Achieving Business Excellence with John Spence

How Business is Like Surfing

Beyond the Reef: Business Lessons from a Life at Sea — a guest post by Jacob Mojiwat

The business world is tough and demanding. It can be unyielding in its intensity. Like many of us, I needed a weekend diversion that would help me take my mind off my weekday stress. But unlike many who opt for a relaxing diversion like golf, reading, or bird watching, I decided to try something more challenging. I took up surfing.

A lot of people wonder how I am able to escape from intense challenging weekdays by filling my life with weekends that are even more intense and more challenging. After all, the ocean can often be even more ferocious than the business world. Well, despite its physical toll, surfing is actually one of the most relaxing things a person can do! Think about it.  One of the basic rules for surviving in the ocean is to relax. A surfer can’t afford to be thinking about work or about anything other than being in the moment. Unlike some pursuits that would seem more relaxing, surfing doesn’t merely allow me to take my mind off work… forces me to!

While driving to the beach on a recent Saturday morning, I started thinking about the feeling of exhilaration that comes over me when I am riding that huge wave. I began to realize how similar it is to the feeling I get whenever a lot of hard work results in a big business payoff. Thinking a little more, I was struck by how many other parallels I was able to find between the business world and the world of surfing. Here are a few of my observations:

Observation #1: Preparation is Key

Before the weekend even arrives, I am busy monitoring the oceanographic forecast. I want to learn all I can beforehand about the surf conditions. When I get to the beach, the first thing I do is spend some time just sitting there watching how the waves are breaking. I am trying to do as much advance research as possible so that I can locate the best swells and find the easiest routes to paddle out in order to avoid getting crushed. In the business realm, I need to be equally diligent. My challenge is to find out everything I can about the people that make up my target market: who they are, what they want, what they like to do, where they hang out. Like analyzing the waves, it is important that I pinpoint the easiest points of entry and the sources of my best opportunities.

Observation #2: Balance is Crucial

When I am standing on my surfboard perched atop a particularly fast-moving wave, I am always perfectly balanced. I have to be. And it is not unlike the balancing act I am always doing at work. Time is a crucial commodity which has to be parceled out with precision. In my business, I am always faced with the challenge of deciding how best to divide my time, making sure I strike the right balance among my email marketing, team meetings, networking lunches, and customer liaisons. When I spend too much or too little time on any of these, I find myself out of balance.

Observation #3: Surprises are not so surprising when you are prepared for them

The ocean is very fickle. No matter how carefully you try to read the conditions, there will always be times where you blink and find yourself seconds away from an unexpected surprise. I’ve learned that when this happens, to never waste time lamenting the fact that I never saw it coming, but instead just get on my feet and ride. He who hesitates is lost. So these are the times when I need to be decisive. The same holds true in the business world. I always plan well, but I never become a slave to my plan. Sometimes an unanticipated opportunity will arrive from an unexpected source. Instead of automatically rejecting it because it didn’t fit into my original blueprint, I sometimes need to seize the opportunity!

Observation #4: Patience and perseverance pays off!

Mother Nature always comes up with new and creative sea conditions. Once in a great while, the elements manage to converge in exactly the right pattern to create the perfect storm. That’s when magic happens! But a lot of people never get the chance to savor the thrill of riding that perfect wave because they get tired of waiting and give up way too fast. The fortunate ones are those who are patient and persistent. Like the sea, the business world is defined by its own set of ever-changing dynamics. The stock market and economy are constantly in flux. But those who persist and don’t panic are the ones who can capitalize on that big opportunity when it arises.

Surfing is not easy and neither is running a business. Both have their challenges but both can also be extremely gratifying. It’s great when you can find a weekend hobby that takes your mind off your job. It’s even better when that same hobby becomes a lesson plan on how to run your business successfully.

Jacob Mojiwat is passionate about the ocean and the island lifestyle. Currently he is sharing the wonders of scuba diving in asia with others. His website, helps diving enthusiasts plan unforgettable diving vacations to top Malaysian dive locations and island resorts such as the kapalai dive resort.

Note from John: though it does not present the same physical challenges, I enjoy flyfishing for much the same reason that Jacob enjoys surfing – it demands 100% concentration and requires that I take my mind off business and simply relax and enjoy the fishing experience. It never fails that after a long day on the river or flats I am more clear-headed, energized and excited about my business than I was earlier in the day. There are also many, many parallels between flyfishing and business, but that’s another story…


  1. Jacob,

    I too took up surfing a couple of years ago (at an age north of 50), so I can relate to your entertaining and insightful post. At the personal level, I can add one more lesson that I’ve taken from surfing:

    Because I’m definitely not that good at it yet, I think about every ride and every wipeout immediately after and try to figure out what I need to work on for the next wave. Rather than make the same mistakes over and over, I’ve become very adept at finding new ways to make mistakes! (But I am getting better)

  2. Years ago I took up hiking and climbing in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. When you’re clinging to a rock, or assessing your next move, there’s no room in your mind for anything else! Focus, and escape.