Navigating Risk in Extreme Sports: 2 Big Wave Case Studies


Extreme sport may seem crazy to some, but to others there’s a method to the madness!
I go deep into navigating risk with Doctor of Performance Psychology, John Coleman.
John talks about how each and every time you go out into a risky situation there’s a sequence that can be used to determine if it’s a good idea or not.
The 5 parts of this sequence is explained on The Youth Sport Podcast Episode 11 Part 2: Planning, Awareness, Flexibility, Motivation and Humility.
Here’s an example of risk navigation using the legendary Hawaiian surfer Eddie Aikau as an example.
The first part is planning
Author Stuart Holmes Coleman says in his book “Eddie would go, The Story of Eddie Aikau, Hawaiian Hero”:
Part 1: Planning “Like a dedicated student of oceanography, he had studied each surf spot, noting how and where the waves broke, how deep the reefs were, what direction the swells came in and how the weather affected them.”
If the conditions don’t look good after all of the planning, Part 2 and 3 come in: being Aware and being Flexible, in order to navigate risk that could be life threatening.
When participating in Extreme Sport the athlete has to assess their own fears in order to assess whether the risk is manageable based on the athlete’s acquired skill.
“We all have some fear, and it’s tough to admit to that. But the fear would be more a matter of cautious decision-making. There were some waves you wouldn’t take off on, and those would be waves you knew were going to drill you to the bottom. It was the kind of fear that made you careful.”
“Eddie then realized he had to return to the scene of the accident and face his fears. Including his fear of death.”
“As a legendary surfer once put it, big waves were not measured in feet but in increments of fear.”
With John Coleman being a mental performance coach he knows how important it is to make sure that mental training is integrated into the overall training of extreme sport.
“Surfing became a metaphor for his life: Eddie had to regain his balance and find the natural flow, or he was going to wipe out all over again. In this way, he rediscovered the danger and thrill of riding mountainous waves.”
What’s amazing is that John has called his Mental Performance Training program: FREE FLOW!
The last 2 Parts of Navigating risk according to John’s sequence is Motivation and Humility.
What is the motivation behind the activity? If it is about the ego, you’re in trouble!
If it’s about Humility, carry on!
“He says that many of the big-name riders who followed Eddie didn’t possess his sense of humility and courage.”
“Like Eddie, Jose was very humble and didn’t like boastful people. Jose had a reputation of being fearless in the water and on land, but he was still a man of flesh, blood and nerves. He didn’t seem to recognize that fear is an integral part of living, as Eddie would soon discover, and to deny it was to flirt with death.”
“Some guys who get into the culture of big-wave riding aren’t really doing it because they want to- it’s more of a status thing. Though that would never occur to Jose. He wasn’t doing it to reassure himself, he was doing it because he liked to do it. Peter was the same way, and it was fun for him- he didn’t do it for the cameras or the rest of that crap. Nor did Eddie, who surfed big waves for the simple thrill of it, even when no one else was around.”
And now, the Why! Why do Extreme Sport athletes do what they do?
“For a few moments, the outside world just falls away, eclipsed by the ocean’s green wall. The other competitors, the judges, the concerns that weigh on your mind on land. Everything is suddenly cleansed at the end of the tunnel. Crouched inside, you keep your eyes on this light, making sure you don’t get sucked up the face of the wave or axed by the lip. Psychedelic surfers of the era compared the feeling to going back to the womb or seeing a glimpse of the afterlife. This exciting yet serene experience is what surfers live for. When he finally emerged from the tube during the last minutes of the finals, Eddie must have felt a profound sense of peace as he burst out of the darkness and into the light.”
If you missed Part 1 of the “Master Class” assessing risk, wonder and high performance with Dr. John Coleman, you can check it out here:…/



Here’s my second example of Navigating risk using Big Wave surfer Kai Lenney as my next example:

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