Surfing and the Myth of Talent

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Surfing and the Myth of Talent

Watching YouTube clips of Carissa Moore, 2013 ASP Women’s Word Surf Champion, I admired the power, grace, and precision she has on her surfboard. I thought to myself, “This girl has bucket loads of natural talent!”

Or does she?

Recently, I’ve checked out books debunking the so-called “myth of talent”. The assumption is that champions are born with some kind of innate ability, but researchers have proven this hypothesis wrong. Instead, they discovered—while examining the lives of these “gifted” people—true talent is actually learned and takes tons of practice. Champions are not born, but built.

So how does this affect me, a beginner surfer, you ask?

The answer lies in the practice. And one study unveiled that, for true champions, it wasn’t just any old practice. They exercised deliberate practice by focusing on tasks beyond their current level of competence. Conversely—when you and I practice, we focus mostly on things we can already do. Deliberate practice, on the other hand, takes us outside of our comfort zone.

In the water, deliberate practice equates to goal setting. Instead of grabbing your board and messing around with the vague intention of catching a few waves, you need to get specific.
For me, I’ll try to do three backside floaters in a session or I’ll concentrate on surfing the top third of the wave instead of playing it safe in the trough. For you, maybe it could be popping up ten times in the whitewater and riding the wave all the way to the beach.

So—set goals, find a good coach, and practice. That’s the key to perfecting your talent.


  1. Erin says:

    Hi Helen, I was curious which books you were reading on this topic and if you would recommend any particular one. Thanks!

  2. heather says:

    Hi Helen! I agree with all that you have written here. Great post! I definitely think that deliberate practice is often mistaken for natural talent. I hope all is well in CR!

  3. helen says:

    Hi thanks for the feedback. Erin, here’s a list of the books I’ve read on this subject: ‘Outliers’ by Malcolm Gladwell, ‘The Talent Code’ by Daniel Coyle, ‘Bounce: The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practise’ by Matthew Syed and ‘Talent is Overrated’ by Geoff Colvin. They are all fascinating and inspiring books, but if I had to recommend just one it would be the Malcolm Gladwell book. Enjoy and keep practicing!

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