Shooting the film allowed Butler and co-star Jonny Weston -- both very driven men -- to learn several big lessons, thanks to the ocean.
"When you start spending time in there, and become comfortable with it, there's nothing more meditative or powerful, or spiritual than just being," said Butler. "Even if you're surfing, or if you're just sitting there, which is what a lot of surfing is about, is just existing with the elements."
Weston says filming the movie taught him taught him new depths about life.
"It's so much more powerful than anything on land and any of us put together," said Weston. "To actually be in tandem with that, and be a part of it, be in sync with it, as opposed to fighting it, it kinda gives you an understanding of the way life needs to be, you know."
During the film's shoot, Butler learned the toughest lesson of all for a surfer. In one scene, a massive swell crashed over him, and held him under the water. It was just two days earlier that his character warned his young protege of the extreme risks that come with extreme surfing.
"That was the monologue that was in my head when I went under water," Butler said. "I can't believe this is everything that I said to him. The difference now between life and death is the difference beteen fear and panic. I was terrified but I knew if I panicked it was done because I was a long way from coming up. And it went on for a while. All I wanted was to breathe, scream, get help, something, because I was so deep down. So those words I think really saved me."
Even after that underwater scare, Butler still surfs.
"Chasing Mavericks" is rated PG and is in theaters Friday.