The first inkling of that realization came to me on December 31, 2008, after I had turned thirty and was on the tail end of a study abroad program in Brazil. My friends had all gone home early because they ran out of money, and I had become quite bored with sitting on the beach. So I decided to rent a surfboard and give
surfing one last shot, after many failed attempts, before I returned to the United States. Standing up on a surfboard that day for the first time created a ripple effect of change in my life. When I returned to school for my final semester, instead of going to the bookstore when my financial aid check was deposited, I went to the surf shop to buy a surfboard and a wetsuit. I surfed on the mornings I didn't have classes, I surfed in between my classes, and I surfed every weekend.
Given that I had no job waiting upon graduation and I had depleted nearly my entire savings account, I realized I could seize this opportunity to effectively start from scratch. What I had was a blank canvas on which I could deliberately create a masterpiece, which would give me an opportunity to once and for all put an end to my crisis of mediocrity.
Midway through the summer after my graduation from Pepperdine, I started to see that surfing—which started as a way to pass the time—was now transforming into a way of life. On the days when it didn't get windy too early, I was in the water from sunrise to sunset.
When I stood up on a wave, every ounce of fear, anxiety, depression, and self-doubt didn't just dissipate, it vanished. Even though I was jobless, surviving primarily on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and sleeping on the living room floor of an apartment that was once mine, for the first time in my adult life I experienced unparalleled joy. I went to sleep every night eagerly anticipating the waves of the next day. Every time I stood up on a wave, the doubting voice in my head lost its power over me. Surfers say that riding a
wave is a bit like taming a wild horse, and it makes you feel almost superhuman. While my outer world appeared to be in shambles, my inner world was transforming, one wave at a time.
When surfing, there is no one but you and the wave. You're liberated from the expectations and standards of other people. Surfing is a performance in which you are the main audience, allowing you to connect with and discover your unmistakable self and process in the most direct way possible.
One summer afternoon, I was rinsing off my wetsuit near lifeguard tower 20 in Santa Monica, California, when I met a fellow surfer who was clearly older than me. I told him I was in the water so much because I'd just finished grad school and was struggling to find a job, and the only thing keeping me sane was surfing. He told me that surfing had gotten him through a terrible divorce, as well as through the death of his mother.
That day I realized I had stumbled on something truly magical, something that would forever continue to change my life, a love affair that I'd carry on from my first wave to the grave.
It would become the driving force of my creativity.
It would lead to meeting one of my best friends and my future business partner, Brian Koehn.
Being in the water became my essential daily meditation. It was a lifeline, a spiritual practice, and a central metaphor for everything else I would go on to do.
Each wave seemed to wash away the structures, beliefs, and ideas that had been imposed on me since I was old enough to understand what I was being told. I started more and more to question the life I had meant to live, and the advice of so many well-intentioned people:
Stick to well-lit, straight and narrow paths.
Follow the rules.
Don't make a ruckus.
Don't ask too many questions.
Climb the corporate ladder.
Obey your elders.
This script, from my parents, teachers, mentors, friends, colleagues, and others, I took and followed to the letter. My results weren't average. They were abysmal. I'd been fired from every real job I'd ever had and never made much money. Worst of all, I'd lived a life that was completely devoid of meaning, intention, and purpose. Then I looked around and saw others trying to follow the same script to achieve success and noticed that they were just as miserable.