Surfing is like Business

I'm not the first person to make an analogy between surfing and business. Someone I admire and follow Justin Jackson is the most recent. I actually take inspiration from his posts in many of my blogs and videos so I'd like to credit this post as the catalyst for this blog. Because of the fact I've been learning (or re-learning) to surf this year I've got a few extra ideas that have been rolling around in my head while out in the water.

Surfing Looks much Easier from the Shore

Surfing is hard

Every-time I go surfing before I go in the water, I stand on the shore and confidently watch the waves and the other surfers for 5-10 minutes.

It's not that it looks "easy" but it sure looks manageable. Yeah, I can do that. Let me at it.

From high above the shoreline, you can see where the waves are breaking and where the good spots are to wait for the best ones.

I then pick the spot I like, zip up the wetsuit, walk down to the water's edge and start paddling out.

This is when reality starts to hit and the unseen problems from the shore start to appear. This is normally how it goes for me.

  1. I start paddling out and realize the waves are twice as big as I thought they were.
  2. With the waves breaking and rolling in front of me I only get glimpses of the other surfers every so often.
  3. While duck diving and paddling out to where I think I want to go, there is almost always a current that sweeps me left or right. Without land to anchor my position I end up 100 or even 200 meters off target.
  4. I spend most of my time paddling on the spot getting hammered by the white water or crashing waves.
  5. Confidence destroyed, just as I'm about to give up and head back in (and yes I have given up more than once) it seems like the ocean has parted but actually, I've just managed to finally paddle beyond the breakers.
  6. Now I have to paddle left or right to get back to the spot I thought I was aiming for. By now, even though I consider myself a very fit person, I feel exhausted.
  7. I sit and try to recover, heart beating through my chest. Depending on your board, catching a wave and then trying to stand up requires short bursts of high intensity so attempting it without recovering never turns out well for me.
  8. Everyone else looks cool and collected patiently waiting for their wave then calmly and easily paddling, taking off and cruising down the line.
  9. I sit awkwardly off to the side trying not to get in anyone's way.
  10. Often the same surfers will catch a wave, paddle back out and get one or two more before I've even tried to catch one.
  11. I finally catch a wave, if I'm lucky I'll ride along the unbroken wave, generate some speed and get a surge of adrenalin.

New surfers like new business people often suffer from this same problem.

Those who aspire to run their own business confidently watch from the sidelines and think, yip I can see all those people running their own businesses, I can do that.

They think all they need is to wait till they have some free time.

What you don't see from the sidelines or from the shore are all the steps you need to take and the skills you need to acquire before you can even get close to riding an actual wave or running an actual business.

You need fundamental skills before you can actually surf a wave

Unlike a lot of other sports, before you can actually "Surf" a wave, you need to develop all of the "fundamentals" first. Without the fundamentals, you won't even get near a good wave.

For running you can just get out and run, swimming jump in and swim, tennis, get a racket and hit the ball over the net.

The fundamentals in surfing are paddling out, duck diving, positioning and paddling into a wave. Only once you have mastered the fundamentals can you start catching enough waves to then actually learn to "surf".

The challenge that this represents is that all of the inspiration and excitement of surfing comes from riding a wave but you won't ever experience that until you spend hours and hours practising the fundamentals.

It's the same with business, the buzz and excitement from business come from making sales, growing your customer base, generating more and more revenue each month. None of those things will happen without first learning the fundamentals of business.

To learn the fundamentals you have to practice them without any immediate return.

Surfing is only 5% Riding Waves

Even once you've learned the basics actually riding waves only makes up about 5% of the time you spend surfing. In Justin's article, he uses 10% but that comes from a quote from an experienced surfer. For novice surfers, it will be somewhere between 0-5%.

The vast majority of the time you spend is on paddling, duck diving, positioning, waiting, repositioning and then finally catching a wave that will last a few seconds.

This is the same with business. Most parts of running a business are difficult and boring. You often don't know if you are positioning yourself correctly or whether or not the work you are doing will result in more customers or more revenue.

Even if the type of business you are in is exciting and rewarding (like surfing) that doesn't mean you can skip all the boring and the mundane work. Following your passion in a business is great but you'll still need to do the 95% before you can enjoy the 5%.

The good news is the more experienced you become and the more skills you develop the more time you can spend riding waves, but even the best surfers are only riding waves 10-15% of the time.

Surfing alone is Hard

Last weekend I borrowed a camper van (thanks Rob and Kellee from Foottraffic), surfed at the end of the day Sunday, stayed overnight in the campsite near the surf break and got up early and surfed on the following morning.

The waves in the morning session were a little bigger and much better than the evening session but in the end, I only caught a couple of waves in the morning session compared to about a dozen waves the night before.

Why did I catch less waves in better conditions?

The reason was that in the evening session there was at least a dozen other surfers out but on the morning session, I was all alone.

Surfing alone

In the evening session, I relied on the other surfers to guide me on where I should position myself. As time goes by and the tides and the currents change the waves start to break differently and in different spots. Surfing with a group of other experienced surfers means I can watch what they do, where they position themselves and when they move around.

You can see which surfers are catching the most waves, and by moving into their position you can take your turn on the next waves.

In business, you will learn a lot faster and make fewer mistakes if you learn from mentors, your peers and even your competition.

You never know what you will get

Another exciting story from Sunday nights session is we had some special visitors.

I was just sitting there waiting for some waves when I heard someone yelling, hooting, and pointing.

I thought they must have seen a big set of waves coming so I looked out to sea. Then about 50 metres away a huge black dorsal fin rose out of the water. I Googled later once I got back to camp that the dorsal fin of a male Orca can grow to be 6 foot tall. At the time, it didn't seem real because it was so massive in size.

Then out to the right, another huge dorsal fin broke the water, then a couple of really small ones popped up and quickly down like dolphins. I'm guessing that they were the babies.

I think there were at least 4 Orca in the pod. I prefer to think of them as Orca because calling them "Killer Whales" freaks me out.

Orca Dorsal Fin

At the time I really didn't know how to react, whether I should turn tail and paddle back in, sit and watch, or paddle out to get closer (who am I kidding, I wasn't going to paddle towards them). A couple of surfers I think thought they might be sharks so turned and paddled into shallow water where they stood and watched. The more experienced surfers who were out deeper were chilled and just kept hooting and pointing excitedly. In the end, I just sort of sat there not knowing what to do.

In business you are thrown curve balls all of the time, every day is different and you never know what will come up. The more experienced you become in business the more likely you are to be able to calmly and logically deal with the unexpected and on some occasions even turn challenges into opportunities.

You often get held under the water

Regardless of your experience in surfing sometimes a wave will hit you unexpectedly and hold you under the water.

When you are new to surfing this will happen quite a lot. The first time it happens you panic and think you might not come to the surface. One of the first few times I got held under I thrashed around using up too much energy and when I finally forced myself to the surface I hit my head on my board and broke the nose off it.

This is scary and disconcerting. On more than one occasion that this has happened I've decided to get out of the water and go home. In the past this would have put me off surfing for a while.

In business, you often get sideswiped by something unexpected and get held down and think you might not be able to come back up. This is also scary and for many will put them off business permanently.

Experienced business people understand that there will always be a wave that will hold them under but the key is to stay calm, hold your breath and let the wave bring you back to the surface without making panicked decisions. Each challenge then becomes easier and easier to deal with.

The more experienced you are the more fun you can have

When it all comes down to it, the more you surf the more fun you end up having.

When you've developed the basics you can spend less time floating around not knowing what to do and more time catching and riding waves.

You'll still get yourself into trouble every now and then but you'll know what to do and how to ride out the tough times with the confidence they won't last forever.

To finish off, here's a fun video of me with all the hard work edited out so it looks easy and seems like I know what I'm doing.

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