Monday, August 3, 2015

It is your race to win - or lose

I just finished a long and tiring kite foiling regatta. Four days, 18 individual races. I did well in some races, poorly in others. I was competing with 67 other kiteboarders, yet my success had very little to do with them. Let me repeat my last point: my performance in the competition had little to do with what all the other competitors did. It had everything to do with what I did. When I had a good start, nail my maneuvers and didn't explode - among other things - I did well. When I made mistakes or simply sailed slow, I did poorly.

You might be thinking that I am stating the obvious, but in my experience most people focus way too much on what their competitors do and not enough on their own race. More importantly, many other aspects of our lives are the same. Take startups, for example: entrepreneurs obsess over their competitors way too much without realizing they will succeed or fail based on their own execution, regardless of what their competitors do. Sure, there are exemptions, you might have a hard time charging for something that your competitor is giving away for free. But, at least in my experience, the exemptions are few and far between. And even when what your competitor does truly impacts you, what you do impacts you more.

So, during your next race, make sure you are going fast, choosing the right side of the course and nailing your laylines. Then, and only then, worry about your competitors.

Sharing the podium for the Grand Masters Division with kitesurfing legends Chip Wasson and Alex Aguera

Monday, June 29, 2015

Familiar Faces and Familiar Places

Cindy and I are spending a few days in Tarifa. What first attracted us to Tarifa was the combination of kitesurfing and a charming Mediterranean town. Tarifa is THE most popular kiting destination in the world. On a windy day there are literally hundreds of kitesurfers out on the water simultaneously.

But what keeps us coming back is something else: the people. Within hours of arriving we are out having drinks with friends. Forgot a kite leash or pump? Not to worry, a local friend will lend us one. And beyond our friends, there is something reassuring about seeing "familiar faces" all around. Whether it is the waiter from our favorite breakfast place, who this morning showed us the livecam of her dog cooling in front of a fan, or the bartender at the kite spot who was telling us how much her niece has grown since we last saw her a year ago... Or even the parking and bathroom attendants. You feel a bit more "at home" when you are surrounded by familiar faces... It reminds me of the the Annapurna hotel where I went as a kid, then adolescent, every December for over a dozen years...

Exploring new places can be fun. But not as good as getting to know the ones you really like - and going back over and over again...

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Price to Pay

I was reading an article in my favorite sailing magazine about a team that capsized their 60 foot trimaran while training for a round-the-world race. The incident  broke their mast, required an elaborate towing operation (of their upside down hull) and put them "out of commission" for months. The cause was a common one for these kind of accidents: they didn't react quickly enough to a gust of wind, by easing their sails. By the time they realized what was going on it was too late. A fraction of a second delay on the crew's part resulted in disaster.

My initial reaction was to blame the crew for sailing too aggressively and putting themselves at risk. Why did they need to sail so close to the edge and risk such a devastating incident? But as I read the skipper's cool and matter-of-fact description of the incident it hit me that they were just doing what all top competitors must do if the want to have a chance of winning: giving it their all and sailing "on the edge". You can aspire to win if you train by "playing it safe". Look at most world class athletes and you'll see that most, if not all, sometimes push things a bit too far (or simply get unlucky while being on the edge). If you want to reach, or even establish, the limit of your activity's performance, you have to be willing to go over the edge every now and then. For around the world maxi multihulls, that can mean hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage and months to recover. For other activities, the gear damage might be less, but a few bones might break.

This is very personal to me. I've been playing it way too safe with my kiteracing. I've not broken any bones or damaged much gear, but I am not going that fast either. Can I push myself to the edge? Take harder falls than I have? It is the price to pay...

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

A Problem Solved is Better than No Problem

I drove with the boys from SF to Stinson Beach a few days ago. It was the first time just the four of us were together in the car in a while... And the bonus was that rather than a mile, we were together for 20! So what did we talk about? We spoke about how solved problems can be better than no problems. Two recent kitesurfing incidents illustrate this...

The first incident occurred when I arrived to the Crissy Field parking lot and remotely opened my car's trunk. My foilboard was leaning on the tailgate and slid out of the car, fell to the floor and cracked. Now, cracking my only foilboard would normally be a major problem. Yet, with the help of my friends I solved the problem so seamlessly I ended up happier than if nothing had happened. I won't bore you with all the details, but one friend helped me patch the board so that I could kite that day; another friend took the board to the boardmaker and brought me a loaner board the next day, so that I didn't miss a single day of kiting; and the boardmaker brought me the perfectly repaired board a couple of days later, and only charged me $25.

The second incident took place a few days later. I was flying a foil kite. Foil kites don't have a solid (inflatable) structure so sometimes they can't be relaunched from the water. When that happens at Crissy Field and we are not close to shore we must call the Coast Guard for a rescue. Well, I dropped my kite pretty far from shore (almost by the Golden Gate bridge) and it twisted so that it was impossible for me to relaunch it. I was about to call the Coast Guard from my VHF radio when one of my friends, who had been kiting nearby to keep an eye on me, kited to my kite, untwisted it and helped me relaunch it. It took an incredible amount of skill for him to do that - not to mention the willingness to tangle with my kite or drop his.

After both incidents I was ecstatic. Super happy that things had turned out so well - and in much better spirits than if nothing at all had happened. We discussed the possible causes for this. One was definitely the social component: due to the incidents several friends helped me. It feels good to know you have friends who care about you! But that aside, the "high" from solving a problem seems to more than offset the "low" of the problem itself,

What is the take-away? Create problems? Probably not. But how about "take risks". If things go well, you get the benefits. If things go badly, you might still end-up better off after you solve the problem.