Sean Anderson (me) surfing Publics surf on Oahu Hawai’i where we conduct most of our surfing lessons. (Photo-credit : Joseph Libby)
So let’s just start by agreeing, in advance, that the above is an odd, wordy, and perhaps ill-conceived title. However, anyone who knows me well is already thinking, “that’s Sean for ya!” That’s why I believe it is a fitting intro into the chain of blogs meant to follow. It’s a place, topic wise, that previews the way my thoughts and rants tend to flow in and out like the tide. Even though these ideas may not seem to be moving consistently forward, they do fill in steadily and with some amount of fluidity and stealth. Before you know it, these ideas are rolling up to the alien shore that they were both destined for and have traveled so far to reach.
This is my first Blog. I plan to try and add one a month to this site and although this wasn’t my idea of something I should be doing, after some debate and some stalling on my part, I have reluctantly decided to at least try. There are a few reasons that I have fought past all of the varying excuses and predispositions that I have against writing these blogs. I know this will make my business partners happy and there are a handful (or two) of other people that have asked me to put some of these things in writing as well. I suspect that this is partly because they have been subjected to one too many of my verbal “greatest hits”. I do have a tendency to go on and on, with the fanatical intensity of a zealot, in regard to the wide variety of ways that the art of surfing can connect you to so many other aspects of life. They say, perhaps out of kindness, that these things are worth writing down and that I really should do so. I will assume the best, I will take them at their word, and as I have said, I will try.
Coaching comes naturally and feels right to me. I like coaching both one on one and in groups. Teaching the rudiments of surfing, much to my own surprise, is something that I enjoy and that I take to instinctively. From teaching someone to get up and riding on their very first wave, all the way down the line to teaching the more advanced aspects of surfing like how to ride the barrel or land an air reverse, the entire journey is all very rewarding and enjoyable.
However, I have an issue with being a blogger, pod caster, or any kind of so-called internet influencer. I have perhaps an unfair prejudice against certain would be “pop up” life and surf coaches and other self-help gurus. This is, in part, because I have personally known a number of these well-intentioned souls that write and post self-help, instructional advice and commentary. Unfortunately, I have found them, as enthusiastic and excited as they are to share their newfound insights, to also usually be fledgling neophytes themselves. Humans are meant to teach so it is easy to see why there are so many people trying to share whatever it is they have uncovered. They are so exhilarated by the revelations that they have discovered that they cannot wait to share them with others but… sometimes you should wait. Perhaps wait until the excitement recedes a little and you really have a firm grip on what you have learned. Regardless of all of that, it just somehow seems a bit self-important. I guess it shouldn’t really. I guess there is shyness or a lack of bravery in me when it comes to sitting here at the keyboard writing things for anyone, for everyone, and for no one all at once. Face to face, we are almost instantly friends and Ohana. At the very least, we are student and teacher or athlete and coach and that’s what I’m comfortable with.
Here’s the thing though. You can’t improve if you are unwilling to put yourself out there. I mean this is one of the most basic principles I relearned from surfing. You have to fall if you want to fly. The only way to get out of a radical situation, in life, or on a wave, is to put yourself in that situation in the first place. I do want to be the best instructor and coach I can be. I shouldn’t be coaching at all if I don’t. So, here is a chance to grow. I am being pushed to do something I’m not comfortable doing. I’m being pushed to be a better teacher and coach. I’m being pushed into this wave by my own desire to advance, by the students and athletes I work with, and by my hardworking and dedicated crew at the Ohana Surf Project. The biggest push may be from the two talented and hardworking ladies – Chelsea Lewis who is our GM, and Susan Geraci who is our CFO and my business partner at the OSP. They encourage me and push me like a surfing instructor pushes a student into a wave. So, I find myself needing to be flexible. I find myself needing to grow. Even after all these years of surfing and competing and coaching, I find myself with the frightening and hopeful opportunity to advance.
Deconstruction & Reconstruction for your surfing and for your soul
Jena-Noelani (my daughter) working on her focus, agility, and flexibility for martial arts, for surfing, and for life.
What has for a long time now been a very fascinating part of all of this, for me, is how in teaching and coaching surfing, I found myself drawing upon my life long martial arts training. I started this training when I was six. I began teaching formally when I was in my twenties. I taught martial arts for over twenty years publicly and even now I still teach my daughter, my son, and few close friends at our family kwoon (dojo or gym).
It’s not just the physicality and the skillful teaching techniques that I love about the martial arts, as they were taught to me, but it is also the philosophy and the almost scientific way that it pulls things apart, allows one to examine them, and then puts them back together again. I believe that you must reconstruct everything and relearn things you have already learned in order to become better than you thought you could be. Your movements become something that you discover you had not truly considered and been fully aware of. In surfing, in business, in relationships, and in most things, we tend to move through all of them the best we can. However, for most of us, we move with a much better view of the things around us than the view we have of how we ourselves are moving against, and through, and with these things. This applies to obstacles and opportunities alike. It applies to waves and everyday challenges.
For most people, when they observe someone moving in a way that seems graceful, powerful, and almost without effort, through a challenging section of a wave or through a difficult situation in life, it seems almost like magic. It seems these people have some special quality that others lack. Sometimes it seems almost unfair. We are prone to call this quality luck or talent and of course those things do exist. When you are surfing, luck can have a big part of how your session turns out. This is true even for the most experienced and talented individuals. Every professional has surfed a number of heats that they feel luck has critically impacted. We tend to feel this way especially after a disappointing result. The same goes for how some of our days happen to unfold. You can have things go your way or it can feel like you can’t catch a break or catch a wave for that matter. There are, of course, cases of highly talented individuals and people who we would call naturals. This can be and usually does have a lot to do with the body type you were born with and the things in your life that have impacted your physical and cognitive development. However, the most important part of this equation that seems like magic is not the things that we as individual surfers can’t change about ourselves but, as it turns out, they are things we can change. For some, things do tend to come faster and easier but when you deconstruct the actual mechanics of what someone does to move powerfully, gracefully and seemingly without effort, we find that it’s not really magic at all. It is more like science. It is not some quality or ability that only a lucky few can possess. In each fundamental part of each maneuver, there are micro moments and micro movements that in and of themselves are simple and more importantly learnable for just about anyone. They just have to be pulled apart and examined first.
This is the art of movement. It is the art of coordinating the body and mind in action through focus. This raises the question, what is focus? In the world of martial arts, one of the most famous individuals, Bruce Lee, was known for having extraordinary speed, agility, and flexibility as well as a laundry list of other achievements. He, on many occasions, sighted focus as the crucial aspect for these achievements. One of my favorite Bruce Lee quotes, and he has a plethora of great ones, is “The successful warrior is the average man with laser like focus”. Focus, literally, is to train one’s eyes or mind on a particular and singular point. It is concentrating one’s thought, sight, and energy wholly on a desired thing or outcome. It actually comes naturally but as we develop, many things can attach themselves to us in a way that impairs this simple and natural ability. Focus is one of those things that is simple and yet elusive. I believe a good way to understand focus is actually to understand what interferes with focus.
If we want to focus on something that we desire, there are always certain things that distract from that focus. It is all of the things that we don’t want that get in the way and distract us. So, the trick is to focus on what we want. These distractions sometimes pull us in the exact opposite direction of what we want or where we want to be. Fear is almost always the main obstacle. The fear of falling or even just looking foolish can enter into the mind and pull one off course. When you’re riding a wave, if you are focused on not falling… your focus is still really on falling… when it should instead be on riding the wave. When you are surfing but are also worried about falling as you surf, that thing that you do not want to happen, falling, can pull your focus from surfing right into to that which you fear. Your mind and body, on an instinctive level, recognizes this and prepares subconsciously for the fall. And the next thing you know you are in the water swimming instead of where you wanted to be and would be if you had maintained your focus. In other words, you can train yourself to focus on what you want and block out thoughts that interfere with that focus. Learning to block out these thoughts allows you to focus intensely. It is not always easy at first, but it can be done with a little practice. As a surfer, you have to develop a good positive relationship with fear, but what is more important is knowing what you want and going for it. “Go for it!” is a surfing saying that has become a cliché but is also a kind of creed that dates way back and is still known as a surfing phrase to this day. A seasoned surfer has learned all of this even if he or she hasn’t realized it consciously. Once they do realize it, they can apply it to countless situations and achieve things they never thought possible.
Talking, actually talking, about all of this to someone who I thought I could help in some way has never been a problem. It never felt arrogant or awkward but to write it all down and put it out there for everyone known and unknown to read, that feels different. It feels like a surfboard that won’t quite fit under your arm as you make you way awkwardly towards the waves. I didn’t really want to put myself out there. As I have already said, I have lots of reasons why I shouldn’t. I mean who has the time? I am not a guy with lots of extra time on my hands. Who am I, to be getting up on some cyber surfing pulpit to preach and teach the Dao of surfing? I mean, there’s a ton of ladies and gentlemen that spend their time making videos and blogs and writing books on the subject and that’s their thing. They must enjoy it and have the time for it. My thing is live and in person. Some of these bloggers, “how to” video insta-celebrities, and surf gurus are even pretty good surfers. Shoots, some are legends. Me? I’m a has been, actually I reckon I never really was… It’s true that I have a lot of experience. I surfed almost my entire life, over 4 decades so far. I’ve competed professionally all over the world and have surfed some of the most feared waves on the planet. I have been coaching for over 25 years. But in the secular surfing world’s big picture, I am just one of few hundred, ex-professional surfers, who gave that lifestyle a go. I am barely even a side note in modern surfing history. Teaching and coaching came natural to me but writing it, well, I guess it is a little harder and kind of humbling.
And there it is… To be humble is to be teachable. It is the main thing that allows you to improve. It is actually the feeling of being a little embarrassed and not wanting to put myself out there in this new way that reminds me that if I am to advance, and I want to advance, I cannot let my fears or all the things I do not want, don’t want to be, or don’t want to seem to be, interfere with my focus. I want to be the best coach I can be, right? It’s true, I don’t want to put myself out there because I don’t feel comfortable, no big turn feels comfortable at first. If I don’t try new maneuvers because I don’t want to fall…well, then, my surfing will fail to progress. That is how the ego holds you back. But being willing to fall and being willing to humble oneself… that is the positive deconstruction without which reconstruction is impossible. This breaking down and rebuilding is essential and important for growth. So, like the tide and the waves, that I love so much, I arrive at this alien shore realizing what I have known for so long. I need to keep on advancing. I learn through teaching even after all these years. I learn from my students, and my partner, and from the Ohana surf crew, and of course from the waves, and the tides, and the sea. This is the way of surfing. You keep learning the same lessons over and over but in new ways. The lesson becomes deeper and deeper like paddling out into bigger and bigger waves. It is never-ending in a good way. To grow, just let the surf and yourself flow like the tide and like my wandering thoughts. This is why another surfer’s cliché saying, in addition to “go for it” is, “go with the flow”. If you can go with the flow you end up back and forth over reef and over time always in an enchanted place. Every surfer knows this somewhere deep inside.
The end of this Chapter and the beginning of the next
Sean Anderson carrying an extra buoyant surfboard from the surf school bus down to the beach through Kapiolani park. (Photo-credit : Joseph Libby)
I started surfing at a time where surfboard design was in an intense flux. It was the sort of missing link period of surfing when design change was happening so fast that it was hard to find where the longboard stopped and the short board began. I remember being a little more than half the height of my 6-foot, single fin, hot dog, surfboard. It was named, I assume by the shaper, “The Deadly Flying Glove,” and that thing was deadly. It weighed a ton. I could carry it under my arm like the older surfers did but only for about a half a block. It was a bit too wide for my arms and once tucked in, it would almost instantly begin squeezing out from under my arm and my straining fingers. I would struggle with that board down towards the beach but wait until I got to the sand, where the other surfers could see me, to tuck it under my arm. That way I had a chance to get the rest of the way down to the water without having to stick it on my head. I don’t know why I assumed that was uncool. I guess I just wanted to do things the way the older guys did even if my reach did exceed my grasp as it was and is still prone to do. My little, skinny, inner child finds it amusing that I thought it was uncool to carry the board on my head because nowadays, as I make my way from the surf school bus through beautiful Kapiolani Park, under the pleasant shade of the stoic and iconic banyan trees, I throw an 11 foot lesson board up on that shaggy mop of mine almost daily. That’s the way it goes, a lot of things you thought were uncool were only uncool in your head. Maybe writing this blog feels a little too big and so did that board but when that Deadly Flying Glove finally made it to the water, all the sudden that unwieldy width and thickness made her light as a feather, lighter in fact. The buoyancy packed into that foam and fiberglass lifted me up out of the water, and over the waves, and flew me into the lineup. I never knew how the session would turn out, but I was always focused on having fun and advancing. So, I’ll take that old lesson, relearn it, and write some fracking blogs!