Surfing lessons and the entrepreneurship lesson

As I stood sweaty in the cold sea,

Salty water way above my knee

I wondered, is there some learning?

Or is it just prolonged yearning

For a slice of pizza and a warm bed

Then something spoke in my head

“Be deep like the sea”, it said

“Several layers of this moment to shred

The waves, the sand, the sun, and an eventful Tofino trip

So many lessons yet to be learnt from that far away ship”

Ship — that’s it, I caught a grip

But the only ship I know anything about — is entrepreneurship

I recently went to Tofino— a beach town on Vancouver Island. I’ve always been scared of deep waters but instagram surfers inspired me and I decided to take surfing lessons at Long Beach (the most famous spot for surfing in Canada). Four hours into the water, I decided I never wanted to leave. My body was exhausted but my heart had never been so full. On my way back to the city, I realized that that afternoon lesson had lessons that transcended beyond the beaches. And just like that, I’d participated in my first unofficial entrepreneurial bootcamp.

Learning to surf is a lot like an entrepreneur’s journey. It looks glamorous from afar, but the goddamn waves hit you mercilessly, out of nowhere. And yet, it’s undoubtedly a worthwhile endeavour. Here’s some learnings from surfing that are so fitting in the world of entrepreneurship:

1. Being patient

More than 90% of surfing is everything but riding a wave. Most of it is paddling, dragging the board from the shore into the waters, and longingly waiting for a big wave. While we live for those moments that we catch a big wave, there are countless frustrating, less glamorous moments. As a beginner, it’s even more frustrating because from laying on the board to standing on the board is in itself a long arduous journey. Once you get past that critical mass point though, it gets less scary and less frustrating, more exciting and continuous improving. To give up before it gets better is easy because it takes time and patience. And that is what makes all the difference.

2. Building a strong foundation

Surfing lessons, like most other lessons, start off with the theory. Surfboard basics, body postures, the drill, the ocean and the waves. A foundational concept about holding the surfboard is actually crucial for beginners, which is to never hold the board horizontally front-faced (only flat) while walking down the water. That’s because waves exert more pressure potentially causing severe injuries. But laying a foundation goes way beyond that. I, for one, struggled greatly because of my weak arms. Had I had a stronger upper body, progressing during my lessons would’ve been a lot faster. There was a non-swimmer in our group, who struggled with getting into the water because she hadn’t built up her confidence in the water. These are not deal breakers, but they certainly help us get closer to succeeding much faster.

3. The best way to learn is to do it

Some foundational theory is always helpful, especially if you want to exert efforts in the right direction. But with theory applies the law of diminishing returns.

It’s good to be familiar with the tools and have some knowledge of potential threats, but beyond that the only way to learn is by jumping in. Thinking too much and doing too less is the most inefficient way to spend time learning to do almost anything. Instead, dip your toes into the water. You might be surprised (or shocked depending on whether you hit a pebble or a coral!).

4. Going with the flow

My trainer was an interesting one. He was very rigorous in the pre-waters training part. I’d almost accepted that all four hours were going to be him talking, us listening and zero surfing. But the guy did a 180 soon as we entered the water. He said, “Now that you know the theory, forget all you think you know and just let the waves take you for a ride.” For the next 3.5 hours, he taught us to listen to our hearts. I took his advice, caught my first wave and let go. I didn’t stand, but it was the most amazing feeling ever. For the over-thinkers, letting go of preconceived ideas of what it should be, or shouldn’t be - and just going with the flow might be just what you need.

5. Living for the ride

It’s funny because in surfing the end result is in fact the ride. But I realized there’s no charm after having ridden a wave, but in everything that leads up to it. Walking into the water, anticipating, deciding to start moving, jumping on the board, balancing, living, breathing, being. It truly is all about the ride. The more you live for the ride, the more likely you are to achieve that end result.

I can’t wait to go back, fail miserably but more so, fail forward. Here’s to the lessons we’ve learnt, and the lessons waiting to be learnt.

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I write on business, technology, people and everything I learn as I go. Secretly treat this as notes to self. Always more curious than cautious.

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Shraddha Shenoy

Shraddha Shenoy

I write on business, technology, people and everything I learn as I go. Secretly treat this as notes to self. Always more curious than cautious.

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