Life lessons from surfing

Whenever I learn something new, I cannot help but notice the metaphor it provides for business and for life in general. I already wrote about life lessons from tango, watercolor painting, meditation and tantra. This time, I’d like to share my insights from a golf surfing retreat.

Surf & Soul in Sri Lanka

I spent one week taking yoga and surf classes at Surf & Soul retreat in the South of Sri Lanka. A beautiful ‘boutique’ location in a traditional jungle village (Ahangama), close to some great ‘beginners beaches’. Everything is taken care of: great food, yoga and surf classes, they even arrange Riksha’s (TukTuks) to take you to and from the beach, with the surf boards on the roof!

Surfing the waves of life…

“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf”. Since I use this quote a lot, I thought it was about time I DID learn to surf! I had (and still have) no intention to become a ‘real’ surfer, I just wanted to learn something new. I was (and still am) very respectful – and a bit afraid – of the power of the waves.

The first day, to my surprise I had fun body boarding the waves. I had no expectations and no goals. Just to get to know the beach, the board, the feeling of the waves pushing you and the gliding sensation.

The second day, we got some instruction on where to put your feet and how to stand on your board. Our instructor also emphasized the danger of surfing and the power of the waves. The ‘washing machine’ you’d find yourself in as a surfer, many times. I was so focused on ‘working’ the waves and putting everything I had learned into practice, that at the end of the day I was sore all over. More importantly; I realized that I forgot to have fun…

That night I dreamt of the waves. They were inviting me to play.

The third day I went into the water with a completely different attitude. The waves were my friends. I would wait for one that invited me to play. Not use every wave (as they told us) to practice. To my surprise, it went very well. I got up onto the board and managed to have a bit of balance and control, while having fun!

Surfing is difficult, very difficult. Respect to all surfers. And great respect to the force of the waves and nature in general. It is such feeling of freedom to be able to ride them, just for a few seconds!

My ‘life lessons’ from surfing

  • Where you look is where you go. Keep your eyes on your the beach, not on your surf board. Your bent head and bent body posture will make you crash. This translates to: Keep your eyes on your goal, not on the mechanics of how to get there. Work on a solution, don’t get distracted by the problem. Work ON your business not IN it.

  • The waves are your friends. When I focused on the danger of the waves, I was tense. I saw only danger and was trying to avoid it. When I considered the waves as friends, wanting to play, I felt my body relax, enabling me to be more flexible and actually enjoy. In life you have the choice to see everything as a threat or an opportunity. The second choice will bring much more joy – and succes!

  • Use the power of the wave. In the beginning I tried to get up on my board as soon as the wave reached me. Later I learned to wait a few seconds until I felt the wave lifting me, creating a gliding sensation, as if skiing down a slope. When I tried to stand up then, it was much easier. Also in life and business you can achieve results on power, with force. But if you wait for the right moment, everything will be much easier, nicer and will feel more natural.

  • Stay low, find your balance before you get up. If your goal is to get on the board and stand up as soon as possible, you may succeed for a moment, but then fall over for lack of balance. However, of you take more time to build that foundation, that balance before you stand up, you will have more control and can stand longer. Just like in surfing, if you place your feet well in life, stay low, find your balance, adjust if necessary and then, when you feel you are well grounded, slowly rise, keeping your knees bent to keep your balance and absorb any impact, you are ready for ‘big waves’!

  • Have patience. Only 2% of the time surfing is actually spend enjoying/surfing/doing what you came for. The rest is paddling to the waves or waiting for the right wave/moment and a few % of being in the ‘washing machine’. It’s all about managing expectations. Wait for the right ‘wave’ in life, too; catch the right moment instead of wasting your energy on every ‘wave’ without results.

  • Practice, practice, practice. If you fail, next time fail better! If it was easy, everybody would be doing it. The fun is in the learning process, feeling your body adapt, learning by muscle memory. The staging up and putting your feet on the correct place on the board seemed impossible on day one, on day 3 it felt natural.

  • You have to have speed, movement before you can try anything. Just like with biking, you can’t cycle until you have some speed. It is a leap of faith. This is not a theory sport only, you have to feel it. Same in life: I can give you the theory of life, love, personal growth, but  until you experience it, you’ll have no idea.

  • Don’t use force. Trying to get up before you feel the glide of the wave takes all pleasure away and it won’t work. Wait. Let the wave do it’s work. Use the power of the wave. Feel the pleasure. Then get up. Much easier, more effective. And fun.

  • If you can’t have fun with the problem, you can’t solve it… 🙂

  • Know when to stop…. At the end of day 3 I fell off the board in shallow water and hurt my neck. I took a few days rest and then wanted to continue. But as soon as I was in the water again I felt this wasn’t a good idea. Since my car accident and whiplash my neck is very sensitive. And the waves are unpredictable. Surfing is not for me, however much I enjoyed it. I will take the life lessons with me and apply them to other areas.

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