Why Startup Founders Should Learn To Surf

Posted on by Brian Hertzog

I have never felt the rush of riding a surf board.  I haven't had the blissful feeling of catching the illustrious "perfect wave".  But, I know someone who has.

Surfing is often referred to a meditative sport.  Frequent surfers usually will attempt to translate the experience as "it was just me, and the water", or some other overly zen-like expression.  But it's true.  When you are focused on not drowning, you're probably not thinking about those unanswered emails waiting in your inbox.

And, now that I've given myself "surfer-envy",  it has dawned on me that surfing is a brilliant metaphor for launching a company.  Startup founders, take note.

1.) Conditions
Wind, temperature, surf, current--all things surfers consider before paddling out to the big blue.  Assessing the conditions including the less obvious factors such as current is essential for a safe and successful day at the beach.  No waves?  No market.  Strong current?  Unseen market forces and possible danger.

But--to continue the metaphor, let's say, "surf's up!"  Now what?

2.) Timing

An idea and a market are not enough.  A wave and a board are not enough.  You have to have timing, rhythm, the sixth sense, when to take the wave, and when to wait.  Begin paddling too early, and you will find yourself buried under six feet of water as the wave crashes upon you like an unsuspecting bug wandering through a parade.  Wait too long, and you will find yourself watching your friends ride all the way to shore on "the perfect wave".  It's a dance.  You have to have rhythm.  You have to be patient, and when you do begin to paddle, you have to commit. 

3.) Persistence

Once you do begin to catch waves, you will quickly discover that catching and riding are two completely different concepts.  It takes persistence to be in control of the surf.  At some point in the evolution of a surfer, the wave no longer dictates direction, the wave becomes the propulsion for cutting in and out, performing exotic tricks, and emerging victorious from an endless tube. 

Aside from market conditions and timing, you have to be in control of your board.  You have to persist.

4.)  Presence

According to my surfer friend, the board is the most dangerous thing in the water (sharks not included).  Many surf injuries are incurred from collisions with your own board!  Collisions with the board, why does that sound strangely familiar?  But essentially, you must be mindful.  You must be present.  Why do you think surfers spend hours waxing their boards, aligning their fins, and making sure they are not too cold in the water.  When you build a beautiful board, to catch the "perfect wave", you really do become you and the water.  The board is no longer a piece of equipment, but an extension of your body, helping you navigate the always changing force of nature that is the big blue. 

Happy surfing.  Also, special thanks to @Dom for sharing his surfer wisdom.