Blue sky, warm weather, and smallish waves – the conditions were perfect for my first surfing lesson.  But this was to be no ordinary lesson.  Thanks to Women in Focus, a Commonwealth Bank initiative to inspire, inform and connect women in business, I stood on Manly Beach with butterflies in my belly, awaiting the arrival of 7-time world champion surfer Layne Beachley.

As Layne skipped down the steps to the beach, toned, tanned and terrific, I was determined to make the next two hours count.  After all, how many people get the opportunity to learn to surf from the most successful female surfer of all time?

But what I learned was far more than how to surf.  Because the lessons Layne gave us would be equally valid if applied to our businesses, our careers, and our lives.

Here are 5 things this goofy-foot learned from Layne Beachley.

Learn just enough to take action, then ACT!

My surf lesson buddy and I lay on our boards on the sand and Layne showed us some basics, had us perform them  a few times, gave us specific feedback, then she said, “That’s enough theory, let’s get out there!”

The only way to really learn is to practice what you’ve been taught.  You can stay on the sand forever, but if you never get in the water, you’ll never learn to surf.  When you’ve got the theory down, you still only know about something.  It’s in taking action that you can truly say that you know.

It’s all about balance and focus

Lay anywhere other than the centre of your surfboard, and you’ll tip over before you’ve even started.  Look at your feet instead of where you’re headed, and you’ll tip over.   Start thinking of something other than surfing (like waving at your husband and kids on the beach) and you’ll tip over.

If you want to succeed, you need to block out everything else, centre yourself physically and mentally, and be completely present in the moment.

Want the outcome, but don’t make it about the outcome

I wanted to stand on that board badly, and before each wave I said “This is the one!”  But when it came time to actually surfing, it wasn’t about standing up.  It was about doing what Layne told me to do.  Plant your back foot down.  Feel the balance.  Bend your knees.  Doing little things and getting feedback from Layne was the lesson from each wave.  Yes, it was about standing up and surfing, but at the same time it wasn’t.

You’ve got to have goals, but focusing on the end goal, while inspiring, isn’t going to get you there in the heat of the moment.  Make it about the little things you need to do, the steps you need to take.  Accept that learning takes time and patience.  Then you’ll get to the outcome.


If you’re going to do it, bring everything you’ve got to it

Layne Beachley does not do anything by halves.  She may be retired from pro surfing, but she still surfs every day and lives an amazingly full life.  As we waited our turn for a wave, she watched the little kids who were surfing – the “grommets,” she called them – with an admiring eye and a smile on her face.  Her passion for surfing was undeniable.

As I got knocked over by waves, involuntarily clearing out my sinuses time and time again, I would turn around and make my way back to Layne, determined to have another go.  When I finally stood up on the board for a split second, I let out a “woo hoo!” and turned around to see Layne grinning and clapping.

Later, on the beach, Layne told me that enthusiasm and determination are musts, and that she loves working with people who bring it, whether they stand on the board or not.

When you’re with a master, be the student

There’s no question – Layne was in complete control during out lesson.  And that is as it should be.

Successful people know when to be in charge, and when to hand over control to someone else.  When you’re learning to surf from the best female surfer of all time, it’s clearly time to surrender control and simply trust.

Don’t bother getting a mentor if you’re going to argue with them, if you’re not going to listen to what they have to say, or if you’re more concerned with looking silly than with learning.  Coachable people –whether it’s in surfing or in leadership – are there to be good, not to be right.  Clinging to a need for control will wreck your opportunity to make changes that will lead you to ultimate success, and is disrespectful to the mentor you’re working with.

Generosity and brilliant memories

As I stood on the beach after my lesson and watched the ever-generous Layne Beachley signal to my two sons, then take them out for a quick surf, I felt so honoured and humbled by what had just happened.  The weather was still warm, the sun was still out, but the butterflies were long gone.

It was a world champion experience.