Decision Making at the Top of a Wave

Home / Excellence / Decision Making at the Top of a Wave

Share with:


Capetown, South Africa. At the top of a 25-foot wave, near the bottom of the world.

Extreme surfer Murray Wilcocks answers that one important question:

What were you thinking?

Willcocks is a senior at the University of Capetown.  Earlier this year, the extreme surfer joined four classmates and entered the Cape to Rio Yacht Race.  They travelled from the Africa to Brazil in 19 days.  Sleeping in shifts, battling the elements and facing raging storms, this team of extremists completed a race that had previously stopped more experienced crews before the race even began. Check out the video of our conversation:

What would lead someone to pursue such a pattern of extreme challenges – from monster wave-chasing, to sailing across the Atlantic?

As a business coach and trainer, I’m often asked for tips, techniques and strategies from clients in high-pressure situations.  While investor pitches and boardroom presentations can be stressful, I wonder how exactly they compare to a go/no go decision, at the top of a 25-foot wave?

Could there be an ideal flow state, as suggested in Stealing Fire, that Willcocks accessed?  How did he find it? And, could it be duplicated by folks like you and me?

The force of a 25-foot wave, if you are trapped underneath it, can crush someone in an instant.  According to The Surf Channel, even a 10-foot high wave can weigh over 400 tons.

Chasing danger like this requires a certain mindset.

Surprisingly, in my interview, Willcocks pointed time and time again to intuition over technique. When asked what he was thinking at times of extreme decision-making (at the eye of the storm, or the center of a wave) the answer was consistent: nothing.

Could it be that the “flow state” isn’t found using a technique, strategy or tip – but it actually exists by abandoning that thinking entirely?

If you are trying to remember a technique at a moment of truth, you’re looking in the wrong direction, according to Willcock’s self-reported experience.  You can’t think your way out of a monster wave, you have to experience it.
[bctt tweet=”You can’t think your way out of a monster wave, you have to experience it. #leadership”]

Many times, the powerful forces of nature force us to see our own human nature. We return to the sea, or the woods, or to a canyon, and our thinking slows down. Have you ever had this experience?

In the middle of the Atlantic, that experience – that connection – is all that Willcocks and his team really had.  They knew how to sail, how to cook, how to communicate – but beyond the day to day operations of the boat, they found a way to think less and do more.
They really had no choice.  Each day on the sea was a different adventure, and no two days were alike.

[bctt tweet=”Many times, the powerful forces of nature force us to see our own human nature.”]

It’s easy to think that my life is wildly different than the experience of this extreme surfer.

But I wonder: is it? What if life works the same, whether we are surfing a huge wave or just surfing the web?

[bctt tweet=”I know that I’m at my best when I think less. How about you?”]

Letting go of a desire to control or conquer the unexpected has been extremely freeing for me.

The unexpected is always here with us. You don’t have to be in the middle of the Atlantic to see that new challenges and new opportunities are never more than one thought away. Not one strategy. Not one technique. One thought.

We can’t control when the waves will come, or when the storm will stop. Willcocks discovered that, in moments of extreme crisis, there was a moment of extreme connection.  Not with his thinking, or with some optimal strategy, but with his circumstances, his team…himself.  He connected with his own intuition.

No technique. No six-step process. In fact, just the opposite.

Curiously, we are all at our best when we look inside at our intuition.  What changes when we decide that we know what to do, it just hasn’t shown up yet?  Patience. Perseverance. Trust.

More thinking about a problem isn’t the way to solve it.  It’s easy to see that attempts to plan and control the forces of nature are futile – the sea is a harsh mistress, right?  But because we sit at desks instead of on transatlantic sailboats, we think that life is predictable, controllable and fixed.

My surroundings might not be as striking as the cliffs of Cape Town. But that doesn’t mean I can’t let go and ride the wave. At first glance, it seems easier to be “in the moment” in nature – in a “natural state”. But, as I think about it, aren’t we always in nature, and in a natural state?

You may think otherwise. But is that thinking going to help you to ride the next wave?



Share with:


Related Posts
Extreme Customer Service image Chris Westfall