There’s a perception that surfers are lazy.
From the outside, it appears that they sit around all day doing nothing, until they decide to get off their lazy asses and head to the water. If you watch them in the water, they often sit on their surfboards, until they choose to paddle out to a wave. Ask a surfer what time he’s going to surf, and he might say something like, “when the waves look good.”
If you’re a person who needs certainty around time and schedule, you’ll likely find that response infuriating.
What kind of a time is that?
As I’ve learned more about surfing, both in the water and by observation and asking questions to surfers, I’ve gained a new respect for surfers. I’ve learned that they aren’t lazy at all. In fact, surfers can teach us a lot about productivity.
The 3 Essential Components of Productivity
Productivity breaks down to three essential components: effectiveness, efficiency, and energy management.
Effectiveness = achieving your intended outcome or result.
Efficiency = achieving your outcome with minimal wasted expenditure of resources.
Energy = the strength, vitality, and focus required to achieve your intended outcome or result.
Core Premises of Surfing
Here are some basic premises of surfing that I’ve learned. Some of these are obvious, but often taken for granted.
Premise 1: You cannot surf if there are no waves.
If you want to surf at 10 am, but the tide is low and the rocks are exposed and there are no waves, you cannot surf. A surfer has no choice but to wait for the waves.
Surfers wait for the waves. They know that when the waves come, they will want to give surfing 100%. So they don’t waste energy before the tide comes in. They relax and rest, conserving their energy, so that when the waves come they are prepared to seize the moment.
Premise 2: Not all waves are good waves.
Experienced surfers don’t try to catch every wave. They wait for the good ones.
How do they know which waves are good?
They spend a lot of time watching the ocean and learning the waves at their surf spot. They study the patterns of the waves, the swell, the currents. An experienced surfer sees a wave coming before a novice even sees a bump in the ocean. They see the wave before it even begins to form.
All that time they spend lounging on the beach, watching the ocean may appear to an outsider to be mere sloth, but the surfer is studying. Preparing.
The better you are at reading the waves, the more you get to surf.
Premise 3: The fastest person to the wave gets to ride it.
When the waves come, a large group of surfers gathers at La Punta, the famous surf break at Santa Catalina. I watch them in the distance every day from the deck at Hotel Santa Catalina. Only one or two people can ride any wave. I asked my teacher how it works, who gets priority.
If you want to ride the wave, you’ve got to get to the wave first. You must be the fastest to paddle to the peak to claim the wave.
Here’s where that time studying the waves pays off: if you can spot the good waves before anyone else, you get a head start.
Premise 4: Surfing is hard.
Surfing is hard. You’ve got to get yourself up on an unstable surface that is riding on an unstable surface, just as a wave is coming to throw you off.
If you want to excel, you need good balance and agility and strength. You need mental focus and emotional resilience. You need a drive to spend a lot of time in the water practicing and failing.
To master surfing requires great reserves of physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual energy.
How Surfers Embody the Core Elements of Productivity
As I’ve learned these basic premises of surfing, I’ve realized just how much surfers embody these core elements of productivity.
If surfers expended all of their energy before going out to surf, they’d spend a lot of time out on the water but not get the waves, because they’d lack speed and strength to paddle to the peak fastest.
If they expended energy in chasing every wave, they would not have energy to surf the good waves.
So they wait, and rest.
They are not lazy.
They are not procrastinating.
To the contrary: they are patient.
They are preparing.
Mentally. Physically. Emotionally. Spiritually.
They sit and watch the waves, studying the patterns of the waves.
They do yoga and conditioning to stretch and strengthen their bodies.
They build emotional resilience to withstand the repeated thrashing at the hands of the waves.
They connect spiritually to nature and the water.
They embrace the “winter energy” of the day, restoring and harvesting their energy, so that when the tide rolls in and the waves pick up — when the “spring” comes — they can leverage the opportunity to surf as much as possible.
Far from being lazy, this is a model of patience and energy management that leads to effectiveness and efficiency.
We can learn a lot from them.