A surfer's guide to creativity
A view from Wayne Deakin

A surfer's guide to creativity

Following the white water of all the months of being locked down and stuck inside, what’s now clear on the horizon is better things are coming.

With the easing of lockdown restrictions, rising vaccination rates and a predicted heatwave set to erase all memory of a wash-out May, thoughts are turning to summer. Barbecues. Beaches. Foreign climes for the bold of heart. And especially for Aussies like me, surfing. 

Which got me thinking. Because to me, surfing isn’t a hobby but a throughout-the-year commitment. Just like it’s not just something for holidays but an important part of me I bring to – and which profoundly impacts on – my work.

Now at this point I should stress: I am no Aussie hippie. Yes, I grew up in a small fishing village and learned to surf at the age of five. And competing in professional surfing competitions was what I did for a while, travelling the world, when I got older. But the clichés end there. 

For a start, there are numerous benefits you get from surfing – especially when, like I am, you are neurodiverse. When I was young, it was an escape from being classed as different or disruptive. It took me to a calm place, even if the waves were insanely big. 

Eventually, I fell into this industry, and the value of the lessons I’ve learned in the ocean when applied to my agency life has often struck me over the many years since. To be clear, I’m not talking about the value of physical exercise, though that is important. Rather, it’s about the way it affects your mindset and mental health.

When you surf, it allows you to focus and push out all the other shit cluttering your world. It’s all about keeping your eyes up, not down, as your attention is set on the next big wave set. It also pushes you to think: what next can I conquer?

Against the scale – and force – of the ocean, you are infinitesimal, vulnerable and small, which is both confidence-building and brilliantly humbling. You are forced to be adaptable, flexible and mentally tough by a landscape – OK, seascape – that is always unpredictable and in constant flux.

As an ECD, part of my job is to empower and build confidence in my team. But I don’t do this with team-building days out to the beach. 

Instead, it’s about the subtler, non-verbal ways in which you communicate. The inner confidence you convey walking into a room that builds trust, for example. Openness. A coaching mentality. A sense of calm.

On a critical pitch, there will always be factors outside your control and your only approach is to do your best. Which is why on one occasion, 15 minutes in when I could see the client wasn’t buying what we were saying, I called a stop to it and said: let’s talk. 

When you surf you learn quickly to read your situation. And having stopped that pitch, after talking with the client for another hour – human to human and really connecting, the pitch was won.

Following the white water of all the months of being locked down and stuck inside, what’s now clear on the horizon is better things are coming. 

Also clear is that what’s important now is to get back out there. To go outside and do stuff that makes you and the people around you feel better.

So go on, get stuck in and get out there. Embrace nature, don’t fear it. I’m no leadership guru – nor a fitness one, for that matter. But a surfing mentality is one I cherish that’s delivered big time when it comes to work. And it continues to do so.

Wayne Deakin is an executive creative director EMEA at Huge

Picture: Guinness "Surfer" by Diageo

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