Life Lessons From Big Wave Surfer Laird Hamilton

Laird Hamilton was one of the first surfers to go out deep into the ocean and get mechanically towed to surf 50+ foot-high waves. As if that’s not crazy enough, imagine what happens when he would wipe out. Picture it. One moment you’re in the sky getting pushed by a wall of water the size of a building, and the next you’re getting tossed like a dishrag in the biggest washing machine imaginable. Once a wave of that size takes you under, it’s life or death.

One of his skills, his philosophy to “ride to ride another day,” included how to focus his energy after wiping out. When a big wave would take him under, Hamilton’s strategy was to surrender. He would close his eyes. He says when you’re getting tossed and tumbled, seeing is disorienting, and anything you do or consciously worry about wastes precious energy and oxygen. In the midst of chaos, it’s best to just wait.

Then, when the crashing would finally pause, when the churning would finally slow, he’d spring into action. He compared it to wrestling someone four times as big as you. When you’re pinned, you just have to wait until they let up. But, the moment they do, you have to be ready to go. This is what you were saving your energy for.

Whatever the chaos is we’re dealing with, there’s an aspect of it we just have to roll with. There’s also a rhythm we have to sense and a window of time where we’ll be able to act. It’s valuable if we can use it to survive the volatile aspects of our professions. It’s even more valuable if we can help lead others through the crashing waves and tumbling oceans we work in.

Know when to surrender. Know what can’t be controlled. Know when to save energy. Know what to save it for. And, by all means, know when to move.

h/t Cal Fussman who briefly mentioned this at the top of his interview with Steve Herz.

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