What Surfing Can Teach Us About Life and Business

Last updated:

Surfing is one of the most challenging, complex, and exciting athletic pursuits a person can choose. Combining the physical with the mental, surfing teaches a number of lessons that can also be applied off the water, in real life. Many of those lessons have to do with risk — being brave enough to take risks and being wise enough to accept that you might fail. Whether you want to succeed in life or at work (or both), these surf-inspired lessons will certainly help.

Commitment to the Task

Surfing requires a ton of focus, even for professionals who’ve been surfing for years. Moreover, surfers have to find a way to enjoy their time out there without being distracted — which becomes even trickier when surfing with friends. There are a lot of techniques that can help. Here are three:

  1. Write down a list of your top 25 priorities, then whittle that list down to just five. Those are the five things you should concentrate on. Anything else that pops up doesn’t deserve your attention until those priorities are handled.
  2. At the end of every day, make a list of your top six to-dos for the next day. They can be big or small, but limit them to six. The next day, as long as you accomplish those six things, you’ll feel like you finished what you needed to.
  3. If you can’t figure out what should take priority, create an Eisenhower Box. Draw a quadrant and label the sections: Urgent and Important; Not Urgent and Important; Urgent and Not Important; Not Urgent and Not Important. Place each task into the appropriate quadrant.

Learning how to focus when you need to takes practice. It won’t happen overnight, especially if you’re a chronic multitasker.

Unplugging Makes You Better

Another way that surfing teaches us to focus on the task at hand is that you can’t be plugged into technology when you’re out on the ocean — it’s sort of like a forced unplugging challenge. You have to pay attention to what’s going on in the moment. Otherwise, you could crash into another surfer, miss an awesome wave, or get hurt.

In business, there are definite benefits of unplugging. You may end up working fewer hours, which can actually improve your productivity — you end up refreshed every time you sit down to work, which means your produce better quality work in a shorter period of time. Unplugging also helps you form real-life relationships with coworkers, and it encourages you to think creatively and strategically when you can’t simply Google everything.

Short-Notice Adaptability

The ocean is unpredictable, and surfers have to know how to adapt at a moment’s notice. Without being able to adapt, surfers risk two things: missing a fantastic, fun opportunity and putting themselves in harm’s way. Focus plays a big role in this. By being completely tuned in to the moment, surfers can see when the situation changes and adapt accordingly. This also requires knowing that there’s something out there that’s bigger than you. While you can’t control some things in life, you can control how you respond to them, and that can have a major impact on the outcome.

If you’re a coach, trainer, or manager, taking off the proverbial training wheels for trainees before it’s time can force this adaptability to occur. It seems counterintuitive — you’re there to help, so why push the other person to go it alone? In truth, though, standing back lets the other person have a breakthrough, and when they get there on their own, their confidence also soars. When you’re in any type of teacher position, suppress the urge to micromanage; you’ll lead much better by trusting that your student can take it from here. Plus, micromanagement isn’t just bad for the employee, it can also lead to burnout for you.

Acceptance of Failure

Only new or bad surfers wipe out — right? No way! Even pro-level surfers have a wipeout now and then. It’s par for the course. Surfing is risky and unpredictable, and there is no surfer who will get it right every time, no matter how experienced they are. If that’s not a metaphor for life, I don’t know what is. The same goes for business: Some of the most famous, renowned entrepreneurs you know took a huge risk along the way.

The point is not to avoid failure; it’s to get back up afterward. Failure isn’t the worst outcome, but continuing to put yourself down after a failure is. You have to get back up right away, because if you don’t try again when you’re scared, you’ll be less likely to try again later on when the memory of that fear has only grown.

Surf’s Up!

Surfing provides such phenomenal life lessons because it’s filled with the unexpected. Even a seasoned surfer has to pay close attention to what’s going on. The weather, the ocean, the wildlife and the other surfers out there are always different, no matter how familiar you are with that stretch of water. Putting yourself in new situations and accepting that there’s going to be a level of discomfort and facing it anyway can help you reach new heights in life and work. If you’re inspired to buy a board and paddle out or you simply want to take these lessons and use them without heading to the beach, you’ll reap the benefits.