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David White - Surfing’s wisdom in business and life

Growing up in the holiday town of Scottburgh, situated on the south coast of KwaZulu- Natal, had many advantages, which I only discovered much later in life.

The south coast in those days was laid-back in comparison to the fast-paced world we live in today. Influences such as surfing, interacting with nature, and having time for simple things were normal, which is where I draw my strength, innovation, purpose, and resilience. In reflecting on these precious memories, it becomes obvious that we were learning great life lessons that I have used in my career and in the business environment. My mind immediately recalls ‘ensuring a ‘go get it attitude’ as an essential initiator of any action.

In surfing every single wave is different, which is not dissimilar to opportunities in life and business. We must be ready for each unique opportunity… and we must make the most of them. If we do not catch a wave… it is gone forever. More waves will come along… as will more life and business opportunities, but the more we let go by, the more we must paddle around and keep searching.

A Respectful Dance

My first lesson learned from surfing is respect for the ocean and care for fellow watermen. In all circumstances the sea is dominant, which is precisely the same as the economy. We need to maintain the balance of perception required for our own success and sustainability. We can find opportunity within the economy; however, we will never be able to demand that the economy produce our desired outcome. There are great rewards to be found in the economy and in the ocean. However, we need to respect and care for our customers, employees, suppliers, regulators, stakeholders, and the environment.

The Essence of Mastery

My second lesson is recognising that there is endless learning to be gained in the ocean. Business is just the same with every day bringing new challenges and experiences; to cope and thrive we need a positive mindset and outcome expectation. As a young person, we always looked to the elders for guidance when big outside sets were approaching.

This is similar to business, when suddenly things go wrong, often at the same time, we have to draw on our networks and advisors to re-evaluate the direction we wish to drive our actions, or to find ways to re-establish our position, poise and connection.

Leaving No One Behind

My third lesson is that of Sustainable Development Goal 17 which says do not leave anyone behind. Whilst I was surfing at Airport Lefts in Bali, which has amazing waves, the offshore wind blew me off course. I realised that there was a set of big and powerful waves coming for me like a tsunami. I pushed my board to the side, and dived as deep as I could. Suddenly there was a snap, my leash had broken, and now I was more than a kilometre out to sea, with no board for flotation, and more chunky barrelling waves about to pound my now fragile body. When the set passed and the calm returned, there was nobody in sight, except my mate Wade Howard, who had paddled to fetch and bring my board to me.


In business we also get caught by the lip of the wave or by the sets, have an unpleasant hold down, or get washed onto the rocks. Trouble just happens, and we need to be there to help others when they need it, or to be prepared to receive help from others when we need it.

The Art of the Possible

My fourth lesson is centred around managing risk. The sea is an ever-changing environment, where wave size can be measured in increments of fear. There are winds, tides, rips, currents, sandbanks, and reefs that have to be understood to ensure our safety and ability to enjoy our sport.

Leading a sustainable business is also about managing risk, which includes every activity from producing your company’s high-quality product or service, ensuring it adds value to customers and stakeholders, ensuring consumers are agreeable to purchase and pay for your product or service timeously, and that staff meet their obligations to ensure legitimacy and productivity. Once risk is researched, considered and managed, to a large degree, it disappears. We overcome it through being correctly prepared and positioned.

The Key to Success

My fifth lesson is about timing. Perfect surf requires specific conditions to be present, and we have to be ready all the time. Being ready means that we keep fit, keep preparing, and keep the ‘stoke’ for when we can enjoy the moments of pleasure.

Sometimes we surf on the days where the waves are not perfect, and they help us to be confident and ready for when the good surf arrives. So too are productive and profitable days and opportunities in our business. We just must be poised and ready for when these opportunities flow in our direction.

Loving What You Do

My sixth lesson is about ensuring our minds are focused. We can only keep our ongoing focus if we enjoy what we are doing. Business is the same, we must do what we love doing. Doing something we are good at, enjoy doing, supports others, and rewards ourselves is discovering our purpose.

Surfing teaches us to never compromise doing what we feel is right for ourselves and the time, as long as it does not interfere or compromise any other person, or nature herself.

So many choices come our way, and we need to align our thoughts, words and actions with those which resonate within our hearts and souls. Enjoying and immersing ourselves in our sport and work is the magic that lifts our minds and gives us that sense of purpose and accomplishment – which is essential for our wellbeing, and our growth as humans and contributors to the world.

Guiding the Next Wave

My seventh lesson is about recognising that as we gain more experience and ability in our sport and work, we become influential to junior travellers on similar paths. We need to recognise this responsibility and ensure that as role models we are providing guidance and support in a caring and honourable way. We thus become ambassadors in our sport and profession. We can enhance opportunity or destroy confidence in those people who look towards us to show them the way.

Living in the Moment

My eighth lesson is that surfing forces us to draw on our intuition for decision making in the moment. The ocean is constantly moving and changing; mentally, immediately we lunge into the sea we become absorbed in its flow.

Business is also about timing, and we must recognise that our best decisions will be made through assessing the environment, and using our experience, resources, networks, and intuition to guide us.

Like surfing, business decision making is best when we are fully focused, confident that our experience, passion and intuition will deliver an outcome that richly rewards us. The advice Dave Rastovich, a surfing great from a line of Polynesian watermen, received from his dad was to… “Think it, feel it, do it”. I am not sure if any advice could be simpler and more valuable to us in surfing, life, and business.

We do take the wrong wave at times, and we do get trashed. However, we quickly recover and resume our posture and position, as not doing so will hold us in the danger zone of other waves advancing.

In business we call this resilience and recovery, and each experience needs to be analysed and corrected, so that the organisation can redirect and advance more competently and more confidently in its purpose and intention.

The Shared Success

My ninth lesson is about creating opportunities for others. When we are surfing and sharing waves with friends, there is a sense of oneness, we can enjoy each other’s exhilarating moments, and everyone is richer for it. In business we have a natural ‘tall poppy syndrome’, where there are many who choose to not support others’ successes.

Being joyful for others in both surfing and business raises our own vibrations and attracts similar opportunities to ourselves. Being supportive and encouraging towards others when they are learning or excelling helps us to enjoy each passing moment more, enriching our lives, and setting the platform for our own similar joyful and fulfilling experiences.

Embracing Nature’s Flow

My tenth lesson is simply allowing nature’s flow to guide our existence. We have no ability to influence the intuitive decisions we make. However, these decisions tend to be right for us, even if we only recognise them for their value at a later point. We miss waves, only to find out there is a better wave right behind the one we missed.

In business things do not go our way continuously, in fact there are many opportunities we miss. However, not all seemingly great opportunities are right for us and for our business. We need to realise that we cannot ride every wave, and similarly we cannot service every opportunity in business.

If we surf regularly with our heart in the right place, we will get many great waves to ride. In business, the harder we try in maintaining ethics, quality assurance, and respect for stakeholders and regulators, the more we gain the right for new opportunities to flow towards our organisations.

There is no doubt that my love for nature, the ocean and surfing shaped my life as a business executive. I am endlessly thankful for the experiences gained in the sea, learning to surf, and enjoying the magic of riding precious waves. Shaun Thomson who at the height of his career was regarded as the best tube rider in the world, shared that time changes when in the tube, and in an uncanny way Shaun believes that in this zone we can change the shape of the wave with our minds. What an amazing perception, highlighting that we are more creative and powerful than we might have considered.

DRG, DRG Siyaya, BusinessFit SA and SA Chamber UK

Contact David White, T: +27 (0)31 767 0625



David White – Surfing’s wisdom in business and life

By Zambezzi

As an influencer my team and I create content or co-create content to support brands, endorse product and services with the intent to increase brand awareness and drive sales.

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