Unexpected Inspiration from a surfer

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Think of him while on vacation this winter … or financial planning

With a plan you put the odds in your favour

Recently while on a Dominican vacation, I had the unique opportunity to take surfing lessons from a local surf school in Macao Beach.  We were four couples excited and nervous about surfing for the first time.  We knew surfing was challenging so we headed out with both optimism and a bit of fear.

We were picked up by a 23 year old surf instructor named Daniel, and as we weaved through traffic, we inquired about their success rate, “In your lessons, what percent of people successfully get up on their boards?”  He did not hesitate when he said “Almost all of them.”

How could this be, I mean, almost all of them? Come on.  I immediately thought he was stringing along our naive group who actually believed we could surf.  Oh great, we were in the middle of a tourist trap. 

He continued, “Many people don’t take lessons.  They rent a board and try to surf.  We see it all the time and they don’t often get up.”

It was his next comment that got me thinking.  Very confidently he stated, “It’s simple.  You need 3 things to learn to surf.  First, you need the right board, second the right instructor, and third the right waves.  We make sure you have all three.  This is why each of you will be surfing by the end of the day.”  I have reflected many times on these words since then.

As the day went on I learned many things.  Firstly, I learned to surf successfully as did my 7 companions.  Preparation was key, as we took much time on the beach to master the movements on dry land.  We were assigned a specific board for our height, weight, agility, balance etc.  We each had a personal instructor dedicated to us.  When we headed into the waves the instructors chose the waves to our ability.  At the start of the day, as a great wave approached my instructor would say “Not this one yet.  Maybe later.”  By the end of the day, we were letting the smaller ones pass by and holding out for the bigger ones.  With each attempt, wipe-out, and success, he would give me advice like “Next time you paddle faster,” or “Turn your right foot out,” or “Move back on your board.”  These are things I would never have instinctively done on my own.  I can tell you I gained much respect that day for the skill it takes to surf and their guidance that got me there.

It was an amazing day, and an experience I would recommend to anyone.  Yet – at the onset I was on guard and sceptical despite their obvious expertise.

I have reflected on my experience and Daniel’s words about the three things you need to learn to surf, many times since then.  I love the concise simple nature of the approach.  It focuses on doing the right things right and working on the basics.   Having a plan and a coach increases your odds significantly over jumping in blindly with both feet.  This applies to many facets of life.  Naturally, I’m brought back to financial planning.

I reflect on how often in the financial industry we say that taking time with your financial planner is a good investment, but with so many complicated topics and products perhaps we need to put more effort to clarify the simple steps and help people understand why.  With a plan you put the odds in your favour.

A mentor once told me you need to be ‘brilliant at the basics’ and the rest will follow.  I would never have compared surfing to financial planning in a million years if it weren’t for Daniels explanation and how the day played out.  I’m a planner by nature so these words spoke to me; take time to prepare, be sure your basics are covered and you have a solid foundation.  Follow the plan and focus on doing the right things right. 

Whether we are talking about a combination of the right board, the right wave, the right instructor, for surfing success; or the right needs analysis, investor profile, and financial planner for financial planning success, it’s a similar philosophy that can be extended to so many areas of life.

Who knew I would gain such a wonderful new perspective on the need for a planned approach from a surfer dude.  Inspiration and reflection can truly come from anywhere. 


Link to column as it appeared in Elgin This Month October 2012 edition (page 24)


Stephanie Farrow, B.A., CFP.,  Stephanie has over 20 years experience in the financial services industry, a diploma in Financial Planning from the Canadian Institute of Financial Planning, and Certified Financial Planner designation.  Stephanie has been writing a financial planning column for the local business magazine Elgin This Month since 2010 and hosts our Farrow Financial Blog and Twitter @farrowfinancial.  Stephanie and her husband Ken Farrow own Farrow Financial Services Inc., are busy raising three young children and actively involved in the community. Our Farrow Financial Services Team.