How to Catch the Ultimate Ride (in surfing and in life): A lesson in discernment

Yes! Another surfing post! Sort of…

In my recent post on the power of taking a pause, I used surfing as a proxy to convey the value of slowing down in “critical situations.” Now I’d like to share another insight that came from my beloved sea. Although this post deconstructs the act of surfing, I believe the process can be replicated to expedite improvement for virtually any desired outcome.

One question that I always find myself asking when striving to make tangible improvements in any aspect of my life (physical, mental or beyond) is, “what’s the most important thing?” – There’s something in physics called the Critical Point Analysis (CPA), which says that every system has a critical point where the lightest touch has the greatest impact. One analogy used is that even a powerful locomotive running flat out can be stopped by the lightest touch if you know exactly where to place your finger. Now, I don’t want to go sticking my finger in that steam engine, but the concept is intriguing. It tells us that front-loading the work by examining and understanding the system we’re trying to change (performing the CPA), basically working smarter as opposed to harder, really does produce greater results with far lower a cost.

So I applied this to my surfing and here’s what happened:

Whilst chilling in the lineup and waiting for my waves, I wondered to myself, what is the most important thing; the keystone or critical point that can act as the Archimedes’ lever to increase wave-count, provide more practice and ultimately improve my surfing in the shortest period of time?  My train of thought went something like this:

My first thought was the common one which says that getting a good ride is all about timing (e.g. when to paddle, when to pop up, etc) But then I realized that timing means nothing if you don’t have the explosive strength, cardiovascular endurance and shoulder mobility to paddle with speed when the wave comes your way. Then I realized that even all the strength in the world is vastly inferior to your starting position (eg. if a perfect waves comes but your 50 yards from the peak, forget about it). So exercising your instincts and being in the right spot must be the critical point!… But then I realized that you’ll never be in the right spot if you’ve not FIRST chosen the right location (eg. what beach to surf at).

SO, after breaking it down I arrived at the following conclusion as the critical point with the following the order of operations as the priorities for how to catch the ultimate ride in surfing and beyond. They are:

  1. Choose wisely your location (aka where you’re focus goes)
  2. Seek out the sweet spot (the optimal spot within that location) and ignore everywhere else
  3. Strengthen the muscles that support your outcome, and finally
  4. Be mindful of your timing, and
  5. Discerning with your wave selection

*This last one is particularly important as our freedom lies in our discernment (aka our ability to choose where we go and what we focus on) The more we exercise our freedom, the more we honor the universe

Ben Ahrens ripcurl gps watch session1Ben Ahrens ripcurl gps watch surf session2Tracking my surf sessions using my Ripcurl GPS watch (ahhh, yes – nerd), my wave-count more than tripled from one session to the next (from 8 waves to 31 waves) under very similar conditions and session durations. In fact in this instance, I didn’t have time to apply pt. 3 or think about pt 4 so, from doing just that one thing… practicing discernment in choosing the best spot, I was able to triple my practice time and quintuple my fun! (it’s exponential).

Now it might seem obvious that if you pick a better spot, you’ll have a better outcome, and that’s good, it should be obvious. But all too often we seem to forget the importance of early discernment, let alone practice it.

My takeaway here is simple. Regardless of what aspect of your life, health, or skills your trying to improve upon, it pays to take a step back and gain a holistic perspective by doing this regression exercise; asking continuously, “what’s most important?” –  Then tackle the challenge from this systematic viewpoint.  It could save you exorbitant amounts of energy, help cut to the chase,  and ultimately have more fun!

If you like this post you may also enjoy my Automated Morning Routine: How to Make the Most of Your Least Productive Times



  1. Popsicle says:

    Ben. Great posts. Good style. Terrific subjects. “Discernment” piece terrific. The leave-behind? “Choose wisely.” You bet, Indie.


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