6 IT Leadership lessons from a surf camp adventure in Costa Rica


A few weeks ago I returned from a father daughter surfing adventure at Wiches Rock Surf Camp in Costa Rica. I had wanted to do this trip for 4 years and when she turned 13 I booked the trip. She didn’t want to do a camping trip which was my first suggestion, but the next best thing I could think of was a surf camp! I am glad she agreed.

This trip was a blast and it totally broke me and her outside of our comfort zones.

Here are 6 things that I learned that you can apply yourself as an IT leader.

1) Stretch goals – You can be excellent in something, but sometimes you need to learn a new skill and experience being a beginner again. She did not have a surfing background nor did I before doing this. Watch your staff for who is complacent or bored and task them with learning something totally new.

2) Perspective. In between surf camp sessions we took an ATV trip through the back country through villages with barely running water, pigs in the front yard, dirt roads, etc. There is nothing like a 2/3 world experience to open up someone’s point of view. Do you have people that you manage that need to see your business from a different point of view? Maybe you have someone who needs to be exposed to another department. Maybe an admin could spend a week with a business analyst or IT Security engineer shadow a SAN engineer for a day.

3)The difference between a Novice and Beginner swimmer. Our graduation from the novice surf outside our camp to the beginner graduation beach was only a short thirty minute drive away. The waves were only 2 feet bigger but the pounding between sets was 4 times as much. The gentle waves of the learning novice beach were easy and friendly. However, the beginner beach for a 13 year old was too much. I was nervous and would have pulled her out if her instructor wasn’t there with her helping and coaching her through it. The risk was not worth the reward unless I had someone working right with her. Are there places where you have people over their head and need more support or coaching? What is the impact of having a beginner in a position versus an intermediate to advanced level of individual? Is the position a high risk position or one that it really doesn’t matter and they can stumble about for a bit but not cause much damage if a mistake is made?

4) Watch the newbies. They need management. Especially in IT security but not only in IT Security. Even with a coach watching her and guiding her at the beginner beach, I kept my daughter in front of me at all times. She got her waves and loved the experience however she tired easily. I kept her within short paddle/striking distance in case she got into trouble. I would follow her a wave or two behind. Do you do this with your direct reports? Even if she waved me off, and said Dad I got it, there was no way I was wandering off. The situation warranted this intensity and management and scrutiny. Do your people get nervous when you judge situations high risk and you manage closely? Do you second guess yourself when you make these decisions? Do you have a reporting structure/systems set up for you to manage higher risk areas?

5) Who has Bravery and Courage? One morning I looked over to over to our instructor Axel (yes that was his name. I don’t think it was his real name, but wouldn’t you expect a surf camp instructor to be named Axel?) He had a bandage on his right arm and was barely moving it. He was in the surf manipulating our boards with one arm. He told me in broken English that the previous week he had a bad moped accident. I also saw quite a road rash on his shoulder. I cringed thinking that the salt water must be hurting him. After seeing the size of road shoulders (inches) in general in Costa Rica and seeing the amount of dirt roads that one needs to traverse to get to villages and towns off the main road I am not surprised by his accident.

It made me wonder though, how many of your people on staff are showing up to work, but are suffering in some way. From a leadership perspective have you noticed them? So many people show up every day to work and are not looking for special attention, yet stoically have big issues they are dealing with. Maybe you could quietly notice their bravery and suffering even if you don’t know what to say to them.

6) Who is All In? For our graduation day the camp shuttled us via van to La Playa Grande. We had graduated from novice to beginner surfing. As I mentioned previously, upon entering the waves, it became apparent and alarming that my 13 year old was not able to make it out through the break. She was frightened and crying. I was cautious. I had received the assurance from Axel prior to arriving that she was ready but I wasn’t so sure anymore. I thought maybe we should have stayed at the novice beach…. There were 5 or so instructors for 2 van loads of adults plus two teenagers of which my daughter was one of them.

Somehow, Axel had forgotten his board back at the camp…..jeesh. He was undeterred though and decided to jump in and swim my daughter and her board out through the surf till she got to the backside. He then stayed with her the entire time …..swimming only! …no board. I was so grateful and amazed as he taught her step by step how to get out through the break and then catch a wave back in. It must have been physically exhausting.

From a leadership point of view, how many of your people are jumping in without a board to help others? What we notice and bring attention to expands; so if you notice those on your staff who are supporting others, the mission, the project would this help them? Would a pat on the back or a notice of a job well done help? The details matter. Technology is so quick and merciless with speed and pace that if you can snatch a ‘job well done’ before it disappears into the abyss of busy ‘ness you never know how much this will mean to someone. So try it…..

A big influence and inspiration for building and weaving adventures with my daughters are the following books:

Strong Fathers Strong Daughters: 10 Secrets Every Father Should Know - By Meg Meeker, M.D.

The Wonder of Girls: Understanding the Hidden Nature of Our Daughters - By Michael Gurian

Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and the New Realities of Girl World - By Rosalind Wiseman