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CEO 15 lessons surfing teaches you about business and life

December 12, 2018

You’ve likely noticed that our brand is strongly rooted in the representation of our name. Our founders, including CEO Erik Matlick, aimed to create a theme around one of their passions and favorite pastimes: surfing.

Many leaders and business people draw lessons from athletics - football, mountain climbing, etc. Erik, on the other hand, has taken cues from surfing. For him, it is an enduring source of joy and has taught important principles of business. Pay attention, listen to the waves, and learn from the 15 parallels Erik draws between surfing and business.

1. Embrace the whole experience
The surfing journey is about patience and more than being in the wave itself. The percent of time that spent actually riding a wave is very, very, very low. Mostly, you are looking for waves, waiting for waves, paddling for waves and falling off of waves. So, too, with business success. If you can’t appreciate the whole experience, then you’re missing the majority of it.

2. Accept your lack of control
You can’t control the ocean. You can’t change the waves, the wind, the water temperature, or the number of other people in the water. All you can control is the way you interact with those elements. Only you are in charge of your attitude.

3. Be informed
Make data-informed decisions. Rely on surf apps, tide charts, weather reports, currents, etc., to keep informed and make better decisions. You still have to get there, get wet, paddle out, wait, commit and go for it, but the power of data can minimize safety risks.

4. Just get wet
You won’t learn if you don’t go in the water. Even if the conditions are dismal, even if you’re not feeling well, even if it’s super crowded. Just get wet. Getting wet and trying is better than sitting around.  And if you’re open and pay attention, you will always learn something.

5. Go for it
You can’t partially surf a wave, you can’t half paddle in. Commit. Otherwise, the wave will pass you by, or your takeoff will be late. In business, too, at a certain point, the time to analyze is over — it’s time to do.

6. Everything is relative
Hawaiians measure waves from the backside, not the trough. Which means a Hawaiian 4-foot wave is more like 8 feet. Is an 8-foot wave big? To me it is. To Laird Hamilton, it is not. Is a billion dollars a lot? To me it is. To Jeff Bezos, it is not.

7. Keep your own score
Unless you’re in a competition, there is no scoring in free surfing. It’s not how many waves you got or how large they were compared to somebody else's. It’s how you enjoyed it and what you took away from it. Likewise, business is not about how much money you make compared to someone else. It’s whether or not you’re providing value to your customers and how you value your work.

8. Everything ends
Whether it’s a wave that you’re surfing for a few seconds or a few minutes, it’s gonna end. Appreciate what you have. It’s okay if it ends.

9. Respect the ecosystem
The wave you’re surfing may have started thousands of miles away, but you’re enjoying it here. Respecting the ocean’s grandness and fragility means not just taking from it, but also giving back to it. Same goes for the ecosystem in which your business lives: Take care of it, and it will take care of you.

10. Give a wave, get a wave
Part of the joy of surfing is sharing the waves with others, and appreciating their joy. Watch and learn, share and help. Support your peers’ efforts and accomplishments, and learn from them, on the water and at work.

11. Stay calm and surf on
When you fall off a wave and are held down under the water, if you panic and flail, you’ll burn more oxygen. By relaxing and staying patient, you’ll have more air left with which to come back up.

12. Look ahead
When you’re taking off on a wave, always look forward, down the line. Keep your head up. Don’t look down at your feet or at the wave. Look to where you want to go, not where you are.

13. Do less
Going for every wave is a waste of energy. Instead, observe, understand and pick the wave that looks best for you.

14. Keep learning
Take a lesson. Then take another. Safety, consideration and respect are rarely discussed, but they form surfing’s foundation. Few of surfing’s dynamics and techniques come naturally. If you take the time to learn, you’ll be far more comfortable in the water. And it’s the same in business. Don’t act like you know everything on day one. Learn from those who preceded you.

15. Have fun
Even if you’re getting pummeled by waves, or you got dropped in on, have fun. You went surfing. You learned a few things. And you’ll be better tomorrow.

Parts of this post were first published on SalesTechStar.