I spent the past two weeks in Costa Rica, a beautiful country with warm, gracious people. It also has some of the best surfing beaches in the world.
Growing up on the East Coast where the water seldom lets go of its icy grip, surfing was fantasized through the music’ of the Beach Boys. So when I landed up in surfer’s paradise, where buff bodies half my age were riding five foot waves, I was determined to make that fantasy a reality.
“Surfing is about going with the flow,” said Pamo, my thirtiessomething instructor, who also runs a booming surfing business in Tamarindo, on Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast. “And since you’re also a business owner, I’ll teach you surfing using the principles of business management.
“As with any sport, there are subdeties that come with practice and experience. Like running a business, they come from just ‘doing it’. Your surf board is just a vehicle that allows you to ride a wave. If you try to hold on to it, you’re in a losing match with the power of the nature. Most beginners come close to drowning themselves by desperately holding on to their boards when the momentum starts. But they’re no match for the forces around them. Does that sound like any businesses owners you know?”
“The theory is simple enough,” I replied. “It’s like a business plan. But of course business reality is very different from business theory.”
“Right. Lying on the board waiting for the ‘perfect wave’ is enjoyable but there’s no action there. The action begins when you see the swell rise and you start to position yourself in front of it. You have a split second to make the choice-either stay or goand if you decide the latter, you better give it all you got or you and your board will quickly part.”
I spent hours in the warm Pacific closing the gap between the theory and the reality. It was an exhausting experience! Getting from a prone position to standing up was so easy on the beach-like writing the perfect business plan-but reality delivers a different agenda. All the practice on dry land comd not prepare me for the tummtuous motion underneath my board.
“Get up! Get up! Get up!” Pamo womd yell, as he propelled my board on the cresting wave. If there were other instructions, they were lost in a sea of foam, sand and thundering water, tossing me and my board like insignificant flotsam. And of course, with my balance in jeopardy, I clung to the board for dear life.
Time, and time, and time again he gave the same instructions: “Get up in one motion. Keep your feet apart. Let go of the board.” A few times I made it up and I comd feel the power of riding a wave. Wobbly as it was, the reality was experienced sufficiendy to validate the theory. It is all about balance and letting go and using the board as a vehicle to ride the wave rather than trying to control it.
“Tamarindo is booming,” said Pamo as we were enjoying a beer after one of my lessons. “W hen I started my business, I didn’t have a plan and I had no money. But there was this great beach and people wanted to surf So I started giving lessons on the one board I had … my own. One day I noticed that no one had surf boards for rent. So I started doing that. Then I added other things, like beach wear and surfing tours. Now there are twenty surf shops on the strip and more and more tourists keep coming.”
“I applied the same principles to growing my business that I apply to surfing. If you want to grow, you have to let go. Trying to control market forces is futile. My business is just a vehicle to have fun and make some money. If you try to control everything, like so many business owners do, it becomes an exhausting experience. It’s easier to let the wave take you.”
“I used to worry about the competition but I now focus on what I comd be doing better rather than on what they are doing. I spend more time charming my customers than running after new ones. That ‘perfect wave’ is often underneath you as you’re looking for a better one.”
After a few more hours of bobbing in the surf, the practicality of Pamo’s comments became evident. It is all about timing and balance, and taking advantage of things the way they are. And, of course, having fun along the way.