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Dr. Grauer's Column - Stoke and Wisdom

Guest columnist Clayton Payne describes his transformational experience with the wisdom and connections shared between generations on his 39th Grauer expedition. It all comes down to this—do what you love, with love, because you love it.

Stoke and Wisdom
Guest Columnist: Clayton Payne

During Fall Expeditions week at The Grauer School, all of our students traveled throughout California and around the United States. We're sharing a special moment from our "Portraits of California: Soul Surfing" expedition in this column written by Clayton Payne, Grauer Senior Teacher and Expedition Leader. 

The Pacific Ocean is an impish teacher in its indifference. Talk to any surfer long enough and the personification of the briny deep will bear responsibility for all manner of calamity. However, there isn’t blame, per se, but rather a Zen-like resignation to circumstance. In choosing to ride waves, one must learn that there are things beyond our control, there are things one cannot argue with, and there are times when one’s best just isn’t good enough. This is the difficult side of The Grauer School’s Core Value of perseverance, and I learned this surfing. With that, though, I learned the stoke of surfing from my dad. A seemingly inexplicable Quixotic pursuit.

Grauer students on the "Portraits of California: Soul Surfing" expedition - September 2022

On my 39th ;expedition, legacy and generational wisdom were on my mind. In preparing the Portraits of California: Soul Surfing itinerary, I was cognizant to leaving space for wisdom to be shared; up and down the trip’s 30 year age range. However, I wasn’t sure what shape this wisdom would take. I knew many of the students were better watermen than me, they already knew the stoke. Their parents had seen to that. Further, this was going to be Grauer Surf Coach Daniel Bocater's first expedition. He certainly understood stoke, but would we understand each other? Like I learned from my dad, there is no way to really know how good the surf is unless you paddle out.

So, on Monday morning in a single van, we paddled out together.

And it couldn’t have gone better. 

In the Zoroastrian worldview, the first place of worship we visited, a key life goal is the development of Asha; effortlessly having the right mind, with the right experiences, making the right decisions at the right time. Just like catching and riding a wave. Just like surrendering to the stoke. Wave after wave, mile after mile, we found ourselves surrendering to the stoke more and more.


The students were teaching me to see the entirety of life as a surf session. There are things beyond our control, there are things you can’t argue with, where your best just isn’t good enough, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun.

Daniel, a better expedition partner I couldn’t ask for, was teaching me a lot about authenticity in the moment.

As such, I had to wonder, was I providing anything?

Sure, we were able to surf some amazing waves together and visit places of worship that provided opportunities for great conversations, where was I in the link between generations?

Grauer students with Davey Miller, surfer, artist, and musician - September 2022

The answer came on Wednesday. On our drive north, Daniel suggested we visit his father, Davey Miller, in Ventura. Mr. Miller spent the 80s and 90s as a pro surfer, gracing magazine covers and various advertisements for endorsements he earned. However, more than his skill on a board was his depth of expression as an artist and musician.

Graciously opening his art studio/home to us, Mr. Miller shared not only great stories, but, like his son, shared his most authentic self with all of us. As we listened and laughed, I felt a genuine generational connection running through the group; the passing of wisdom. And while the surf stories and art were incredible, the “wisdom surf” clearly picked up listening to him sing/freestyle while playing the most soulful drums. 

Then he handed me his sticks and asked me to play.

Feeling like I had just paddled out into surf I had no business being in, I took a deep breath, and surrendered to whatever came out of my hands and feet. Mr. Miller began singing over the top of my playing, and suddenly there we were, locked into an infinite moment. After we played, he then shared a personal story of protest, from during the days of Operation: Desert Storm, and how it inspired him to write a song, “Penguin State of Mind,” which he then delivered a capella. 


And that’s when it hit me. Wisdom isn’t shared by being a particular role, it's shared by being present: do what you love, with love, because you love it. 

If you can do that, you'll naturally find spaces for activism, personal growth, professional development, and all the other things we search for.

That’s what stoke is.

That’s what keeps surfers paddling out into an impersonal, frolicsome tumult. 

That’s what keeps us going on expeditions. 


That’s what I first learned from my dad in the surf. And learned again afoot and afield from school legends like Dr. Stuart Grauer, Don Kish, and Chris Ahrens. And learned again from Daniel, his father, and a group of sea salt-dusted, boisterous students.

It’s what I look forward to learning again in the spring, on my 40th expedition. 

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Photos for Dr. Grauer's Column

Grauer students on the "Portraits of California: Soul Surfing" expedition - September 2022

Grauer students with Davey Miller, surfer, artist, and musician - September 2022

Fearless Teaching® Book
by Dr. Stuart Grauer


Fearless Teaching® is a stirring and audacious jaunt around the world that peeks—with the eyes of one of America’s most seasoned educators–into places you will surely never see on your own. Some are disappearing. It is a bit like playing hooky from school. You will travel to the Swiss Alps, Korea, Navajo, an abandoned factory in Missouri, the Holy Land, the Great Rift Valley, the schools of Cuba, the ocean waves, and the human subconscious—oh, and Disneyland.

There you will find colorful stories for the encouragement, inspiration, and courage needed by educators and parents. Fearless Teaching is not a fix-it book—it is more a way of seeing the world and the school so that you can stay in your work and focus on what matters most to you.

"Grauer’s writing reminds us that Great Teaching, singular, rare, unusual, is something that should be sought after and found. Thank you.”
Richard Dreyfuss, Actor, Oxford scholar, founder of The Dreyfuss Initiative

Click here to order Fearless Teaching® today

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