Riding the Wave of Resourcefulness: What We Can Learn from Garrett McNamara's Epic Surfing Adventure

100ft. That’s about 16 people standing on top of each other. 8 double-decker buses. 7 giraffes (give or take). Or 10 stories, like this new building on West 14th St in New York City. Imagine standing on the roof and taking a good look over the edge at the street below. Perhaps your legs get a little shaky.

Garrett McNamara and his team do this regularly. Except they’re not standing on top of a solid building. They’re on a 6ft board, riding 100ft waves.

The team achieved the impossible when they surfed the giant 100ft waves of Nazaré, Portugal. But the lessons they learned along the way were just as remarkable.

In this post, we'll explore how McNamara and his team's resourceful approach to surfing can teach us valuable lessons about learning and growth - whatever kind of team we’re operating in.

In the attempt of surfing 100ft waves in Nazaré Portugal (a previously unexplored surf spot), Garrett McNamara and his wife Nicole (along with a set of big-wave surf pioneers) developed a system for venturing into the unknown.

Here are a few things that were key to their quest.

1 Collaborating as a Team to Achieve a Common Goal

Surfing giant waves isn’t a solo sport; it requires a team effort. McNamara and his team operated as a cohesive unit, relying on each other's expertise and support to succeed. They communicated constantly, using hand signals and radios to stay in sync.

Nicole played a pivotal role on the team, taking on responsibilities previously unused in the world of surfing. As the designated wave spotter, she directed the team from the lighthouse, guiding them towards the biggest waves they had ever encountered. Her role demanded heightened awareness, assertive communication, and the ability to quickly adapt to changes.

“They can’t even see sometimes when the waves are coming — they’re in the troughs of the wave…having that spotter is super important”

2. Using Creativity and Innovation to Solve Problems

Big wave surfing isn’t just about physical strength and endurance; it also requires creativity and innovation. The team had to think outside the box to figure out how to surf waves that had never been surfed before. They used tools like jet skis and specialized equipment like buoyancy vests and GPS trackers to help them navigate the waves.

3. Embracing Failure as a Stepping Stone to Success

McNamara and his team didn't achieve their goal of surfing the giant waves of Nazaré on their first try. In fact, they failed repeatedly before they succeeded. But instead of giving up or getting discouraged, they used each failure as a learning opportunity.

They studied what went wrong, made adjustments, and tried again. By embracing failure as a natural part of the learning process, McNamara and his team were able to eventually achieve their goal - turning the largely ignored Nazare into a go-to surf spot along the way.

A free tool to assess your team’s resourcefulness

At Wavetable, we believe in the power of seeking inspiration from new and unexpected sources. As teams of all types navigate a constantly evolving business landscape, it’s more important than ever to look beyond our own areas of expertise and industries.

By exploring diverse examples of teamwork and problem-solving, we can better equip ourselves to tackle new and exciting challenges. Wetsuits optional.

Our Team Resourcefulness self-assessment tool will give you insight into how your team operate and collaborate, and offer practical tips for improvement. It’s 100% free to access.

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