How I Learned to Surf the Waves of Life


Photo Credit:  Ian Devau

Photo Credit: Ian Devau


Chip Grossman

One thing that I love about life is the surprise that each new day brings. Life has it’s ups and downs, just like a wave. Here’s what you need to do to become a professional life surfer.

Life isn’t easy, and the waves never stop. Some days the waves are perfect for cruising. Sometimes there aren’t any waves at all. Sometimes there’s a huge a huge swell. Those huge swells are the ones that overwhelm us. So how do we learn to deal with the waves?

1. Become aware of the nature of life’s waves


Life, and the ocean, are unpredictable. There are good days, and there are bad days. Most days, we simply deal with whatever the current state of life is. If it’s tough, we suffer. If it’s easy, we cruise. One thing to consider, though, is that whatever the current state of things looks like, it will change. That forthcoming change is what you need to prepare for.

What are the huge waves currently in your life?

     A person who bothers you on a frequent basis..

     A project deadline that seems difficult or impossible to reach...

The big waves are endless, challenging, and often unpredictable. Most people live life just trying to make it through the big swells.

     You bury your frustrations about that person and just try to make it to the next day..

     You carry that feeling of dread and fear with you until you finish the project..

These are reasonable feelings, but I’m not here talking to you because I think we should be living reasonable lives. We can, and should be, learning how to live incredible lives. Our lives should be like one giant surf lesson, learning how to ride waves of all different types.

Well-adjusted individuals learn how to surf all of life’s waves, not just the easy ones. Anyone can catch a nice ride when the waves are just right; the more important question is how good of a job will you do when life gets stormy and the waves become huge and unpredictable?

Are you actively preparing yourself for those times when life’s waves get huge and unpredictable? If not, you need to be. That brings us to the next key step.

2. You can’t predict tomorrow's waves, so challenge yourself today


Just like you’d be foolish to try surfing Mavericks (a huge wave spot in California) on your second week, you’d be foolish not to prepare for the big waves that are coming at you in life. Trust me when I say there are some BIG waves coming in your direction. Some of them will be joyful rides. Some of them will be painful. Either way, it’s time to start preparing.

Take it from Laird Hamilton, who once said “I will prepare for 50 years to have just one ride”.

If you want to thrive in life, you need to become a storm chaser. When I see something that scares me, I see that as the next big wave I need to learn to surf. You know why? Because even bigger waves are on the horizon after that one. If you wait for the storms to come, you won’t be prepared for them. You need to create stormy conditions in your life every day.

I still remember the moment I became a storm chaser. It was my freshman year at Colby College, where I played lacrosse. It was the first game of the season, an away game at Amherst, and I was given a starting spot at midfield.

Unlike Laird Hamilton, who has the mentality of preparing 50 years to ride one wave, I hadn’t done much work to prepare myself for that storm.

     I drank and partied every weekend since college began.

     I did the bare minimum of what was asked of me for training.

     I cared about myself more than I cared about the team.

When I got out on the field, I wasn’t prepared. I wasn’t in shape, I wasn’t confident, my passes weren’t sharp, and it showed. I turned the ball over, made some mistakes on defense, and then coach told me:

“Chip, get off the field, you’re done”.

I was done. I deserved to be. I hadn’t put in the work, and I didn’t deserve to be on the field. We lost that game, and I felt embarrassed and hollow. That hollowness stayed with me on that long bus ride home, and I did a lot of thinking. I realized my I hadn’t prepared properly, and I became determined to make a change.

I wasn’t sure what I needed to change at first, but then it became pretty clear to me once coach kept calling me out in practicing saying “Chip, you’re way too tired buddy, get your ass on the treadmill”! His saying that, though it hurt my feelings, helped me learn the fourth key lesson:

3. Fall in the love with the process of small improvement


I knew I could get in better shape if I started putting in a little extra work each day. I started getting up before class every single day to run a mile on the treadmill. I started preparing for bigger waves to come.

Through summer, fall, and winter, I ran, played lacrosse and trained in the gym almost every single day. I made daily improvement the focus. I started to fall in love with the idea of getting better each day. I fell in love with the process.

Now, I realize that that falling in love with the process of improvement is the key to success. This isn’t new knowledge, though; it’s been around for thousands of years. As noted in The Daily Stoic, Epictetus, one of the great Stoic philosophers, often quoted Socrates in saying” Just as one person delights in improving his farm, and another his horse, so I delight in attending to my own improvement day by day”

The daily grind kept me focused and motivated. I’m glad it did, because a wave was on the horizon that would push the limits of my capabilities..

Our first game of my sophomore season was a home game against Amherst. I was feeling anxious the whole game, nervous to take any big risks.  We were up almost the whole game, but during the 4th quarter Amherst was slowly creeping back, largely on the heels of my friend Dylan Park who was showing off his skills as a freshman with multiple goals and assists.

Then, in the blink of an eye, Amherst went on a scoring streak. All of a sudden there was a minute left to go and we were down by one.

A big wave was suddenly in sight.

We got the ball with 50 seconds, and it was passed to me. I split left to right, and shot from 16 yards out. The ball went off the corner of the Goalie’s stick and into the top left corner. I’ll never forget that shot. It’s hardwired into my brain.

That moment was magical, and we went on to eventually win the game. In overtime I assisted Ian Devau (My friend, All-American lacrosse player, and photographer who took the picture at the top of this page) on a flip play our coach creatively called "#2". It was an incredible wave of joy.  Like all waves, though, it would eventually pass, which brings me to my next point.

4. Remember: Something bigger is always on the horizon


Whenever you get through one big wave, you can’t let up because something bigger and tougher is always coming your way.

We had a game vs. Connecticut College a few weeks later. We were down by 1, again, with 20 seconds to go. Coach calls a timeout and gives us a play. But unlike the game vs. Amherst, the play fell apart, and I was unexpectedly passed the ball with 5 seconds left in the game.

I got the ball and panicked. It was the right time for me to shoot it, but instead I looked around for someone to pass to. I threw a bad pass to a teammate who wasn’t open. The clock expired as the ball rolled out of bounds.

That moment, standing there on the field at the end of the game, felt like one of the loneliest moments of my life. It would take me a long time to shake that one off. Another big wave had come my way, but this time I crashed.

Crashing is the point. We all crash in life. We all experience waves that are too big for us to handle. The question is, how badly will those waves beat you down? If you do all that you can to prepare, you’ll bounce back more quickly. You’ll catch more amazing rides.

The waves of life aren’t always perfect or easy, but learning to surf them is one of the best investments you can make. Perfect days are on the horizon, but so are stormy ones. It’s time to take some steps to prepare yourself.


  • Life is just like the waves of an ocean. It has its ups and downs, its perfects days and it’s stormy days.

  • It’s imperative to become aware of the nature of life’s waves. Whether it’s a perfect day or a stormy day, realize that all things are impermanent and that things will change.

  • Life’s waves are unpredictable. You can’t always be ready, but you can prepare. By challenging yourself to find ways to challenge yourself today, you become more prepared for future challenges.

  • If you want to create big changes in your life, fall in love with the process of small improvements. If you make one small improvement each day, that amounts to a lot of change over a year.

  • Something bigger is always on the horizon. Wherever you are, whatever you’re going through, realize that something big is always coming your way. We all have massive challenges ahead of us, and the more we can grow before that point, the more prepared we will be to manage.



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