Laird Hamilton, Using Your Fear
Laird Hamilton is a big wave surfer. He co-created tow-in surfing with Buzzy Kerbox and Dave Kalama in the 1990s. For those unfamiliar with the term, tow-in surfing is when a jet ski or helicopter is used to literally tow a surfer into a wave that would otherwise be too large or in too precarious of a situation for a surfer to paddle into. Before Laird and his buddies created tow-in, surfers weren’t capable of catching these “dinosaurs,” as Laird refers to waves between 30 and 50 feet tall.
Surfing these types of waves requires you to get comfortable with your fear. Laird described the experience of riding Tahiti’s Teahupo’o, one of the world’s most dangerous waves, this way: “As soon as I released it was full commitment. You don’t kind of let go. You don’t kind of ride waves—you either ride them or you don’t. When I was riding this one, I had an inner battle. I had a fight with myself about jumping off or staying on. I had the two guys in my brain and one was like, ‘Oh, you better jump off,’ and the other was like, ‘If you jump off you can’t make it.’ At the end the good guy won. I stayed on and I made the wave. But for the length of time you’re on that wave—eight seconds, ten seconds—it’s the longest eight or ten seconds of your life. There is enough time to have a conference call with yourself and battle about what to do and what not to do.”
That inner monologue was Laird Hamilton navigating his fear. His ability to control, understand, and overcome his fear during those eight or ten seconds was the difference between success and failure, between life and death.
While most of us will never tow-in surf, we all must deal with our fears on a daily basis. Or as Laird puts it, “The way you use your fear, that’s what separates people.”
In my experience, to use your fears, you must first build a friendship with them. This requires that you know they exist. While some fears might be more conscious—think fear of heights or water—quite often we are unaware of our fears. We let them unconsciously determine our actions. Getting to know our unconscious fears,such as fear of intimacy or fear of failure, is more difficult. It requires self-discovery work to bring them to the surface. Some of my preferred methods of self-discovery are meditation, journaling, exercise, yoga, and working with a mentor or therapist.
The combination of solitary contemplation and trusted non-biased feedback will help you identify your fear, aka blockage. Once you are aware of those fears, you can begin to build a relationship with them. By anticipating their arrival and building coping mechanisms, you’re equipping yourself to embrace your fears rather than to run from them.
Your goal is to be like Laird Hamilton and be able to quiet these fears. Say to them, “Good to see you today. I know you’re here, but I also know I am not going to allow you to dictate my actions. Thanks for making sure I don’t do anything too stupid, but I am going to keep moving forward for as long as I can keep you at bay.” Until you can rise above your fears, you will limit what is possible in all aspects of your life. Whether it is starting your own business, developing fulfilling relationships, or tow-in surfing on a fifty-foot wave, you have desires whose realization is limited solely by your threshold for fear. Laird Hamilton explains what he does by saying, “In doing what I do, I feel like I’m living life.” When you understand and embrace your fears, you too will live a more enriched and fulfilling existence.