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5 Life Lessons from Professional Big Wave Surfers

We arrived in Mexico a few days ago for the WSL Big Wave Contest and I am once again immersed in the big wave surf culture.

When your partner is a professional big wave surfer, you have to be willing to drop everything at a moment’s notice and book it to an impromptu contest. While being whisked away on a jetplane to a beach may sound luxurious—and is an incredible experience—it takes a lot of  patience to live this lifestyle. 

My partner, Jamie Mitchell, and a small group of fearless men and women travel all round the world surfing 60-plus foot waves (as high as a 6-story building). Since we both love to travel, we often go together as a family to his contests, bringing our daughter Nevaeh along to experience different cultures around the world. But it’s definitely not a cake walk.

The recent decision to leave for Mexico for three weeks was made in one day. We had to drop all our plans, pack up for nearly a month, and make sure we were prepared for the time away. It was hectic to say the least, and the journey proved just as crazy. 

We took the red eye flight out of Honolulu, but had a four hour delay to begin with.  We had a missed connection in Houston and the airline paid for us to stay the night there at a disgusting hotel where the best restaurant in town was the 24-hour Flap Jack House with a $3.99 breakfast. We had to wear the same dingy airplane clothes as our luggage was still checked at the airport (thank goodness we had enough diapers to get us through the night). When we got to the hotel I had a bit of a  meltdown— throwing the toilet paper against the wall, and  using the Balance essential oils helped calm me down. Thank GOD for essential oils, saving me once again. 

The next day we took a flight to Mexico City, followed by another flight to Huatulco, and then a two-hour drive to Puerto Escondido.  I never said traveling was easy, especially with a 10-month-old baby. When we finally got to Puerto, we  jumped in the water and could relax. Its amazing how quickly the stress of the trip was washed away with the warm ocean water.  

Later I was able to reflect on how Jamie kept his cool throughout the entire traveling extravaganza between planes and hotels and car rides, baby cries and my flare ups, and it really made me realize how incredibly patient he is. A lesson from big waves? 

During my time here being totally immersed in the big wave culture I was able to ask a few of the top big wave guys a few questions about what they have learned about life from surfing some of the biggest waves in the world. 

Here are five life lessons I've learned from professional big wave surfers:

1. Patience is fundamental.

With big wave surfing, sometimes it can take five hours to catch one perfect wave. And when you do catch it, there is no room for mistakes, since the waves are so big and life threatening. To have that amount of patience with that much at stake is incredible. Jamie points out this ability to stay calm reaches far beyond the water. "Big wave surfing has given me the patience I need as a father."

2. Take risks, but choose them wisely.

With the danger of 60-plus foot waves, there is a massive risk taken for every ride. But these guys don't just take risks on anything! They strategically pick and choose the best waves out of many. Being able to calculate which wave is going to give the most reward is a skill.

If you never take risks you will never get the ride of your life. Playing it safe will only keep you comfortable, but it will never allow you to experience life to the fullest! Taking risks in life is a part of truly living, but you must choose those risks wisely.

3. Preparation is key.

As big wave surfer Peter Mel says, "If you don't prepare, bad shit is going to happen. It's like karma. You have to be prepared if you want good results."

Big wave surfers’ preparation involves practicing breath work and relaxation techniques for when a bad wipeout happens, stretching and practicing yoga, keeping their cardio high, strength training, and eating well. These men and women surfing massive waves must have a strong mental state as well—strong body, strong mind.

In life, that can be related to anything from preparing for an interview, a new career, a race, or  to maintaining your health so you have the energy to do all that you want.  Being prepared from the inside out allows you to give your best in every situation.

4. There are no guarantees.

Big wave surfers can travel with only a day's notice if a swell is coming to another part of the world. They drop everything, pack up their boards and fly out. They have to be OK with dropping their plans, spending all their money on an expensive flight, and traveling around the world even if there are no guarantees they will get the waves they are looking for. The weather and swells are never for sure, but this is their job, their passion, and they have to accept that their path isn't easy.

In life, there are never any guarantees. A relationship can end, you can lose your job, and your health will eventually diminish. You have to know that you cannot control every person, or every situation, and be willing and able to live in the moment in order to stay balanced and at peace. Knowing that there are no guarantees helps you be humble for what the moment offers and  provides a deeper perspective on living and loving.

5. You have to be inspired in order to be motivated.

Big wave surfers don't risk their lives or drop all their plans to fly across the world because they have to. They do it because they LOVE to. They dream about dropping in, and they wake up with a vigor to make today their best wave yet. 

The ability to ride the coattails of nature is both a humbling and an empowering gift they have been blessed with. It is this innate inspiration that motivates them to do it over and over again. And to succeed at it. 

You may find it difficult to concentrate at a job that is uninspiring. Or not be able to prepare for something that doesn't light you up! You may give up on hobbies or projects easily because you don't have the patience to continue and finish them. That is an indication that  your path and your choices may not be in alignment with your passion and true purpose in life. If that sounds familiar, I encourage you to seek out what deeply moves you. 

"The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire."
—  Ferdinand Foch


Comments (6)

Reply

Nick Nelson

6/27/2016 4:41:23 PM

Really insightful to get your perspective from a partner. It's great that you went with him even with a 10 month old baby, I'm sure that's why Jamie seemed so relaxed and performed really well. Makes it feel like a team performance i.e. the 3 of you... instead of just one person. - Jamie.

Reply

Jo

6/27/2016 5:21:56 PM

Very inspiring Cass! So much truth in your words. I also think following your passion gives you a big picture and hence offers you patience in turn?!

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Tara Mel

6/27/2016 8:30:48 PM

Beautifully written Cassi! I can relate to your experiences very much. It's no easy task traveling around the world like that. To drop everything, with no advance warning but 24 hours if your lucky. Thankfully, as you've found it's the reward of getting to the destinations that makes it all worth while. I will say it gets easier and the journey becomes a reward as well.

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Dad

6/27/2016 11:50:06 PM

Great article Cassie,truly inspiring wish I was there with you love you baby

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Brad Gaul

6/28/2016 2:53:33 AM

Well said Cassandra !! Those few blokes are awesome at what they do but they don't just grab a board and paddle out ... A huge amount of prep goes into achieving what they do mentally and physically. My hat goes off to them and there families.

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mike

6/29/2016 7:01:43 PM

A huge commitment for sure, pushing the envelope for one hell of a reward :) Kudos to the elite few in the World who challenge this monster waves!

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