Five Lessons Surfing Taught Me about Investing (and Life)

Five Lessons Surfing Taught Me about Investing (and Life)

August 22, 2023

Go to your happy place.

Have you ever been told this? I would imagine so, given the current situation we find ourselves in. Visualization is part of meditation, which has become a critical life skill in these uncertain times. 

I am terrible at these exercises. I never know what to choose. But because of a recent trip, I now have somewhere that immediately pops into my mind. I wanted to share the story of this magical place with you, and the lessons surfing taught me about investing (and life).

I love adventure and new challenges, so when one of my dearest friends wanted to plan a girl’s trip with that theme in mind, I jumped at the chance. At first, we looked into yoga retreats. I love yoga and so does she. Unfortunately, I have trouble sitting still (again, meditation not my strong suit) and the thought of “savasana” overload was not appealing (maybe more so, now). But combining the zen of yoga with surfing for adventure? Sign me up.

When planning our trip, the amazing pictures, reviews and testimonials led us to a retreat hosted by Pura Vida Adventures. They are based in Playa Carmen in Costa Rica, the most beautiful of all the beautiful beaches on the western coast of this magnificent country; a magical place that cracked me open in a myriad of new ways.

Embarking on the Adventure of a Lifetime

The Pura Vida team did their best to prepare us before we arrived with videos, emails and logistics. Even so, we were both a bit skeptical – would it be as magical as the reviews had made it seem? 

I knew the answer was a resounding “yes” in the first 10 minutes. Especially after we met our hostess for the week, Sara. She made sure every day we knew where to go, what to do, and (most importantly) when to eat. I did not realize the brain space feeding a family of four, especially after working all day long, had been occupying within my head. Now, the only decision I had to make was what delicious food would be freshly prepared, not when or by who.  

Sara embodied the pura vida (translation: “pure life”) lifestyle. Like Dorothy, she was originally from Kansas. She did not arrive in her southern hemisphere Land of Oz via a tornado, but through her own intentional life choices. I admired her immediately.  

How best can I describe the other women on this retreat, the fabulous “surf sisters” I met from all over the world? A fourteen-time veteran of the camp that was part of our group put it best when she said attendees to the retreat are “low maintenance women with high maintenance lives”. Amen. As each person opened up to share their fascinating stories, I marveled at our luck in choosing this particular week, with this interesting, fabulous and amazing group of women. 

The Five Lessons Surfing Taught Me About Investing (and Life)

I had never surfed before this trip. I made a largely unsuccessful attempt at stand-up paddle-boarding once in Hawaii. But I had no clue what I was doing, and it showed. I found the ocean and surfing had so much to teach me about life, and also had significant parallels to how I think and behave as an investor and financial planner. What pura vida lessons did I learn? Here are a few:

Lesson one: You need a great coach or an instructor to succeed

Our instructors for the week were a fantastic global crew.  From the fiery Costa Rican “Girl and the Sea” Michelle to the lovely, brilliant and inspirational former pro-surfer Lucie of Jersey island fame, each one was a generous, kind, amazing human being.  And they were also kick-ass surfers.  

They used creative visuals and humorous metaphors to teach us important surfing techniques. Michelle compared wave selection to picking a husband or a boyfriend - you really need to know when to let the bad ones pass (i.e. that one is a drunk, that one is a playboy). An encouraging coach empowers you with information that helps you let go of your ego and learn the right way to surf. They made the learning process easy, fun and delightful. 

Whether we are talking about investing or surfing, it’s hard figuring it out on your own. Having a coach, mentor or instructor is critical to “getting up on the board”. The same is true for your wealth. Don’t let over (or under) confidence stop you from learning and growing and becoming better with money. First you have to believe you can do it, and then build a strong support system around you to implement it.

Lesson two: You can’t control everything

The first day of surfing, I carelessly “jumped’ off the board and landed my right foot on an enormous rock. The second day, a fellow surfer twisted her ankle. The third day, the wind kicked up, which made the waves scarier, and carrying the boards pretty brutal. There is just so much you can’t control. Maybe you feel that way right now about pandemics, the economy, the stock market, home-schooling, or life in general.  

You know what I learned from surfing? The energy you bring to the ocean is what it will give right back to you. Are you feeling afraid or panicked? Take a deep breath and slow down.  Understand what you can control and what you cannot.   

When I approached surfing with a positive attitude, I found myself up on the board very quickly.  And at the same time, I was filled with gratitude and totally electrified by the experience.  Understand there will always be things you will not be able to control about money (job loss, unforeseen emergencies) and investing (bear markets, economic shifts) and decide how you can approach your financial life with this in mind.

Lesson three: Patience is critical

Surfing is exhilarating, and I found myself wanting to catch EVERY wave. And repetition is actually a great way to learn surfing. But I also learned to be more patient. You can let a lot of the “bad boyfriends” pass. Sometimes it is better to wait for the right wave. And when it comes, if you are prepared, it will be the ride of your life.  

I have found this same philosophy is true in investing. It is easy to “react” to the situation around you. To swing at every pitch. To think you need to catch every wave. To take on more risk than is necessary to meet your goals. Or to make an emotional decision at the bottom of a bear market. Having support and perspective can help you have the patience required to be successful in investing. 

Lesson four: Look in the direction that you want to go

When I first speak to clients, sometimes they haven’t really considered what they want to do with their money. What they are saving for? What do they want their life to look like? Some are afraid to spend money on the experiences, people and causes that bring them true joy. In most cases, it is because they have not aligned their money with who they want to be. Or they haven’t prioritized where they “want to go” with their wealth. 

This lesson from surfing was so simple. It is human nature to look down and only focus on what is directly in front of you. But that does not work in surfing, trust me. I took enough nose-dives to internalize this lesson. Keep focused on the horizon. Keep your head up. Your perspective matters. Keep focused on where you are going. Or you will literally wipe out.

Lesson five: Enjoy the process, stay balanced. You don’t need to be perfect

In surfing, balance is crucial. And the very first lesson you learn is to center yourself on the board. I can’t tell you how many micro-adjustments I needed to make with my feet, knees, arms and whole body to make a successful ride. 

What does staying balanced mean in investing? It is centering yourself on asset allocation and risk tolerance that makes sense for your goals, and then REBALANCING when its out-of whack.  Balance in life and in surfing also means taking on waves for 3 hours, but then chilling in the hammock for an afternoon nap. You start to make mistakes if you are too exhausted or emotional. That is true for investing as well.  

If you don’t have fun in the process, the results don’t really matter. In surfing (and with your wealth) you might make mistakes or re-learn lessons you already thought you knew. My last wave on the last day was FAR from perfect. But it was the most enjoyable, because it incorporated both my new-found skills and a smile on my face. It doesn’t have to look “perfect” for you to enjoy the ride to shore. Enjoy the ride surrounded by those that bring true wealth to your life.

Always Leave Space to Learn, Grow, and Have Fun

Here is my last and final message to all of you:  Always take the girl’s trip.   I had the time of my life reconnecting with an old friend and forming lasting connections with an amazing group of women who I sincerely hope to stay in touch with.  

All we could talk about was surfing, surfing, surfing!   At the end of the week, as we said our good-byes, we promised each other we would not become “insufferable” raving lunatics about the magic of surfing. And I immediately broke my promise and wrote this blog.  

Little did I know, we would come back to a world changed.  To canceled plans, shelter-in-place, pandemeic parenting and social distancing.   To husbands having to work the front lines in the ICU.  I have never been more grateful that found a way to take this particular girl’s trip.  

 So always, always take the girls’s trip.