chapter  6
Reading water: Risk, intuition, and insight
Pages 9

Henri Bergson says that ‘the philosopher neither obeys nor commands; he seeks to be at one with nature’ (Bergson, 1968: 149). Duke Kahanamoku, father of modern surfing, reflecting on his practice, remarked: ‘You are rewarded with a feeling of complete freedom and independence when rocketing across the face of a wave’ (Kahanamoku, 1968: 94). There is a strong affinity between Bergson’s description of philosophical practice and the reading of water that lies at the heart of extreme surfing and whitewater paddling. Extreme surfers seek giant waves, often being towed out to offshore sites where waves run between 40 and 60 feet. The extreme paddlers to whom I will refer are not those who negotiate waterfalls but those who routinely seek to paddle whitewater that is rated at the top end of or above the current rating system. This affinity between philosophical practice and reading water is twofold. On the one hand, both the surfer and paddler engage in a perceptual endeavor akin to what Bergson requires of the philosopher. On the other hand, both the extreme water athlete and the Bergsonian philosopher achieve a way of being in the world that is natural but not ordinary.