Four Lessons on Work-Life Balance from Stand-Up Paddle Boarding

Just back from a quick paddle on a holiday weekend! I was out in the water for only an hour but was gone for almost two because of some crazy traffic! The line of cars coming out of Lanikai Beach was as bad as I’ve ever seen it. 20 minutes to get 1/2 mile. Ugh.

Anyway, besides learning (re-learning?) why I should never go to the beach on a Labor Day holiday I also came up with a couple of lessons for us all relating to keeping our lives in alignment and balanced from my time on the water with my SUP.

Stand up paddle surfing (SUP), or in the Hawaiian language, Hoe he’e naluis one of the key components of my work-life balance portfolio. For me, there are very few other things that have all four of the elements of what I consider health in one activity. It’s of course a very physical thing with all that paddling, squatting and swimming (Everyone doesn’t get this opportunity while SUP-ing. Mostly just me when I fall off and have to chase my board).

I usually go out paddling with friends or my family so it’s very relational strength-building. SUP-ing is also a time for me to be away from all the distractions and connections that would short circuit if brought out on the ocean, i.e. my phone, laptop or iPad. Being disconnected allows me to connect more with my thoughts (mental) and my soul (spiritual). The board and paddle were pretty expensive (about $1800) but if I calculate my ROI on ALL four of those health elements it’s pretty fabulous life BALANCE insurance.

As I was out paddling today that mental aspect had me thinking about the similarities of balance in life and balance on my board. Here’s what I came up with between catching some waves and on the paddle in. Add your thoughts in the comments section.

It’s Easier To Stay Balanced When You’re Moving

It’s the classic beginner mistake: focusing on not falling off instead of focusing on moving forward. It is soooo much easier to stay balanced when we’re moving then when we’re stopped. Don’t have a SUP? Can’t relate? Get your bicycle out, hop on, put your feet on the peddles but don’t peddle, and see what happens. Back? Came to the same conclusion? Thought so.

Movement is good in surfing and in life. In fact one of my favorite all time quotes is “You can’t steer at ship that isn’t moving.” Now, it’s not just moving that’s important but moving forward in the direction of your goals. Hemmingway warns us about this very same thing when he says

[quote align="left" width="30%"]"Never confuse movement with action."[/quote]

If you’re going to fall, at least fall forward. Keep your goals in mind and keep moving towards them.

Watch Out for Those Rogue Waves

Speaking of falling, sometimes we get hit when we don’t expect it and bam! we’re swept right off the board! Even today, with only a small swell running, I fell off while frantically trying to paddle over a wave I didn’t expect. (It was especially embarrassing as a bunch tourist were paddling by at just that moment!)

The thing is that wave didn’t come out of nowhere. Technically, it’s probably been working its way to shore for hours and hours and I just happened to be in its path. It certainly didn’t just spring up just when I was paddling by. In fact, if I was paying attention I could have adjusted my speed or my direction and maybe shifted my weight just right for that “rogue” swell to pass quietly by.

One of the things a SUP gives us is the ability to get above the water line and see out to the horizon. This added elevation (because we’re standing) allows us to better position and adjust to be in the right place at the right time.

In my life, keeping a calendar and task list allows me to elevate and see what’s coming. I am constantly scanning weeks in advance (sometimes months), keeping an eye on the horizon to spot those rogue events or projects that, if I’m not careful, will sweep off the rest of my priorities and land me flat on my back, pressured and stressed out, trying to pick up the pieces. My wife and I share Google Calendars so we can compare schedules every month and prepare for what’s coming. This is helpful to keep from bumping into our family’s time and activities. I use Omnifocus to keep track of my to-do’s and task list and have for the past several years. It’s pretty GTD-centric, which I like, but flexible and powerful enough for pretty much any implementation.


Take it easy. Easier said then done. It happens every time I try too hard. I’m thinking a little extra oomph will be just what I need to catch that wave or get my speed up so I tense up and pull super hard. This immediately has me too far on one side, so I scramble back to the other, flip my paddle, lose control and I’m belly floping unceremoniously off my board. When I’m tensing up on my board, or in life, I deliberately think about smoothing things out, relaxing and taking it easy. I heard a surf photographer say that he actually sings the theme song from “The Brady Bunch” when he’s about to get pounded at Pipeline. Try it the next time you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed by it all. Sing it out loud if you have to. Yeah. Maybe not.


Get Back Up

And you will fall off. We all do. I remember one time I fell off and got back on so many times in one session I actually got a rash on my stomach from standup paddling! When I’m falling off a lot, and starting to get frustrated, I try to remember why I’m there. I’m out on the water for some pretty specific things, not the least of which is straight up fun. I’m there because I know that it refuels me and it’s beautiful and it’s good for my soul. These reasons helps me get back up, grab the paddle again and keep on going.

Keep your vision, your purpose, your reason for being in mind when things start falling around you and you’ll find it that much easier to get back up. It’ll still be hard but you’ll get up.


Balance is balance is balance. Lessons learned in one place, if we’re open and observant, transfer to others. I’m not complaining about that traffic, by the way. It’s still one of the most beautiful beaches on earth and I’m thankful I was there.

That’s it for me but add your comments in the section below and we’ll see what other parallels we can find.


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Leave a Reply 2 comments

NEENZ - September 4, 2012 Reply

Great analogy. Time at the beach allows for spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical development which translates to peace of mind. Mahalo!

Kaʻala Souza - September 4, 2012 Reply

Hey Neenz! Thanks for the comment 🙂 I’ve been so “busy” that I’ve neglected that beach time and it shows. Got make it happen. Aloha!

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