What Investors Can Learn from Surfers

Today I would like to change it up a bit and talk about surfing. I’ve only tried surfing once but find great enjoyment watching it from the shore. I admire the skills and determination of those surfers who spend their lives in search of the next epic ride.

Once at the beach I watched a commonly played out scene as two seasoned surfers arrived. Upon reaching the sand they gazed up and down the coastline, analyzing conditions like a professional surveyor looking for a place to build. I overheard their very technical conversation as they pointed out conditions on the water while deciding on the best surfing spot. It was clear these men knew what to look for, and when they found it, they ran to the place without hesitation.

Putting their boards in the water they paddled out to sea, duck-diving their way (for you surfers in the audience) to the pre-determined spot. Most of the waves were breaking between their location and the beach, leaving an amateur to wonder why they had gone out so far, but I had watched this process enough to trust that the surfers knew what they were doing. They understood the ocean and had no interest in the small waves breaking on the shore that were amusing the tourists. These guys took their surfing seriously.

It wasn’t long before a set of waves arrived and one of the surfers started to ride but then almost immediately kicked-out when he determined it wasn’t what he had hoped for. Tourists on boogie boards try to ride everything but pro surfers know what they are looking for and if they choose poorly, immediately cut their losses and go back to wait for a better wave. There is always a better one coming so there is no point wasting time riding to shore on something you really don’t want.

In surfing, opportunity comes in waves, (pun intended) and surfers have no control over their frequency, shape or intensity. At times there is one nice wave after another, and other times surfers are left sitting in calm water waiting patiently. I admire that surfers recognize neither good nor bad surf lasts forever. They know they can’t control the ocean, but they can control how they respond to it. They don’t get discouraged when conditions are not ideal but having gained significant knowledge and skills about their sport, they put themselves in a position to take advantage when a great wave comes along.

When the day is over I have noticed that surfers freely discuss with each other what they did well and where they could have done better. Then they return often in constant search of that perfect day on the water. Most importantly, in good surf days and bad, they always try to enjoy the experience. That’s what I have learned from surfers and though I indicated this column would not be about investing, maybe it was very much about it after all.