Surfing Lessons

My brother yelled “go! go! go!” as I paddled hard to catch the head-high break off Triple Ess Pier. The wave’s momentum, like a symphony’s crescendo, propelled me forward as I dropped in and rode it to the shore.

I spent the two hours preceding this “right of passage” getting tossed around and buried in the sand. I was tired, with nothing to show for my efforts except the raw spot on my chin, courtesy of a failed duck dive which introduced my face to the ocean floor.

That was my first wave. It was so many years ago, but I remember it vividly. I can smell the ocean air, taste the saltiness of the sea and feel the texture of the wax under my chest. It was a defining moment for me on many levels. The greatest thing I took away from that experience, and surfing in general, is the concept of working smart versus working hard.

When I first got into the lineup, the name given to the queue of surfers waiting for waves to come in, I would go after every wave I could catch. I didn’t care about position or quality. I was all in. I thought that’s what you’re supposed to do. After all, you catch waves. They don’t catch you.

Nevertheless, this was not the strategy my brother and his friends used. They studied the horizon and anticipated where the next swell was going to come from. Then they’d paddle to get in position to catch the waves at their peak. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think they weren’t working. After all, a bunch of people sitting on their surfboards staring into space, looks mindless. However, the opposite was true because when the waves to started to curl, they were in the right place to paddle with everything they had and enjoy the ride. They were working smart.

I learned during those summer sessions that you need both hard work and smart work. Working hard helps you find opportunities and working smart helps you capitalize on them.

Hard work isn’t always breaking rocks in the hot sun or 15 hour days. What makes work hard is that it requires discipline and persistent effort. Hard work is what produces craftsmanship. It takes time to master a skill. The consistency of doing the work helps train your senses to uncover and spot opportunities.

Working smart is usually simple, but not easy. Smart work requires being productive and doing work efficiently. I’ve found one way to create smart work habits is to ask myself, “Am I doing this thing because it’s the best way to get the most benefit, or am I doing it this way because it’s how I’ve always done it?” Once I learned how to do smart work, taking advantage of opportunities was easier.

Success doesn’t just fall out of the sky and land on people. It is a planned event. The combination of hard work and smart work enables you to see the plan and execute it.