Many business people draw lessons from football coaches, mountain climbers and historical figures such as Attila the Hun. Too few take cues from surfing. In addition to serving as an enduring source of joy, surfing can also teach important business principles — if you’ll only pay attention, and listen to the waves.
Embrace the Whole Experience
The surfing journey is as much about getting to the wave as it is about being in a wave. The percent of time that you spend actually riding a wave is very, very, very low. Mostly, you are looking for waves, waiting for waves, paddling for waves and falling off of waves. So, too, with business success. If you can’t appreciate the whole experience, then you’re missing most of it.
Accept Your Lack of Control
You can’t control the ocean. You can’t change the waves, the wind, the water temperature, or the number of other people in the water. All you can control is the way you interact with the wave, the water and other people. Only you are in charge of your attitude.
Data-informed decision making applies to surfing as well as to business. Relying on data from surf apps, tide charts, weather reports, currents, etc., keeps you informed so you can make better decisions. You still have to get there, get wet, paddle out, wait, commit and go for it, but you can minimize safety risks as well as the chance of getting skunked.
Just Get Wet
You won’t learn if you don’t go in the water. Even if the conditions are crappy, even if you’re not feeling well, even if it’s super crowded, even if there is nobody out. Just get wet. Getting wet and trying is better than sitting around. And if you’re open and pay attention, you will always learn something.
Go For It
After you get in the water, you have to go for a wave. You can’t partially surf a wave, you can’t half paddle in. Commit. Paddle aggressively and go for it. Otherwise, the wave will pass you by, or your takeoff will be late. In business, too, at a certain point, the time to analyze is over — it’s time to do.
Everything is Relative
Hawaiians measure waves from the backside, not the trough. Which means a Hawaiian 4-foot wave is more like 8 feet. Is an 8-foot wave big? To me it is. To Laird Hamilton, it is not. Is a billion dollars a lot? To me it is. To Jeff Bezos, it is not.
Keep Your Own Score
Unless you’re in a competition, there is no scoring in free surfing. It’s not how many waves you got compared to somebody else. Or how big the waves you rode were. It’s how you enjoyed or measured your surf session and what you took away from it. Likewise, business is not about how much money you make compared to someone else. It’s whether or not you’re providing enough value to your customers that they’re willing to pay you to keep doing that. And how much you value your work.
Whether it’s a wave that you’re surfing for a few seconds or a few minutes, it’s gonna end. And then you’ll have to go look for another one. Eventually, the day will end as well. Appreciate what you have. It’s okay if it ends.
Respect the Ecosystem
The wave you’re surfing may have started thousands of miles away, but you’re enjoying it here. What happens in one place affects another. Respecting the ocean’s grandness and fragility means not just taking from it, but also giving back to it. Same goes for the ecosystem in which your business lives: Take care of it, and it will take care of you.
Give a Wave, Get a Wave
Part of the joy of surfing is not just doing it yourself but sharing the waves with others, and appreciating their joy. Watch and learn, share and help. Support their efforts and accomplishments, and learn from them, on the water and at work.
Stay Calm & Surf On
When you fall off a wave and are held down under the water, if you panic and flail around, you’ll burn more oxygen. By relaxing and staying patient, you’ll have more air left with which to come back up.
When you’re taking off on a wave, always look forward, down the line. Keep your head up. Don’t look down at your feet. Don’t look at the wave. Look to where you want to go, not where you are.
Don’t go for every wave. That’s a waste of energy. Instead, observe, understand and pick the wave that looks best for you.
Take a lesson. Then take another. Safety, consideration and respect are rarely discussed, but they form surfing’s foundation. Few of surfing’s dynamics and techniques come naturally. If you take the time to learn board management and wave theory on the beach, you’ll be far more comfortable in the water. And it’s the same in business. Don’t act like you know everything on day one. Learn from those who came before.
Even if you’re getting pummeled by waves, even if you got skunked, even if you got dropped in on, have fun. You went surfing. You learned a few things. And you’ll be better tomorrow.