of the Yew be with You, brother.

  • dang3rtown

    Religion is for kooks. That being said, boogers may feel free to worship me.

  • Reverend Stoke

    We have millions of followers, we pray for and worship the waves. Every time we paddle out we get baptized in the sea. We walk on water when we noseride and we enter the green cathedral when we get tubed. How is this not a religious experience?

    • rightcoast

      well put Reverend. In the name of the the father, the son and the Holy Stoke.

  • widiot

    Glad you cited wikipedia there, was on the fence till I saw that.

  • Mike

    The Name would have to be Hawaiin…maybe something as simple as He’e Nalu(surfing).

  • Edward Teller

    All very well and good. Excellent, in fact. Banish the false gods, expunge the pretenders, move past the illusion of Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, and all the rest of them, and arrive at the promised land of holy water, poverty, ecstasy, submission, release, and enlightenment.

    But if surfing becomes an organized religion, then consider the magnetism that organized religions exert upon those born without a functioning moral compass, without the intellectual honesty required to question every thing and every one. Those who, failing the execution of refined thought for themselves, must borrow it from elsewhere, never quite succeeding in copying the significant kernels of truth into their own psyches. They will come flocking to the new shrine in their millions, killing one another to prove their worthiness, defiling the sacred lineups with their unclean corpus.

    No, and no again.

    Better we leave it as it is.


    Those who know, already know, and this is as it should be.

  • Jay

    “Surfarianism”… I’m definitely a Surfarian.

  • tyler

    you got me at tax break….

  • zombie*surf

    I loved this as I read it; then thought about the zealots I’ve encountered from varied religions (they’re all correct, not you, not me, not the other guy). Would I want people preaching about the thing I enjoy most and bringing their hatred, intolerance and persecution to those who don’t see it their way. Nay I say……naaaayyyyyyy.

  • Steve Wimer

    Brewer’s shop on Kapiloani street (spelling?) in Town had a kind of mission statement on the door back in the 70’s. It said something like, “…surfing progress is spiritual progress…”

  • Jason M

    Ask Tom Curren what he thinks about this idea…

  • umm

    There was already an article about this in a ~ 2008 Surfer mag. It’s called aquatic something something. It was even on the cover…

  • Peter Pope

    Tommy Leonardo….. RIP… showing the stoke with upturned arms!! Old Stoner, photograph !!

  • Ron Brazil

    Back when I was impressionable to a religion I used to believe surfing was my religion and the ocean was my church.. Not a bad idea.. And the tax breaks to who ever claims is in charge would be useful!

  • Marianna

    ‘Umm’ is right, Surfing mag featured an article by Bron Taylor (Professor of Religion and Nature at the University of Florida) in its July 2008 issue, titled Nature=God. It was based on a full-length academic article (by Taylor), ‘Surfing into Spirituality and a New, Aquatic Nature Religion’ (Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 2007).

  • danno

    10 to 1 that God is a surfer. Let’s all keep the vibes in the water sacred.

  • Iain Ross


  • Frederico Dirani

    Pretty cool thought he should have taken more seriously if he really believes in it. The name “the church of yew” is really selfish

  • Delzdoe

    may the yew be with you.

  • FecalStain


  • Rubber OutLier

    “And then the lightning bolt struck me: Surfing is more religious than religion is.”
    your hangin’ clothes on my line

  • Allan Holm

    Dude please ! we have enough of this already , to be a religion we have to define surfing and conform to that definition , rather be faithfull to the stoke !!!!

  • Jack Olson

    The feeling of stoke is very similar to being on fire for God. In fact, stoke means to stir a fire. If you’ve ever had a religious experience, you will notice that the feeling is very similar to getting a good wave. Not as good, but similar.

  • RyGuy

    “The idea of making surfing a religion is downright dangerous. It won’t change your status before the creator of the universe. Worship the creator, not the creation.”

    You know, Dave…this is why religion, itself, is dangerous. As a result of your own belief system, and your own personal issues, you have just introduced fear into the conversation. Fear of reprisal.

    You’re not right, and i’m not wrong, just because you “believe” in something that others find superstitious at best. Keep up the good fight though. I’m sure your status with the creator will be more favorable than the rest of us.

    Then again, probably not.

  • SpookyB

    Surfing is already everything that it should be. If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t be surfers and we sure as hell wouldn’t be on this site, discussing our stokes and what it means to us. I appreciate this attempt, but let’s keep this feeling we all have, close to our own hearts- where it belongs.

    We are talking about personal belief, a feeling within. Why are we worried about other people? And what we call it? And who’s in the club? If the ocean is your church, then go there. If others want to worship their favorite spatula, they should.

    This idea of getting the masses together for such a personal experience is exhausting. Surfing already brings people together, and it’s already criticized by others. I wouldn’t join the Church of Yew, for the record, although I do think the name is funny. We know the stoke, we know who we are, we know that fire in the belly feeling, and we trust in our hearts that the others out there do too. Do we really need much else? Maybe a meal here and there. Focus on your own heart and you will have peace within. Live and let live; whatever living means to you….

  • Woody

    Quit trying to over complicate something as intrinsically simple as riding a wave.

  • aust


  • King of the Yews

    Really? Not a single Yewish joke? Persecuted Yews? The Yewish Promised Land? Yewish American Pricesses?