Category Archives: Risk Taking

Surfing: The Power of Trying Something Hard

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Let’s face it. Surfing is hard.

This is the least embarrassing photo, which says something

This is the least embarrassing photo, which says something

I just returned from a week surfing with Hillary Harrison at Peaks and Swells Surf Camp in Costa Rica. In the four years since John and I first went to Hillary’s camp my surfing hasn’t exactly improved. Granted, I’m a fair weather surfer. From the get go, I knew that surfing would never replace skiing as the sport I obsess about. I never planned on checking the swell forecast as carefully as I follow low pressure snow-producing storms in the Pacific.

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Smiles, sunset, surf and fresh coconut

But now, that might be changing.

First, let me tell you about the surf camp. It’s not just about surfing. There’s also yoga, massage, and all-organic meals. And of course, the daily walk to Montezuma for gelato. This place is more like a retreat than a “camp.” Every detail is handled for you, and once you arrive there are no real decisions to make. We attended the family camp with John’s daughter. One of the most appealing components of surfing is the fact that we can do it as a family. I’m not the kind of parent that truly loves watching the kids while they do their own sport (is anyone?). I’d rather be in there too, cheering alongside them.

The coaches at Peaks and Swells are fabulous. Each one of them exudes positivity. Lead instructor Victoria Ross actually smiles the entire time she’s talking. I tried it on for size, but it sounds ridiculous on me (and I’m okay with that). Victoria is an Aussie, so the accent helps. But her happy vibe infected every of her students. Even in the midst of their own cool surfer style, somehow all the instructors bring you along with them on the ride. This is a very special place.

Learning the pop up

Victoria teaching the pop-up

What I learned at Peaks and Swells is the importance (and the power) of sucking. It’s okay not to excel. It’s fine to look clumsy and awkward. It’s normal to be embarrassed. The first day of surfing at Peaks and Swells ends in a photo and video viewing of the day’s adventures in the water, and those feelings of awkward embarrassment are impossible to avoid. So I figured that I might as well embrace them.

If you never let yourself look like an ass, than you probably aren’t learning anything new. Which means you probably aren’t growing. The pressure to look good, and stylish, and coiffed, and camera-ready at all times is higher than ever. It’s only when you stop worrying about what you might look like that you really drop into flow. Only when you cease thinking of yourself from the third person and truly step into who you are in the moment, can you find happiness.

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The sunset is always stylish

Trying something hard, like surfing, is a risk. There’s a risk (albeit small) of getting injured. But the bigger risk is simply embarrassing yourself. One of the surf coaches last week quoted a recent student you asked her, “when does the sexy part of surfing start?”

Let me be clear. Surfing is not sexy when you’re a beginner. There’s nothing sexy or stylish about that roll of wet snot dripping from your nose when you first pop up on your board. Nor is it very sexy when your bathing suit comes unseated from around your backside. The red eyes from that surprise wave that crashed on your head and the bruises on your hips and elbows from your failed pop-ups don’t scream sexy either.

Beginners are just surviving out there. We don’t care about what we look like. That is, until the photos go up on the screen during happy hour and we wonder yet again, so when does the sexy part start?

Evelyn makes it look easy

Evelyn makes it look easy

But I applaud every single person carrying their ungainly boards out into the surf to give it a go anyways. You’re putting yourself out there. You’re trying something hard.

I’ve written about this before, but adversity is good for you. Trying (and even sucking at) something new changes your brain. We crave novelty. Our brains release dopamine when we have a new experience. It’s the brain’s way of telling us to keep at it. When old habits and skills no longer require much of us, it’s time to pick up a new skill. In addition to surfing this week, I learned another important skill. Humility.

But there are moments that make it all worthwhile. When you catch the wave just right–for me it was catching a green wave and popping up in time to feel myself drop into the trough–the feeling buoys you up. You are in flow. You completely forget about what you look like from the outside; instead you are focused entirely on the task before you. And when surfing is the task before you, there’s nothing quite like it.

Except, of course, skiing powder.

Off The Grid

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The open path before me

The open path before me, photo courtesy of Sue Ershler

Walt Whitman put it best when he said, “Afoot and lighthearted, I take to the open road. Healthy, free, the world before me. The long brown path before me leading me wherever I choose. Henceforth, I ask not good fortune, I myself am good fortune. Henceforth, I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing.”

Tomorrow I leave for Sikkim, a state in India wedged between Bhutan and Nepal. I will be officially off the grid. Incommunicado. Out of the loop. Trekking through the Himalayas. Skirting Kanchenjunga. Completely unplugged.

But just in case you want to follow our progress, one member of our group will be posting satellite dispatches to his website markursino.com.

Satellite dispatches. Don’t you like the way that sounds? Feel free to follow along. Or not.

I have two radio shows “in the can,” as they say. So enjoy Tracy Moseley and Lynne Cox in the next two weeks. After that, we’ll see what happens. I’m up for anything.

Scary Gondola Ride

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Gondola in wind

Yikes

Mountain weather is the real deal. Wind, snow, sun, even rain can change a beautiful scene to a pretty darn scary one.  I found this video on unofficialnetworks and had to share it.

We often have to shut the upper mountain down at Crystal due to high winds. And sometimes that seems questionable, especially from the relative calm of the valley bottom. Take a look at this video and consider whether you’d rather be riding in this cabin in high wind wishing you were “down there” or standing at the bottom wishing you were “up there.” Yikes.

The Kind of Person that says WOO HOO

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Woo Hoo!!

“I wish I was the kind of person that said, Woo Hoo.” A college friend once told me. Sandra is elegant, she is sophisticated, she is well put-together. But she’s not the type of person to sling high-fives around and you know, yell at the top of her lungs.

Over the years I’ve wondered myself about the importance of the Woo Hoo. Am I the kind of person that says, Woo Hoo? What is the virtue of maximum enthusiasm?

What’s the value of not being cool and instead letting our excitement wash over us in an embarrassing vocal outburst?

When Sandra made that declaration all those years ago, I had agreed in a sort of “humble brag”. Too bad we aren’t like those pathetic frat boys getting all excited about the smallest little thing.

Dude! That was awesome! High-Five!

Instead I melted under a blanket of cool, blended into the gray surroundings of Evergreen State College, and didn’t make waves.

Now, as I embark again on the book publishing process, I’ve decided to make a change. I am going to be the kind of person that declares, Woo Hoo! anytime my new project gains even a slight bit of momentum. So, here I am waving my freak flag, because I have a new book and I have a new agent and he’s right now, as I type, sending it out to publishing houses.  And you know what? That deserves an all caps WOO HOO!!!

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Jumping for joy on the banks of the Salmon River

What is this new book about, you might ask? (I can hear you asking, and I’m letting out a very tiny woo hoo right now.) The book examines the risks and rewards in extreme sports. Looking at athlete’s stories and going beyond the “adrenaline junkie” stereotype to examine the brain science and experience of getting out on the edge.

One thing I’ve learned so far about the book publishing world, is that there’s no final destination. Instead, I have learned to celebrate each little milestone, every little moment and encouragement along the way. I’ll be keeping y’all posted on the book’s progress, and taking the time to high-five myself along the way (which isn’t as awkward as you might think, it’s kind of like clapping, but even better).

So you know what?

WOO HOO!!

Wingsuit Flying: Pushing (and Shoving) the Envelope

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JT Holmes

JT Holmes

When JT Holmes and Andy Farrington take to the skies, they aren’t just falling through the air.

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Listen now

They’re flying. BASE jumpers, wing suit pilots, skiers, and stuntmen, JT and Andy are quintessential thrill seekers.

But what arms these two with the ability to leap over the edge? When every cell in their body must be telling them to step away from the abyss, how can they counter that urge for self-preservation and take that jump?

Every season more jumpers take to the skies, and every season more of them die.

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Redbull Airforce team member Andy Farrington

Do these two guys ever get scared? And if so, do they ever listen to those fears and walk away.

Or does their sport require them to ignore that tiny voice on their shoulder reminding them to BE CAREFUL? I’ll be asking these questions and more this week when I interview them both on my show.

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Andy is returning to The Edge Radio this week along with JT to talk about BASE jumping, wingsuit flying and their upcoming project with Red Bull, when they go to the Juneau icecap to explore the edge of airborne and snow sports. You don’t want to miss this one. Leave your comments or questions here and I’ll be sure to ask. Or call in at 1-888-346-9144 live tomorrow at 8am.

The Power of a First Descent

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At the age of 13, Brad Ludden’s parents told him he could do anything he wanted with his life. He took it literally and did the thing he loved the most–whitewater kayaking. By 18 he was living his dream; he had signed on as Nike’s first sponsored whitewater kayaker, was on the cover of Outside Magazine, traveling the globe in search of first descents on remote rivers, and filming with the largest production companies in the outdoor industry.

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Brad Ludden dropping in at Khao Yai

Despite all of his success, something was missing. Brad wanted to share the positive bounty of whitewater kayaking by giving the gift of outdoor adventure to others who needed it more.

After watching his Aunt fight cancer, he started First Descents, an organization that provides free outdoor adventure therapy to young adults with cancer. The organization has helped over 2,000 young adults live beyond their disease by providing them free multi-day adventure experiences.

Brad is an excellent example of someone spreading the love. Perhaps because of his early success, and the ultimate push to ever-increasing risk that comes with it, Brad saw beyond his own experiences. He turned his striving for excellence into a desire to share his experiences with others.

Brad could have simply brought his friends kayaking. Or he could have been happy with the first 15 clients that experienced the transformative power of moving water that first summer. But that wasn’t enough.

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Brad is still in the forefront at First Descents, opening new participants to outdoor adventures, and his work is truly making a difference.

Join me this Wednesday at 8 am Pacific on The Edge Radio when I talk to Brad Ludden about his own first descents, the First Descents organization and the power of getting out on the edge.

Ziplining Just Like Real Housewives

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Adventure Zip Big Sky, MT

High Thrill No Skill

I’m a stepmom. So when my step-daughter wants to go ziplining, I oblige. After all, that’s the beauty of being a stepmom. I get to have all the fun and not (as much) of the responsibility. I’m like a really close aunt to the very best 11 year old in the universe.

On a recent trip to Big Sky, Montana, Evelyn wasn’t the only one encouraging me to try the new Adventure Zip. The employees were proud of this new four line trip that included a traverse 200 feet high, a rappel and the chance for some great photo ops.

Ziplining is fun, but it isn’t scary. I’ve always thought it a bit pedestrian–a high thrill, no skill activity for people who don’t live and play in the outdoors. But still, I was game. Especially since my step-daughter really really wanted to zip with me. How could I refuse?

When our small group of clients and guides met to don our full-body harnesses and helmets, I was a little surprised by the fear rising from the group. At first I wondered if I had signed up for something else. But no, this was the Adventure Zip–four cable rides through the trees of the lower slopes of the ski area. How hard could it be?

If The Real Housewives Can Do It…

I’m inspired by people who face their fears. And when I met Laura and Janet–two sisters from New York City–I almost envied them their fear. Jacked up on adrenaline, these two women twittered nervously on the chairlift ride and short hike to the first line. Having grown up in the city, Laura only recently learned to drive a car. And ziplining was definitely not in her wheelhouse. She was afraid of heights.

Chairlift ride to the zipline

Chairlift ride to the zipline

“So why ziplining?” I ask Laura.

“Because I want to face my fears.” She says. “And if the Real Housewives of Orange County can do it, so can I.”

Apparently the Real Housewives–a reality show populated by privileged women who gossip and kvetch about the difficulties of being pampered–recently went to Costa Rica to try ziplining.

As I stood at the top of the first metal platform, prepared to launch into the trees, I tried to conjure up a little fear and adrenaline. Maybe because my step daughter has nerves of steel, or maybe because it just didn’t look that scary, I stepped off with an even heartbeat and dry palms. It was fun. It was fast. I liked it.

And at the bottom platform, I did feel a little dopamine boost.

Facing Fear

Then Laura stepped off the far platform and sailed through the trees. Her body was scrunched tight like the guides had instructed. The only skill involved in ziplining is grabbing the orange rope on the other side so you don’t slide back into the middle sag of the line.

This should be the cover of the brochure

This should be the cover of the brochure

Laura took that job seriously. She reached her open palm to the rope, her hands shaking like an aspen leaf in a windstorm, and grabbed it on the first try. She landed on the platform and started crying tears of joy.

I was impressed. Here was a woman facing her fears. As the morning progressed, Laura’s fear receded. She opened her eyes on the next line, and let out a little whoop of joy at the end of the final zip. She’d conquered her fear.

Me, I shared a fun morning with my step-daughter, impressed by her unflappable courage.

As we walked down from the final platform into the village I felt a part of that energy too. We can all push ourselves to try new adventures–whether ziplining, kite boarding (haven’t tried it yet, but I’m getting there), or doing live radio–facing our fears only makes us better people.

So I’m curious. What fears have you faced lately?