10 Life Lessons I Learned From Surfing

10 Life Lessons I Learned From Surfing


When Was The Last Time You Were REALLY BAD?


For me, it was this week in Southern California. The venue was Huntington Beach, a stretch of 10 miles of known for its beach culture that earned it the nickname, “Surf City.” Days before, the beach hosted the annual U.S. Open of Surfing. Then it hosted me to a much less celebrated event: the first time I would ever attempt to surf.


I am not a newbie to the beach. My parents met at the Jersey Shore and I spent the first 18 summers of my life with my feet firmly in the sand and Atlantic ocean. I have bodysurfed and boogie boarded, but was never in a position to try surfing on a true surfboard. So, I understand a little what it is like to be in the ocean, the power of the waves and how to catch one on the way into shore. Or at least I thought I did.


My friend and owner of TFW Huntington Beach, Justin Lesh would be my surfing instructor for the day. We got up early, got a sweet parking spot right by the ocean and in moments were at the shoreline with our boards going over last minute instructions. Justin and I went over jumping up onto the board, some paddling advice, surfing etiquette and then I heard the same thing people told me all week: “no matter what, keep paddling out there ‘cause it’s going to be tougher than you think.”




When it comes to physical endeavors, I am rarely nervous. I trust in my body and my ability to control it and my mind under physical duress. I have to admit, however, that I don’t feel comfortable trying to control great white sharks. Two were sighted the night before and when you throw in the advice everyone gave me about shuffling my feet so as not to be stung by stingrays, I was a wee bit anxious. The ice cold water didn’t help much either. But little did I know, I was moments away from an experience that would make me completely forget about those trivial “problems.”


The chilly water was a shock to the system. The constant barrage of waves was a shock to my psyche. Every time I felt like I was making a little progress forward, another wave would smash me back. After less than 10 minutes of this, my arms, neck and back were gassed. I was getting knocked off the board, swallowing a lot of salt water and started thinking of ideas like kicking alongside the board and changing my paddling style. A few more waves reminded me it was not the time for new ideas. With my heart pounding and another set of waves smashing me back, I am not proud to say the thought of giving up entered my mind. It was true: fatigue can make quitters of us all.


I had a choice: go back and regret it, or push forward. When I saw all the other surfers out past the breakers, I realized if they could do it, so could I. I gave an all out last ditch effort and just when it was at its worst, I made it! As I sat on the board and tried to recover, I looked back and realized I hadn’t covered nearly as much distance as I thought. But I was out there getting a breather and preparing to catch my first wave. I watched the waves roll in, the other surfers catch some rides and decided to go. Although it wasn’t pretty or long, I did almost get up on my first try.


Here is a video of that majestic attempt:



Wiped out (pun intended) I hit the beach and reflected on the experience. Here are 10 big lessons from my first time surfing:


  1. Try new things. Learning a new skill isn’t impossible. It’s just difficult.
  2. Keep going. Only by attacking a problem head-on will you ever move forward.
  3. Respect others. The hobbies and skills of other people are cooler than you think.
  4. Appreciate others. Just because something looks easy doesn’t mean it is true.
  5. Listen to instructions. Your great ability is Coach-ability.
  6. Don’t give up. Right when things seem the toughest may your opening for a breakthrough.
  7. Train Hard. How far you are able to push yourself will be a product of your previous training.
  8. The people better than you at something simply chose to fail more times than you.
  9. Setbacks are temporary. They are only final if you decide to quit.
  10. Don’t struggle alone. Be courageous enough to ask for someone’s help.



The goal is to learn from your mistakes and fail forward. The next night, Justin and I decided to go for it again. Because of my first experience, I was more relaxed, and found it easier this time to get out past the breakers. I got up with more confidence and got this sunset photo with Catalina Island in the background. The photo (and memory) wouldn’t have been possible if I didn’t have the courage to try again after I had previously failed.




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In order to catch a wave, you are going to have to get in the water. Once you are there, you will have to persist beyond the mistakes and challenges. Those waves, just like the mistakes you will make, don’t grind you up, they polish you up! But only if you let them. Embrace those waves and let them show you just how powerful you can become.


Surf’s Up!

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