I have learnt more lessons about life and business from surfing than I have from just about any other single activity I’ve ever taken part in.
Surfing is one of the most mentally and physically challenging things you can do and as a result, the lessons it teaches you come think and fast. And you have to accept and internalize those lessons quickly, otherwise you risk hurting yourself.
The more I’ve learnt from surfing, the more I realize that everything it teaches is actually something which if applied to our wider lives would have an extremely positive impact. It has taught me some of the most important lessons I will probably ever learn.
1. Believing In Yourself Makes All The Difference
“Whether you think that you can, or that you can’t. You are usually right.” – Henry Ford
What you believe you can do is what you will be able to do. If you go out to surf believing you can’t surf, you won’t be able to.
There are countless times when I’ve gone surfing believing I can’t and I have always been right. Because that lack of belief changed my behaviour out in the water.
I have never gone out to surf believing I can’t and surfed well. I have, on the other hand, gone out surfing believing I can and surpassed my wildest expectations as to what I might be able to do.
You have to believe in yourself and your ability to achieve what you set out to otherwise you don’t stand a chance of succeeding.
2. If There Is A Good Opportunity, You Have To Go For It
Every wave is different, so if you see a good one, you’ve got to go for it. Another wave like that might not come along again.
I took some surfing lessons with a friend of mine who’s a professional surfer, and he would get so annoyed with me anytime I let a good wave go.
I didn’t understand why it bothered him so much at first. But what he’d understood, that I hadn’t at that point, is that not all opportunities are created equal, just as not all waves are.
Never get complacent and think you’ll just wait for the next one. You may never get an opportunity like that again.
If you see a good opportunity coming your way, be that a wave or something in your wider life or business, you have to go for it with everything you’ve got.
3. You Don’t Need To Be The Strongest, Just The Best Informed
I’ve never had particularly strong arm muscles. Really, they’re pretty pathetic. So when I first started surfing and would struggle to get enough speed to get onto waves, I assumed it was because I wasn’t strong enough. I didn’t have the arm muscle needed to propel myself forward fast enough.
I was wrong. The problem wasn’t a lack of strength. It was that I wasn’t in the right place at the right time. I wasn’t performing the right actions to achieve what I wanted to.
As soon as I figured that out, I started getting a lot more waves. I’d even find myself beating others to waves who were without a doubt much stronger than me.
It wasn’t a sudden gain in muscle mass that caused this jump in my skills; it was simply that I became better informed about how to perform the task in question.
You can don’t have to be the strongest to succeed. Just the best informed. As Francis Bacon said: “Knowledge is power.”
4. You Have To Commit To Your Actions
In surfing, this is made so abundantly clear because if you don’t commit fully to your actions when going for a wave, it is not only extremely likely that you won’t manage to surf that wave, but that you will also get beaten down by that wave as punishment for your indecision.
The moment you hesitate in surfing is the moment you will find yourself in trouble.
In our wider lives, the direct effect of not fully committing to our actions isn’t usually felt so instantly, but it’s still there. If we don’t commit fully to the things we want to achieve, we not only probably won’t achieve them but may well end up in a worse situation as a result of our half-hearted efforts since they will have diverted our attention away from other endeavours.
If you want to achieve something, commit to it. And commit to it fully from the start.
5. Push Yourself And Things That Used To Be Hard Will Become Easy
I used to frequently get scared of the big waves in my usual surf spot. And then one day I went to a different location and surfed a wave that genuinely terrified me.
But what that meant afterwards is that when I went back to my usual surf spot I was no longer scared of any of the waves. I would see big waves coming through that used to scare me and instead of feeling fear think “Pfft, that’s nothing in comparison to what I surfed the other day.”
The really terrifying waves raised my own personal bar as to what I deemed a scary. Unless a wave met that new higher standard, I was no longer afraid.
If there is something you find hard or scary in life, you should push yourself to the extreme of it. It will make original action seem positively easy in comparison.
6. Practice, Practice, Practice
On all of the biggest waves I’ve surfed, I don’t remember the pop-up (the part where you go from lying down on the board to standing up). I usually do but on the waves that have been really challenging for me, I haven’t remembered it, at all.
There have been so many other things I needed to factor in and concentrate on that in those situations that my brain decided not to waste valuable resources on the action I’ve practiced a thousand times before.
Practice has allowed my subconscious to take over and perform the action on auto-pilot. And this, in turn, has freed up invaluable mental space to adjust to whatever new variables are making that particular situation harder than normal.
Practicing is the way to excel at any endeavour. It will make the thing in question come to you like second nature leaving you free to be more reactive and receptive to any unexpected factors.
7. Quality Over Quantity
Surfing makes it so incredibly clear that it’s quality, not quantity, that matters in life. You can surf 15 or even 20 average waves in a session, but if all they are is average, you won’t be particularly excited about what you’ve done afterwards.
However if you go surfing and only manage to get one wave but it is a great wave, you’ll be bouncing off the ceilings with adrenaline for the rest of the day. That one great wave is worth a thousand average ones. There is just no comparison.
Quantity means nothing. It is the quality of whatever we do or experience that matters.
8. Always Look Two Steps Ahead
All surfers learn early that it’s not only the wave that’s about to come that matters but the one behind it too.
If you look just one step ahead, you may not realize that a group of extremely big waves is about to come through just after that and, as a result, find yourself right in the firing line when they do.
If you’d looked two steps ahead though you would have seen what was going to happen and had time to get out of the way.
Never look at only what is right in front of you. You may miss that something bad is lurking round the corner if you do. Always make sure you’re looking further into the future than that.
9. First Impressions Matter
Unfortunately, it seems to be the case when surfing that the first assumption – if you’re female – will be that you can’t surf. That creates a problem because, as any surfer knows, if a group of surfers think you can’t surf, you’re not going to get the opportunity to get any waves.
You’ll get blocked time and time again because no surfer wants to let a potential opportunity go to waste (see point 2).
I can’t change that negative pre-conception about me based on my gender. But what I can do is ensure that as quickly as possible I change that perception by getting a good wave and proving myself.
If I don’t do that, I might as well go straight back in. But if I do it, it changes the first impression I give and will mean that I get just as fair a shot as anyone else at surfing those waves.
Always pay attention to the first impression you’re making. It could mean the difference between lots of opportunities being thrown your way and none.
10. Cheer People On
Surfing is one of the friendliest and most supportive sports there are. In surfing, it is not uncommon to cheer each other on when someone gets a good wave.
And it doesn’t even matter if you know the person surfing that wave or not, if you see another surfer doing something good you will usually give them some form of recognition for it.
And it is an amazing feeling when you’re surfing a wave, and you hear other people cheering you on or have people come up to you afterwards and congratulate you.
But we so rarely remember to congratulate people on their actions in other aspects of our lives. If you see someone doing something you think is impressive, you should tell them.
Celebrate the success of others and it will make everyone’s lives better.