Fear, Flow and Freedom

Fear and flow are inseparable. Flow requires just the right amount of fear, and that fear guides us toward the door to flow. Flow in turn is the path to freedom — and so, to get more free, we must turn towards our fears.

FEAR →
FLOW →
INTUITION →
CREATIVITY →
FREEDOM

Fear is a message that we often misinterpret — and it’s nothing to be afraid of. Most often it’s fear of the unknown, of randomness, our fear of fear itself. We become afraid that our fear might be a signal of serious risk, and the very idea makes us turn away. Fear is a finely tuned signal that we can learn to interpret. So, first of all, know that fear is just a message, give up being afraid of fear, and listen to what it’s telling you.

We should hear fear whispering “be very afraid” as “look right here. Instead of turning away from fear we should peer directly at its source. Like any other emotion, fear wants to win, and when we turn away we give fear the upper hand. If most of all we fear the unknown, then turning away from that which we feel fear of does nothing to resolve the fear. Furthermore, anxiety is exacerbated by avoidance — we strengthen the neural pathway laid down by turning away from the subject of our fear (or fear itself), and so we reinforce the tendency to turn away.

Our fear of risk has become overdeveloped. In the modern world, fear is rarely a signal of a major threat. The more we can come to be at home with some fear in the house, with some risk, the more we can navigate the world the freedom of creative flow.

“We’re hard-wired to enjoy risk [because] there we can still be both confident in our experience and confronting the chaos that helps us develop.” — Jordan Peterson

How much risk should we become comfortable with? We can find the answer by looking further at flow.

83% OF MAYBE

When we are in flow we are our most creative, most satisfied, and most human. To find flow we need nothing more or less than an achievable challenge. We need a touch of fear and a glimpse of the light at the end of the tunnel. We need to approach — but not dive far beyond — the edge of our possible. Flow is blocked just as much by the terror of the impossible as it is by the sure thing.

My own shorthand for the right balance of achievable vs challenge, and therefore of ideal risk, is 83%. 83% of what? 83% of what might be achievable. Why 83%? First of all, if we aim for 100% of what just might be achievable, it’s more likely than not that we will fail, and quite likely that we will suffer for the attempt. Not that we shouldn’t suffer, but if we are aiming for flow, we want to have a reasonably good chance of success, with some challenge along the way. This guides me to aim for something like 80% of what just might be achievable — but then 80% just seems a little low. We want enough challenge so that each time we do succeed, we push a bit farther into the unknown. So: I like to shoot for 83% of maybe.

To come to know flow better and to push towards fear, we need to consider our preparation. We are all the captain of our own ship. Our experience will be dictated by what we have prepared ourselves for. To have a good possibility of achieving any goal, we need to be just ready enough to enjoy a reasonably good possibility of achieving our goal. We need to be as prepared as we can be without being over-prepared. We need our tools at hand, but we don’t want to trip over the tool belt. Being over-prepared uses up valuable time (before we’ve even started) and blocks the possibility of finding spontaneous, creative solutions that we would not be ‘forced’ to find had we prepared for every eventuality that we could imagine. Therein lies this paradoxical truth: we can’t imagine every eventuality, and so it’s impossible to be 100% prepared, and being 100% prepared boxes us into the set of possibilities created by the eventualities that we’ve imagined.

Being prepared is just one part of being ready — we have to leave space for creativity. Preparation is the workshop where the magic of innovation is made. Each requires the other. Here again, 83% is a handy guideline. I aim to be 83% prepared, and ‘save’ the 17% for creative solutions in the moment.

“This is the central illusion in life: that randomness is risky, that it is a bad thing — and that eliminating randomness is done by eliminating randomness.” — Nassim Taleb

If we prepare ourselves to be led, we will follow. Part of our own individual preparation should be to create the opportunity for the challenge that we need — and we can do this even without knowing exactly what that challenge may be! All that is required to create the opportunity is to set a goal. If you don’t know what your goal should be, pay attention to what you don’t want to do. Look closely at recurring messages, especially those that you shy away from, the things that you say “maybe next time”, “if only”, “I wish” about. A goal can be – and always is – a stepping stone. Set the first goal and let it lead you to the next. You don’t need to know where the path is leading, only to set goals that you will be sure of having achieved (or not).

Find a small fear and turn it into a target. Approaching fear is always a challenge. More than anything else, we are afraid of the unfamiliar, and if we rarely meet fear, we will be afraid of fear itself. Turn fear into a familiar friend and we can see where fear is pointing us more clearly. Then, knowing that you are ready enough, you can let the circumstances of the moment lead you. How to “face your fears”? Listen to your fear, use it to set a goal, prepare, and then be in the moment.

Once we have prepared and set a goal, we are free to flow into and through our experience. Flow is the feeling of not trying, of not deciding — flow is using your preparation, your skills, your body as they naturally come together in the moment as you move towards your goal. Flow is moving, acting, being intuitively — and therefore being in flow trains our intuition. Like any other skill, intuition improves with use, and being in flow is the best way to build the intuitive muscle.

Intuition is the wellspring of creativity, and creativity is both the expression of freedom and what is required most of all to become free. Thus in turning towards our fears and preparing ourselves to be in flow, we train our intuition, opening the door to greater creativity and to freedom.

Adventure Sports Podcast on long distance kitesurfing

Soon after we released the SurfinSemFim kitesurfing documentary about long distance kiting in Brazil, I was interviewed on Adventure Sports Podcast, a unique show that focuses on all sorts of adventure sports. I’m grateful for the opportunity to share my experiences and spread the word about adventure kiting!

Starting with the beginner questions about what kitesurfing is and how it works, at about 44:30 we move on to talk about my longdistance kitesurfing experience in Brazil and also about the deep connection between athletics and intuition and how being active in nature – especially over the course of a long athletic journey – can be a powerful way to train your intuition.

Thanks to Surfin Sem Fim, Boardriding Maui, Andre Penna, Marco Dalpozzo, Bill Plautz and the #longdistance pioneers like Louis Tapper for the inspiration.

Here’s the link to my episode of the Adventure Sports Podcast

Athletics and Intuition

I’ve spent too much time trying to make decisions. And you know what – deciding isn’t really any fun.

I’m always happier when I flow through life using my intuition. I’d really like to be making zero decisions and living intuitively all the time.

“…we are largely better at doing than we are at thinking…”

― Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder

This led me to ask myself, how do I get better at living intuitively? How do I train my intuition? 

To jump ahead for a moment, the simple answer is: you get better at what you do often. You can train your intuition by acting intuitively, by using your intuition in any way at all really. But I was kind of stuck, I was used to making decisions – or trying to make decisions – and I was out of touch with my intuitive self. I needed something more specific, a usable, understandable technique that would improve my intuition in a noticeable way.

At the same time that I’ve been thinking more about intuition – over last few years – I’ve also become more and more athletic. I was always very active but until recently I didn’t pursue anything with goals or training, or even on much of a regular basis.

“To realize the body’s potential for flow is relatively easy. It does not require special talents or great expenditures of money. Everyone can greatly improve the quality of life by exploring one or more previously ignored dimensions of physical abilities.”

― Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Happiness

And here’s the thing: once I started being more athletic, I started to notice an improvement in my intuition. The more time I spent doing things with my body, especially authentic physical activities that get me into flow, the more I noticed this effect of improved intuition. I started to think about what the connection is between athletics and intuition – how does being athletic improve our intuition?

This is the answer that I’ve come to: When you’re engaged in authentic physical activity (especially outside), your body is responding automatically – intuitively – to the environment, to the situation as it comes. As you practice this intuitive movement, we train our physical intuition, simply by being active outside.

And then – here’s the magic – the mind observes this, sees the body doing its thing, sees physical intuition happening, sees that the body goes where it needs to go without having to be told where to go, and learns that this is possible. Our mind learns how intuition works – and that intuition does work – by observing the intuitive movement of the body.

“…wu-wei is probably best rendered as something like “effortless action” or “spontaneous action.” 

― Edward Slingerland, Trying Not to Try: The Art and Science of Spontaneity

If we are active and in flow on a regular basis, the mind has plenty of opportunities to see that spontaneous, effortless action of the body leads to good results. It just works, all by itself, without having to make decisions. The next step is that the mind sees this and says, “hey, that seems to be working for moving the body, let me try that for myself. Let’s try some spontaneous, effortless thinking and see if that works just as well.” And (for the most part) it does go well, which reinforces the mechanism, making it more likely that the mind will allow itself you to go in that direction in the future, to allow intuition to happen, instead of going into more of an analytical, decision-making mode.

We can train and improve our intuition by being physically active (outside). The connection between athletics and intuition is so powerful that I now see that as the central theme of my work.

“Upgrade Your Decision-making” talk at the Battery

In January 2017 I led a workshop at The Battery entitled “Upgrade your decision-making”. My goal was to share some of my thinking about Athletics and Intuition in the form of a “Decide Nothing toolkit” – a few simple techniques that I use to help me stay in flow and make decisions intuitively. Some of the techniques that I shared are

  • Move without hesitation
  • See over the mountain
  • Shake hands with monuments
  • Check your messages
  • Welcome the unfamiliar
  • Roll the dice

This workshop was continuation of some events that I hosted in 2016 at the Battery and part of a series that I will be leading through the rest of 2017 on Athletics and Intuition.

The Long Distance Experience

A new specialty in kitesurfing is emerging. Long distance kiting is different from freestyle, wave riding, racing and free riding. While all of these disciplines continue to progress, something else is happening that isn’t about tricks, waves, or competition – it’s about exploration, adventure, and the unique feeling of making a journey by kite.

Long distance kiting is about traveling not just with your kite but traveling by kite. There are parallels in other sports: in paragliding it’s known as vol-biv, in cycling it’s bike-packing. It’s the difference between sport climbing and a multi-day climbing expedition, or between a day hike and an overnight backpacking trip.

Coming around the corner to Jericoacoara
Coming around the corner to Jericoacoara

Long distance kitesurfing can be done with just about any equipment, at any pace, in many places, and with varying degrees of support. Long distance kiting is its own thing, and for many of us it is the way that we enjoy the sport the most. Especially for riders who aren’t into freestyle or racing, and for more experienced and adventurous riders, long distance is a uniquely awesome experience and more and more kitesurfers around the world are getting stoked on long distance kiting.

It’s not just “downwind”

If you’ve been kiting for more than a year you’ve probably done a “downwinder” of some sort, either at your home spot or while on a kite trip somewhere. Usually this involves riding a few miles/km from a known launch and getting a ride back to where you started from. I did my first short downwinders at Ocean Beach in San Francisco and on the Outer Banks in North Carolina. It’s a great feeling to ride with the wind and know that you don’t have to worry about getting back upwind – just jump in the car/buggy/taxi/bus, and enjoy the ride back home!

These little downwinders are super fun, but I always wanted more. I wanted to go somewhere. What’s different about long-distance kiting is that you leave from wherever you start, and you don’t go back. You kite down the coast some distance, you arrive somewhere else, sleep there, and then continue again the next day. While we often use vehicles for gear support and/or safety, it is possible to travel this way without getting into a vehicle for days, even weeks at a time. The detachment from the world of roads and vehicles and the immersion in the journey creates a totally different feeling.

Variations within long-distance kiting include supported, unsupported, solo, crossings, distance records, and exploration, just to name a few. All of these areas are seeing rapid development, and I think we will see more and more in the coming years. There is still a ton of unexplored territory and many “firsts” yet to be achieved in long-distance kiting. For inspiration check out Louis Tapper’s original 2000km solo trip, the solo longdistance trips that Andre Penna is doing on his foil in Brazil, the mega-distance records that athletes like Nick Levi are putting up, the multiple world records set by the amazing Bridge family at the Isle of Wight, or the 600km “Ironman” trip” that I did last year.

Logistics

The most common type of long distance kitesurfing is done with the support of vehicles that travel along the route by land, carrying all of your regular-life stuff (most of which you quickly realize you don’t really need at all). It’s not usually necessary, but in certain conditions a boat or PWC is needed for on-the-water support. On the other hand, given the right conditions (first of all: warm air and warm water) long distance kiting can be done entirely unsupported, with just a waterproof backpack and some cash in your board shorts.

The north-east coast of Brazil is particularly well-suited for long distance kitesurfing, with hundreds of miles of sandy beaches, side-onshore trade winds, warm water, warm air, great food, great culture, and an absolutely incredible landscape – but there are many other places around the world where distance trips can be done, most of them undeveloped. Where? That’s part of what’s so cool about long-distance – most of it remains to be discovered!

Long distance equipment
Long distance equipment

Equipment 

Although some specialized gear is starting to emerge, long distance kiting can be done with just about any equipment. You can go long-distance on light wind race gear, wave kites and a surfboard, a twin tip – or perhaps best of all: a foil board.

When you select gear for a long-distance trip, the most important consideration is your skill and level of confidence with your gear. Choose gear that you have mastered – you want to be sure that you can make it work if the wind drops or if you need to go make landfall somewhere other than your planned destination. We’ll go over equipment in more detail in another article, but if you are doing a long distance trip in a warm place like Brazil, you really don’t need much beyond your board and your kite.

You also need to select equipment that is going to work well in the terrain and conditions that you’ll be riding in. My board preference is a strapless surfboard with relatively high volume and long rails. I use a 5’3” Firewire Vader – this board goes super fast on any point of sail, rips upwind, works well in both light wind and high wind, and is also relatively short, making it easy to travel with. I always ride strapless – you can use handles if you like, I just find that they get in the way of my feet!

When selecting kites, the most important criterion is that they are in excellent condition. I also recommend kites that have good range, especially if you are planning a solo trip. I fly the latest Boardriding Maui Cloud kites, and I love how versatile, nimble, and compact they are, but you can use just about any kite for your long distance journey.

Foil boards are opening a lot of doors for exploratory and long distance kiting. Foils require less physical effort for a skilled rider, and they allow you to cover ground in just about any direction, making it possible to plan long-distance routes that include upwind legs as well. The main issue with foils is that they require at least a meter or so of water depth. You absolutely do not want to crash your foil into anything hard – I’ve done it, it’s not fun, and it usually spells the end of your trip. Foils are also more likely to get tangled in flotsam or fishing nets, but that usually isn’t catastrophic. As long as you account for these factors, foils are an incredible tool for distance and for exploring. I love my Alpinefoil which, among other things, packs down very well for travel.

The Journey 

For me, the journey is what long distance kiting is all about. Whether you travel solo or as part of a supported group, down the coast or crossing from island to island like Mitu did recently in Cape Verde, there is very specific and unique feeling that you get from such a journey. Spending several days on the water, traveling entirely by kite and away from the world of cars and roads – away from the land for the most part, in fact, puts you in a unique state of mind.

You may be familiar with the idea of “Flow”. Flow is a state of mind and a state of being in your body. You find yourself in flow when you are totally absorbed in what you are doing. Your perception changes, and your intuition takes over from your conscious mind. It’s common to enter a flow state during intense physical activity, and it can happen for a few minutes or a few hours at a time.

Bowen in Brazil
Bowen in Brazil

The magic of a journey is that you extend the flow state beyond the immediate physical rush of action. You spend days immersed in the experience, in the feeling of your body working, and in the feeling of being part of the natural world. Being in Flow feels good – it’s recreational, but it’s also challenging, restorative and inspiring. Flow is also addictive – the more time you spend in Flow, the more you realize that other things – most things, really – are a distraction.

When people ask me about kitesurfing, I often describe it as a form of sailing, and as the combination of sailing and surfing. The essence of sailing is to make a journey by the power of the wind alone, to cast off from a known port and arrive on foreign shores. Long distance kitesurfing is how we as kitesurfers can experience this pure soul of the wind – a unique way to travel, to explore, and to expand your horizons in the sport. I encourage everyone to do some long distance kiting and feel how distance is different!

This post was originally published on SurfinSemFim

Athletes are Artists

Most of us would say that art and sports don’t have much to do with each other – but I don’t think that’s true. While our intellectual self lives in the mind, our intuition lives in the body. This embodied self is the seat of creativity – and therefore of art.

On the surface, we tend to think of athletes as physical and not particularly creative, but stretching our physical abilities and challenging our bodies is a well-traveled path to creativity, and many athletes are also artists.

Renan Ozturk is known mostly as a climbing photographer and cinematographer and professional climber, but he describes himself as a “landscape artist at heart”, and his paintings provide a unique window into the eye of a mountaineer.

Mount Whitney Cicre by Renan Ozturk
Renan Ozturk: Mount Whitney Cicre

Baron Batch pursued a career in professional football before realizing that he was The Artist:

Feel my Truth by Baron Batch
Baron Batch: Feel My Truth

Gregory Porter is a hugely successful jazz musician who pursued an early career in football before finding his calling in music.

Gregory Porter: Take Me To The Alley
Gregory Porter: Take Me To The Alley

Jered Gruber is a cyclist and photographer whose images capture perfectly the free spirit of the modern cyclist:

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While riding with @igortavella on the steep little farm roads that wind their way along the flanks of the Dolomites, I wondered if it would be possible to do 5000 meters (or more) of climbing on all the little roads in less than 100k. Igor laughed – of course! In that moment, an idea hit. We should do a ride later this year: invite anyone who wants to join us to get a big flavor of Igor's backyard, his secrets – paved and dirt – but all doable on a road bike, so long as the rider is ok with gradients that are always north of 10% and isn't scared of some dirt roads and a bit of amazing singletrack (meaning this won't be everyone's cup of hot chocolate). It will be on a Saturday or Sunday or both – everything will of course be based out of the Tavella hotel: the @UstariaPosta in Badia. We are thinking early to middle September. It will be the #YOLOMITES 5000 brought to you by @holimites and Igor. If the rider has had their fill at any point, they can cut it short whenever they want – we will never be more than 20k from the start at the Ustaria Posta. #yolomites5000 #conquereveryroad

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Riikka Hyvönen is a roller derby skater and artist. Her unique  painted and upholstered sculptures put us directly in touch with the bruises that derby girls collect:

I Got a Really Beautiful Bruise on My Bum, Do You Want To See a Pic It Has 12 Colours And Is the Size of My Head! by Riikka Hyvönen
I Got a Really Beautiful Bruise on My Bum, Do You Want To See a Pic It Has 12 Colours And Is the Size of My Head! by Riikka Hyvönen

Gou Miyagi is an incredibly innovative skateboarder who is developing new and unique ways of using his body and his board to create movement and imagery: