Stepping off the sand into the surf is to leave everything behind-work, school and this hectic life we have here in NJ. And for a few fleeting moments, it's all just about riding waves and having fun. But stepping off also means that you're on your own. Sure, there's often other surfers in the water, but ultimately it all comes down to how you handle yourself in the sea.

My buddy, J.C., once told me that "all's good in the ocean, til it's not." I don't think truer words have been spoken. Conditions can and usually do change in seconds. Currents flowing north may suddenly go south. Gentle waves can become shallow-water beasts. A switch in the wind may rip a perfectly groomed ocean into a maelstrom of chop and currents. Nothing's absolute. Waves don't come in sets of 7. The last one ain't always the biggest. And they sure don't care who you are and how well you surf. The moment you let your guard down in the ocean is the exact moment when you'll suffer a world of hurt.

Which is exactly why I love to see kids get into the sport. Sure, it's scary watching them paddle out towards the horizon, but the ocean is the one place where they'll learn self-reliance and develop the ability to make split-second decisions firsthand. They have to pull creative ways to survive from within when they're caught inside the impact zone, staring up at huge waves hanging over them like a pouncing lion. Seconds will be all they have to figure out their next step and if they don't, then they've got to figure out how to take the beating too. And every wipeout, every set that breaks where they didn't expect it and every time they get washed towards a jetty will be an experience in which they'll grow and instinctually assess where things went wrong in order to avoid the same circumstances in the future.

Problem-solving, situational assessment, confidence-building, fear management, decision-making, creative-thinking...who knew surfing applied to every aspect of business and almost all facets of life? And you thought it was just cool.

Being a good surfer isn't just about riding waves. It's about having built up the knowledge it takes to make it off the beach, through the impact zone and out to the line-up. It's constantly testing your limits on a stage that is anything but accommodating or user-friendly. It's about applying the skills you learn in the water to becoming an all-around better person, whether you're on the beach or 300 miles from it.

One of my dreams is to be out in the line-up on a big day, watching my step-kids eagerly step off the beach with their boards to negotiate their way out to me. I'll be tracking them like a hawk and praying they stay safe until they touch dry sand again, but I'll also be the proudest step-dad ever.
by mike reynolds