Riding the Waves


The road to success isn’t paved with gold—or, navigating only through calm waters, to use the analogue I like to think of when talking about creativity; the interaction between man and sea. The path to success is navigating through foul weather, risky straits and choppy waves as well.

Not long ago, my partner and I planned to kayak along the west coast of the Olympic Peninsula in the state of Washington, USA. As often is the case along that coastline, the weather was windy and cold, and the waves were rolling big onto the beaches. Not conditions for launching any kayak trips.

We had a good time anyway, enjoying the strength of the gale in our hair and feeling very alive when the wind gusts battered down on us. Not kayaking but hiking along the shoreline. Still, we had brought kayaks and at some point, we decided we could use the heavy waves to practise paddling under less than perfect conditions, safely and close to the beach.

With wet suits, life jackets and all the necessary safety equipment we felt safe indeed, as long as we didn’t go far out. Of course, the waves are also the worst exactly where they break onto the beach. For that very reason, it would be good practise.

It took some juggling to get the kayaks launched, but as soon as we were out, it felt pretty good. We paddled through a couple of waves and felt in control. Then we turned in an attempt to surf back in again. That’s when we lost control, both of us. The first wave took us around.

As we had foreseen, we would keep warm with the wet suit and stay afloat with the life jackets. However, what I hadn’t foreseen was that we had already kayaked too far from the beach. I could not reach the bottom. Moreover, there was no way neither of us could get back up in the kayaks. Thus, I started to swim back in with the kayak in one hand.

I quickly realized that this was much heavier than I had anticipated. After some time I wasn’t sure at all if I got closer to the beach. Instead I started wondering if there was a tide taking my out rather than in. I did not feel very comfortable any more, not the least because I could feel my stamina started to dwindle too quickly. In addition, my partner and I had drifted apart. At least she was much closer to the beach. Of course, I could let go of the kayak, but that wasn’t an option, not yet. That uncertainty, though, about which direction I was going, was anything but calming.

To make a long story short, I finally made it onto the beach, with my kayak and everything. We both did. By then I was completely exhausted, had to rest in the breaking waves before I could pull myself and my kayak onto dry land.

It was a valuable lesson. I learned where my limit is and I learned that I have to practise much more navigating foul weathers. Of course, I would never launch a real kayak trip under such conditions, but you never know if or when the weather suddenly changes faster than you have anticipated.

The mistakes we do underway are what build strength for later successes.

The path to success usually goes through choppy waters, for then to experience some calm and beautiful sea—for a little while. The path to success starts out with interest, passion and ideas. Next come the hard work and the fight to get closer to where we want to be. Then some mild success, and next some failures as well. And eventually—and hopefully—we will hit the big wave taking us far and away.

Creating your life’s best work and living the life you imagined requires having a deep drive to reach the top, but also a strategy for making it back home. It isn’t very creative to sail the biggest waves only to crush onto your doom. True creativity requires a more holistic view that includes both the up and the down.

Personally, I have had my share of success—in my eyes, that is, which is what is important in the end—but these days I am once again fighting my way out of a trough, as those of you who follow my blog know. It’s part of the creative path, and I know as long as I keep swimming and learning how to navigate back onto shore again, I will soon enough be riding confidently the big waves.

Facts about the photo: The photo was taken with a Canon Eos 5D with a 24-104 mm lens and the zoom set at 105 mm. Shutter speed: 1/500 of a second. Aperture: f/22. The photo was processed in Lightroom and Photoshop and finally a Bleach Bypass filter added from Nik Color Efex.

88 thoughts on “Riding the Waves

  1. niiiiice, a near death experience as a metaphor for creativity … i’ve often said that the whole universe is speaking to you, and everything in this life is a sign… try not to get killed while following your signs, as the universe, as much as it loves you, can be a dangerous place 🙂

  2. i love the last line ..”… as long as I keep swimming and learning how to navigate back onto shore again, I will soon enough be riding confidently the big waves”.. a lot of people could relate to that.. we all experience disappointments or failures but we should be strong enough to go on.. to try again, life goes on..

  3. What a distressing experience, Otto. I’m glad you made it out safely. The ocean can be so capricious; my son in Hawaii had a similar experience where the tide pulled him into a rocky area while he was trying to surf. It can be quite frightening! I love how you made this experience into a metaphor for our struggles in life and in art. Two steps forward, one step back. Life does not always happen in smooth seas. 🙂

  4. In graduate school one of my instructors gave this simple advice to our small art class, something I’ve held on to in all my various careers and challenging endeavours….he wisely said,
    “You make your own opportunities.” Oft times I think back to that class (now almost thirty years ago) and realize that most all decisions made were because I knew I could make “something of” an idea, a platform, a project, a job, even a relationship whether professional or personal. It was an opportunity to make something…to make something more of what was already there. Otto, I do believe you are already on your way to making something more…..
    Happiest of Holidays to you and yours, Raye

    1. I think you instructor was very wise. We don’t usually see the end result before we start something, but we something, which is the beginning. Thank you for sharing, and happy Holidays to you and yours, too, Raye.

  5. I was given some tough lessons early in my real estate career which made me question my decision and I almost quit, but I decided to see them as chances to learn and grow, and because of them, I’ve had bigger successes than I would have without them. Because of your attitude, I have no doubt you are going to see an opening soon that will lead to even bigger and brighter things for you that you can’t even imagine right now. Best wishes!

  6. That was a scary story Otto! Thank goodness you returned safely to the shore, as you will metaphorically speaking when your personal ships come in. Love the photo too – how wonderful waves look in black and white.

  7. There is something so calm in your telling of the story, it almost heightens the drama. I’m glad you hauled yourself back onto shore…really makes one think, eh? Which you did, and your thoughtfulness is appreciated, bu many more than me. I hadn’t realized you spend a good deal of time out here in the PNW. Keeping the Norse heritage alive here! 😉

  8. before i read your words, i thought how rough the sea looked. i’m certainly glad you both made it back to shore safely. scary thoughts as i imagined the feeling of panic you must have felt at the moment you became uncertain if you’d prevail.

  9. Quite the story, glad you are safe.There is a real satisfaction to meeting challenges successfully. What’s that saying? “If it doesn’t kill me, it will make me stronger.” Better than hiding, as you stated in one of your comments.

  10. Hey, Otto.. Thanks for the update and the story, one that any of us who have struggled – either against a personal challenge or against a fierce surf – can appreciate and identify with. The poem is too long to post as a comment, but here is a post with a poem that addresses life’s undertows.


    I wwill always remember how weak I was after getting caught in a mild undertow, and like you, I made it to shore but was too exhausted to do anything… it was a huge lesson. I’m glad that you both were ok…

      1. Exactly; what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, and I am proud and grateful for every lesson – especially those difficult ones.
        Am at ‘earthquake zone’ so it takes little to realize how many things i have to be grateful for… I just overheard a sister state to her brother, ‘you slept last night in that room with no doors or windows?:’ and he pointed with his jaw across the yard and said,’i’ve slept in that tent for months and you didn’t say anything about that..’ we all chuckled…

  11. I think the most important lesson from your kayak story is not so much that you both got to shore safely (of which we are all immensely relieved about), but that you set off from the beach in the first place. The cold wind and rolling waves would be enough to put most kayakers off. Too often, we imagine that the ‘journey’ is too hard, or too filled with obstacles, or filled with the possibility of complete and utter failure and so we don’t begin (or set off). Some may have considerably you foolhardy in the weather conditions but al least you were prepared with life jackets and wetsuits.

    Success to me is more about taking that leap of faith, regardless of the result. Challenge and obstacles are what defines us as achievers. If life was too easy, we’d all be bored stiff and not even attempt anything outside our regular routine. Of course, there has to be a certain amount of common sense in knowing the difference between difficult and impossible. Its a fine line.

    I’m currently reading ‘Alone on the Ice – The Greatest Survival Story in the History of Exploration’ by David Roberts. It’s about the harrowing adventure of Douglas Mawson in the Antarctic in 1913. I’m only about 1/4 of the way into the book, but the most amazing thing I have encountered is Mawson’s courage, leadership and willingness to keep on pushing forward despite near starvation and a harrowing experience dangling over a crevasse. He never gave up, despite the difficulties.

    There is always this sense of pushing onwards, no matter how hard the weather and terrain. Human resilience is often surprising, but if one doesn’t take that first step, there is never the remotest possibility of success. In some ways the end result is not as important as the journey and what we learn along the way. Learning how to gather one’s inner strength and about how to approach those waves and arriving back on shore is your success. The first sentence in this post is your success.

    1. You are absolutely right, taking that leap of faith is the first step into growth and creativity. And, surely the journey is the goal itself, more than the end result. For me learning has always had a purpose of its own. And talking about pushing oneself onward, I have never heard or read about David Roberts, but seems like a book I sure look up. In many ways it’s sounds like a similar story to those of Shackleton and Amundsen. Thank you for a poignant comment, Vicki.

      1. Shackleton is referred to many times in the book (and many other explorers). The book is very well researched and fortunately for us, many kept diaries on those early expeditions.

        1. I love and collect books and films about the explorers and have put this one on my list. Thank you!
          Dina, (born in Amundsen’s home town Fredrikstad)

  12. What a beautiful story of learning that we gather in our “backpack” along the way. It will help in navigating the rough patches for sure 🙂

  13. I so agree that it is essential to keep one’s eyes focused on the larger picture, but so often that scenery gets obscured by the weight of the oncoming waves. From one survivor to another, best wishes to riding out the turbulence to calmer waters.

  14. Such a nice image, I love the rendering choice of B&W. It goes so well with your story. I am glad you and your partner made it back safely. I would be panic so badly if I were in your situation. I completely agreed with your analogy to follow success path. Recently, I was thinking that we need some rough plan to get there and once laid then we need to then we be very patient and fight obstacles to get the the end goal. It seems easy to say but it surely hard to do.

  15. I had a bad feeling as soon as I read that you had launched. I’m glad you made it back safe and sound….but exhausted. It’s tough deciding when one should let go of possessions (kayak) in favor of saving one’s neck. You are one tough cookie and I’m confident you will rise again.

  16. We don’t have the surf here, but we have riptides, which can be just as dangerous. Warnings always are posted, but there’s inevitably someone who doesn’t know about the warnings, or chooses to ignore them.

    As I was reading your post, I was thinking of the best way to deal with a riptide: not to fight against it, but to go with it, parallel to the shore, until its effect is released and the swimmer or kayaker can get back in. That sometimes works with life in general, or creative work in particular. Fighting to “come in” where we’ve determined we must be can be exhausting. If we allow ourselves to work with the creative tides, we may be far from an intended landing point, but still safe and secure.

  17. We very much like your philosophical approach, Otto.
    You are a great storyteller! With your calm way of presenting the adventure and using the waves a metaphor you have given us a lesson for life and something to ponder on for a long time. As always, the comments and the replies are high quality reading. Thanks to you all!

  18. Wonderful thought provoking post Otto and a powerful message for life and struggles in there. I could relate very much. Good luck in riding those waves in 2017. Think the trick is not to give up paddling but persevering. Cheers my friend.

  19. I am so glad you & your partner made it safely ashore. When I was younger I too found myself overwhelmed by surf far stronger than I realized.
    I wish you stimulating (but not hazardous) waters and plenty of sunshine in the year ahead.

  20. Your analogy works for me. I seem to have been in choppy water for awhile now but occasionally I see some smooth open water. I’m confident that you will have smooth sailing in 2017, Otto. You certainly deserve it.

  21. Thanks for sharing this. Water is such a powerful, changing and healing force. I have just added a post on my poetry blog including a poem called “Waves” in case you have time to look? Have a good day, Sam 🙂

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