Throughout my 19-year surfing career, I had to find ways to reinvent myself every single year to stay motivated. It is as simple as looking for incremental improvements but before I started winning consistently, I was in the game of blame. Everything that could possibly enhance or improve my situation was externalised. It was always someone else’s fault for losing. There was always an excuse or a reason or a story as to why I wasn’t winning.
In 1997, I went to a professional development course called ‘Money and You’ because I had a pretty serious block around money. I was No.2 in the world but I was still working up to 60 hours a week in 4 different jobs. So it was all a little bit challenging! I went along to this course and the one thing I recall learning after being in the room the whole first day was the importance of personal accountability and responsibility.
The next morning, I went surfing very early, knowing I had to be at the class. My leg rope kept getting under my feet and I naturally went back into my old pattern of blaming the leg rope; my feet had slipped off the board so I blamed the wax, and my board wasn’t working so I blamed the board. Then I realised I’d gone back into that externalised projection of the blame game and I had to laugh. The universe was presenting me with an opportunity to become aware, and I was still blaming everybody else and not taking responsibility. I sat up on my board for a second and thought, “I chose this board to ride this morning. I chose the wax that I put on it, and I chose how I put the leash on my ankle. So why is it everything else’s fault?”. I learnt a really valuable lesson around personal accountability and responsibility.
Soon after this I met someone who presented me with the opportunity to do a rebirthing. I went along to this experience with my eyes, heart and mind wide open. It made me aware of my very deep-seated fear of rejection that emanated all the way back to my birth, because I was adopted at birth. I’d never put two and two together.
When I became aware of my fears, they no longer controlled my life. If you want to know what you fear, just have a look at your life, and the aspects that aren’t working. After doing that experience and becoming aware of my fears, I was able to change my behaviours and my thoughts. I won my first world title only a year later.
To maintain my position at the top of the world, I had to continue to reinvent myself and find new ways to improve. The advantage I have as an athlete is that I’m always soliciting feedback and constructive criticism. I have always surrounded myself with great coaches.
I’ve worked with my surf coach, Steve Foreman, since 1994. I still work with him today because I always like to improve and fine-tune my technique. The first time I met Steve, I asked him if I could work with him, because I surf like a crab. He asked me, “What does a crab surf like?”, and I said, “Why don’t I just go out and show you?”. I caught a wave and came in, and he said, “Yes, in fact you do surf like a crab. I have good news and bad news. The good news is that, yes, we’ll work together, and the bad news is everything you know you need to let it go and start again.”
For me, coaching is about building and maintaining a relationship with someone that can be honest with you, give you constructive criticism, valuable feedback and share in your success and failures. The great thing about working with a team, is that they share in every aspect of your journey. Finding people who elevate you, embrace you, nurture you, support you and encourage you is incredibly important. There are many dream thieves and life vampires out there that don’t want to see you succeed.
Another important coach for me was my personal trainer Rob Rowland-Smith. He brought out the best in me physically, mentally and emotionally. He trained me harder than I’ve ever been trained in my life, taking me outside my comfort zone in every single training session. My fitness became so reliable that I was incredibly confident irrespective of conditions. It didn’t matter what I’d face, I knew I could deal with it.
The difference between going from No.2 in the world to winning my first world title can partly be contributed to falling in love with a big wave surfer called Ken Bradshaw. He had so much belief in my ability that it was impossible to doubt myself. We removed the focus on pain and suffering, and we focused on the process. I already knew what the goal was: to win and to be the best version of myself. Ken eliminated a lot of the distractions, which allowed me to focus on my surfing. He would identify certain little things I was doing that were holding me back, such as spending too much time on my heels, for example. To eliminate that flaw in my technique, he made me walk around the house on my tippy toes all the time, to get my weight off my heels. I was always focusing on doing the little things each and every day that enabled me to stay ahead of where I was yesterday, which essentially was enabling me to stay ahead of my competition.
My surf coach would make me surf the most appalling conditions, because it highlights every flaw in my technique very quickly. There are short cuts to success – if you’re willing to expose yourself to them.
After I won my first world title, it was a matter of wiping the slate clean and starting again. Where am I right now and where do I want to be at the end of the year? I want to be world champion. What am I doing right now that is going to enable me to get there? What other skills or improvements can I bring into my repertoire that’s going to keep me ahead of the game? What is the competition doing and ensuring that you’re doing it better than them!
I remember being told by Pam Burridge, who was a former World Champion in 1990, “You only have to do enough to win”. That didn’t sit very well with me and I have never been comfortable with that statement. As a competitor, I had the compassion of a tiger shark! I wanted to win convincingly all the time. I never allowed the history books, other people’s opinion, or other people’s beliefs or limitations to determine who I was and what I can achieve. Occasionally I did, which compromised my own values, sacrificed my happiness and sabotaged my future success.
AIM FOR THE STARS FOUNDATOIN
When I was number two in the world, I was earning $8,000 a year from my sponsor at the time, Quiksilver. I was working 60 hours a week, at 4 different jobs, and travelling the pro-tour. Obviously I had very empathetic employers who continued to provide me with the opportunity to go off and tour, but it was a struggle.
Then in 1995, one of my employers at the Old Manly Boat Shed gifted me a $3,000 cheque and said, “I believe in you, I see how hard you’re working, I see how much you want this, here’s your next round-the-world air ticket.” That was a catalyst moment and gave me the opportunity to continue pursuing my ambition and dream. Knowing that I had the support and belief of somebody instilled a greater sense of confidence within me and 3 years later I won my 1 st world title.
After winning my 6 th consecutive world title I was presented with the opportunity to start the foundation. My own success, essentially, inspired me to start the Aim for the Stars Foundation. It was born through reflection – thinking back to my career, how challenging it was and how many times I wanted to quit due to financial burden and lack of support. The Foundation was created to prevent girls from having to endure that same level of financial hardship and challenge that I experienced in my career.
We provide financial and moral support for young girls and women to invest in their future, and fulfil their potential across all walks of life. We’re not just about athletes, we’re about empowering, enabling and encouraging young women to dare to dream, pursue the passion and aspire to achieve.
In 2015, we were really excited to help just over 20 girls, giving away $90,000 worth of grants. Through our fundraising, we’ve managed to double our available scholarships this year, helping 40 girls from 970 applicants. We give them $4,000 each and align them with a personal mentor. We bring them all to Sydney to meet the mentors, do goal-building, brand-building and values alignment workshops, and celebrate their success with a big annual fundraiser. As well as sharing some of my wisdom and knowledge, I also get to take them surfing! It only takes a really small amount of effort to create a long-lasting impact in someone’s life.
The girls become alumni and a support network for each other for years to come. That network of support is incredibly important for their future success. Caroline Buchanan, who’s a 5-time World Champion BMX rider, was a recipient in the same year as Megan Rutledge, who was a motor cross champion. They ended up becoming mentors for each other, because they understand each other’s world. Caroline was even reaching out to Megan during the Olympics in 2012. We’vehelped about 450 girls over the last 13 years and given away around $800,000 worth of grants. It is my intention to continue expanding. We’ve also just launched an online mentoring program called Stars2Leaders for anyone who has come through our scholarship program.
Surfing Australia held a coaching forum recently, and one thing coaches don’t do enough of is share their intel. It’s a matter of getting together and sharing your knowledge, experience and wisdom to promote the whole industry. I’m seeing more surfers take on surf coaches than ever before, which is a fantastic thing as it’s such a challenging sport to master. The funny thing about surfing is how it feels can be very different to how it looks. At times it can be the polar opposite, so it’s really helpful to have a coach to keep things in perspective. I believe the greatest gift coaches can give is the sharing of knowledge, not only to their athletes but to other coaches as well.
There are a lot of athletes there that continue to make the same mistakes over and over again. They can’t seem to create the space or present themselves with the feedback required to change what they’re doing, and that’s where coaches come in. I believe leaders learn from other people’s mistakes, and fools love to learn from their own.
Powerful Stories, Tips and Amazing Insight
Ready, Set, Go! Everything you need to know to start coaching from the legends in the field. As well as the Business and Life coaches, our launch edition features David Parkin (AFL), Lisa Alexander (Netball Australia), Adam Commens (Hockey Australia), Simon Cusack (Swimming Australia), Sean Douglas (FFA) and many more!