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  • Writer's pictureFelix

Why surfers are the new "change agents" everyone needs

Ready to redefine organisational change manager persona and make the world a better place?

Today’s journal idea sparked my mind while working on a client project in need for a organisational change manager to join the team. But trust me - this isn’t just useful in the workplace; it applies to changes everywhere, both small and BIG or in between!

So dive into the read - who knows what awesome insights you’ll uncover for yourself? Maybe even some new change managers along your journey or in your community!


While it may be true that surfers are laid back, you will be wrong to think that their laid back nature makes them terrible at driving change. In fact, they actually make amazing change agents - not only in the environmental space!

We’ve seen surfers drive incredible changes, particularly in climate change efforts, from promoting reductions in emissions to stopping seismic testing, oil drilling off coasts, and plastic pollution in our waters. Some notable victories resulting from surfers championing their issues include the creation of the World Surfing Reserve endorsed by Portugese President Anibal Cavaco Silva to preserve a pristine surf spot, and the famous “Save Trestles, Stop the Toll Road” campaign that upheld a decision to deny a $1.3 billion extension of a state highway that would have impacted the Trestles surf site.

What makes them so effective at driving change?

Note: Journal picture created using Stable Diffusion v1.4 aka "AI" ;-)

Surfers have incredible patience and resilience that can weather out challenges and blockers to change.

Change takes patience. Surfers are stereotyped to be laid back and “chill” for a reason - they’ve spent a lot of time being patient waiting for the right wave, and if they get wiped out, they paddle back out for the next one.

They’re also not ones to quit - and are quite happy to ride lots of waves to get experience and confidence. Surfers must also adapt to changing weather conditions that they can’t control, so they learn to take a step back and only control what they can control. Change often involves dealing with many factors that can’t be controlled, and sometimes takes time.

Becoming a good surfer doesn’t happen overnight, and getting there takes numerous falls in the water (aka “wipeouts” ) and even more wipeouts before they learn to read the waves and make something out of it. Similarly, change takes resilience and patience to experiment, fail fast, and continuously adapt and improve until they can successfully ride the wave.

They can seize the moment which can maximise the key moments and opportunities that can drive the success of your change.

Surfers are also excellent at seizing the moment; the first step in driving change is often the hardest that many can easily procrastinate on, or spend too much time analysing.

Surfers don’t have time to analyse - they take the opportunity and adapt as it comes. When a great wave comes, they never know when the next one will be, so there really isn’t a better time to take action.

Patience is key for start ups

Surfers are stereotyped to be laid back and “chill” for a reason - they’ve spent a lot of time being patient waiting for the right wave, and if they get wiped, they come right back for the next one. Gently bobbing in the water while waiting for the right wave lets your mind slip away from worries - stressing about a wave doesn’t help the wave come, and neither does stressing about your business. Patience is important. The right wave doesn’t come by often, but spend time waiting for the right wave, and you’ll be rewarded.

Surfers can connect like-minded people to inspire change.

Talking to strangers comes naturally to surfers, whether it’s getting a feel for safety hazards at the surf spot, complimenting someone’s sick carving on a wave, or even just getting to know them. The ability to connect with like-minded people and inspire them toward a common goal is invaluable for driving change, especially in today’s society when talking to strangers doesn’t come naturally.

They have a good cause after all - sea levels are predicted to rise by up to six feet by 2100, potentially swallowing beaches, reducing the area available for recreation activities, and damaging healthy ecosystems. The “Save Trestles, Stop the Toll Road” campaign resulted in 35,000 written statements on the issue being sent to federal officials at the time, made possible only through organised efforts to inspire and connect people towards the cause.

They think about long-term sustainability.

McKinsey & Company’s 2017 survey of approximately 2,000 organisations identified that one of the top factors responsible for change outcomes include “planning from day 1 for long-term sustainability of changes”. Surfers have long been at the front of climate change initiatives, driving sustainability initiatives to ensure that the beaches and the water can be enjoyed for generations to come and because it’s scary to think about the possibility that this generation could be the last to enjoy the likes of the Great Barrier Reef.

Change is only effective if it sticks. Climate change can’t be fixed with one-off changes that eventually disappear into the waves; it involves changing mindsets toward long-term environmental sustainability. Similarly, sustainability of the effects of change is important for any change program

It’s fair to say with the successes that the surfing community has had on environmental sustainability, there are a few lessons we can take from them to inspire and create change, whether it is in our organisations, communities or personal lives.

Be a better change agent - think like a surfer.

Want to know more or need support?

As founders ourselves we know how challenging it is to navigate the rough ocean waves of the startup world. So get in touch with us if you are getting started or if you're stuck in a rip.

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