Rite Of Passage

When I look back over my childhood, I vividly remember times of fear, awe and reckless abandonment. The thrill of adventure and discovery drove me to step out of my comfort zone and into the unknown. I built cubbies in the bush with my older brother until the sun went down. We fished for bream and whiting off piers and jetties in the rain, and searched for crabs along the mudflats near my dad’s boat. I loved that primal urge to get outside into the wilderness and into the unknown. We came home with mud up to our knees, scratches and torn clothes. My mother gave up on buying us nice clothes, because she knew we would destroy it the very next day.


I grew up around the beach and the ocean was essentially my playground. I was always drawn to the rawness and vastness of the endless blue, stretching out into the horizon.  My dad taught me how to surf from a young age. I distinctly remember the moment I got my first fiberglass board at the age of ten. Every spare moment I had, I got into the ocean and braved the waves to experience the pure thrill of catching a ride. When I was twelve years old, my dad sat me down one night and prepared me to surf a wave near our family home in the morning. He told me that we had to wake up at the break of dawn, drive for half an hour to a famous surfing spot near us, and hike around the headland to the furthest point where we were going to surf a big swell that was arriving in the morning. I recall the anticipation as a mixture of fear and excitement gripped me. My dad assured me that it was going to be fun, but big. I was told that I was going to have to step up and brave some of the biggest surf of my life.  


That morning we drove to the surf spot and hiked to the point where we observed the waves screaming down the point. I felt my heart pounding in my chest as we waited for a lull in the ocean. I remember my dad coaxing me to jump off the rocks and paddle with everything I had to get out the back past the breaking waves. I paddled with as hard as I could and managed to fight my way past the breakers out the back. I sat wide. I sat too far out to even have a chance of catching a wave, because I was scared. The fear of the unknown overwhelmed me at that point and I knew that the only place that was safe out there was way out, past the breaking waves. My father, who knew I was more than capable of surfing these big waves, called out to me and said: “You’re never going to catch a wave out there, paddle here to where I am”. I followed his instructions and sat closer in. I needed his guidance, but I also needed to believe in myself. Everything I had learnt about surfing and the ocean up to that point had prepared me to be out there that day. And sure enough, within a few moments of sitting near my dad a wave came. Dad yelled: “Go!”. I turned, paddled, caught the wave and surfed it all the way down the long point and into the bay.


I caught a few more waves that morning, and my confidence continued to grow with each wave I caught. I don’t remember getting dumped or held under (although I probably did cop a few beatings). What I do remember is braving the biggest surf of my life.  The one thing that stood out the most to me was the way my dad spoke about me to his mates and surfing buddies afterwards. He spoke so highly of me and proudly told them how I, the only kid out there among a bunch of old salts, charged some big waves. It was a turning point in my life, because suddenly I was no longer viewed as a boy out in the ocean. I was recognized by other men as one of them.


A rite of passage is generally defined as a ceremony of the passage which occurs when an individual leaves one group to enter another. It involves a significant change of status in society. Rites of passage date back through the ages and occurs in cultures around the world. Rites of passage make use of intentional rituals or teachings designed to strip individuals from their original roles and prepare them for their new roles.  The aim is to develop wisdom, strong character and encourage a mature masculine spirit within boys. By overcoming various challenges, initiates return to their tribes or communities with skills and inner resources needed in their communities.


Most tribes have an initiation process that signifies when a boy overcomes a fear to become a man. However, somewhere in western culture we seem to have lost this tradition. Nowadays, boys become teens…. and somewhere along the way many don’t seem to grow up. Perhaps our culture normalizes a lack of developing responsibility and wisdom. Interestingly enough, the term ‘teen’ did not exist prior to the 1930’s. However, since this term has been introduced into our society, it appears that many men remain stuck in their ‘teens’ and never seem transition into manhood. I see adult males today still living as if they are fifteen. Where did things go wrong? Stepping into manhood is not about going out and braving the ocean, however it is about stepping out of your comfort zone, overcoming your fears in order to grow as a person and become a leader or role model. Manhood involves understanding the responsibilities that come with being an adult and accepting the consequences of your actions. Too often I see 30-year-old ‘boys’ still blaming everyone else for what is wrong in their lives, like a school boy in trouble trying to shift the blame.


That morning my dad took me out surfing, it was a rite of passage experience for me. I understood the risks and consequences of braving the ocean. I was prepared and not reckless. I had guidance and I stepped up to a challenge and into my calling. As a consequence, it changed how other men viewed me, and how I viewed myself. I was respected, no longer as a boy, but as a man. This changed how I behaved.

If we are meant to be men who will lead the next generation, we need to demonstrate what it means to be responsible men. We need to guide and mentor the younger generations, and encourage them to step out of their comfort zone and into their calling. We need to teach young men how to deal with adversity, resolve conflict, problem solve, and how to accept responsibility for their actions and decisions.