My Momma called me a water baby. I had gills. I swam speed. I was on the synchronized swim team. In high school, I played water polo. But while I was athletic, I was not much of a competitor. The synchro team did travel, compete and medal in the Junior Olympics (pre-Olympic synchronized swimming), but it is a judged sport. Much like gymnastics or diving, you are competing against the judges’ bias. Most other sports require you to take a risk. There is the nanosecond when a pitched ball comes at you, that you have to decide to swing. The mental calculations happen faster than a blink. Researchers have determined that the decision to swing fires in the muscles BEFORE the brain gives a single. All the brain says is: potential hit.And so we swing at an odds ratio. If we have a chance at a hit, we swing.
I watched the video clip on Grind.com of Kelly Slater’s winning ride at Trestles. For those of you not in the know, Kelly Slater is a surf master. The Sesame Street grouping goes like this: Tony Hawk=skateboards. Tiger Woods=golf. Wayne Grestsky=hockey. Tim Tebow=football. Some of these guys have passed their prime and some are just starting. ALL of them dominate their sport to a level of mastery that exceeds all their peers so profoundly, their records will be impossible to beat.
The unique thing about all of them…about most sports and sporting activities….is the blink decision to take the shot, the hit, the swing. You have to decide to drop over the edge of the halfpipe, the wave, the cliff. Most of use can’t step off the curb without an act of Congress. We can’t pee without a hallpass. Someone else has to give us permission or directions. We wait for Garmen to tell us where to turn. We divest all risk and out source all risktaking decisions. Why? Is it that we don’t want to fail? Is it about averages? I am sure that most of these master champions will not quote their numbers. It is not the number of waves Slater has taken. It is not the number of green jackets or perfect scores or Stanley cups. It is the double eagle on the par 5 from a sand trap with an obstructed lie. It is the crushing tube you scream out of as it collapses behind you. It is the 15 car pile up that crumples in your exhaust as you speed through the pocket. It is the risk and the adrenaline. I am certain ALL of these athletes also can tell you about the perfect opportunity they SHOULD have taken and didn’t. They paused one nanosecond too long and it got away. In retrospect, they recalculate and know had they swung, it would have cleared the green monster. And those instances rank close to the risks taken and owned. The connection between the presentation of a chance with the decision to take the risk is where the magic happens. There is elegance in these masters’ efforts. They don’t flail and swing at every brick toss towards the plate. For every seemingly impulsive moment of madness when they drop over the edge into the new powder there is an equal measure of hesitation and patience to wait for the next one. And it is the faith that there will always be a next one. The perfect wave could be the very next wave and taking it means the perfect ride of a life.