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What I Learnt From Ryan Hipwood

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Can you imagine surfing fifty foot waves for a living? Well that’s exactly what Ryan Hipwood does travelling the world in search of the best swells to continually test himself in some of the toughest conditions in the world.

The big wave community is very interesting while not as commercial as the Men’s & Women WSL World Tour there is still a fierce rivalry amongst the competition and a very loyal following amongst the fans.

There is much to learn from a guy like Ryan Hipwood. He has an interesting dynamic of being a young father while dealing with the risks of his job.

In this episode we also find out of him having to deal with two people drowning in front of him while also seeing one of his best mates nearly lose a leg in a horrific surfing accident.

To be able to perform at his level takes a hell of a lot talent combined with drive and motivation from the inside. I really enjoyed this chat not only for his athletic success but is interpretation of life outside the water.

There are some great takeaways and learning opportunities from the podcast and I encourage you to listen to the entire episode below or continue for my key learning points from our powerful chat.


In an individual sport where competition can be fierce it can be the little things that make the difference.

“I'm constantly checking weather maps to make sure that I'm ready and to give myself enough time to drop everything and be ready to go surf the biggest waves in the world. I got injured a while back and started to do my commercial chopper licence. The first subject was meteorology because I was so interested in the weather and how it works. I’m addicted to that side of things and an important tool for me to do. The longer I can see the swell out and fronts it gives me an advantage over the other guys”


“What I am finding now the tour has started is it’s becoming quite big quite quickly. There's a hell of a lot of competition happening as well internally. It is pretty crazy to think that you can get that competitive within an environment that can kill you. Yeah we are all friends and it is a pretty tight-knit community especially within the big wave world”

Competition is the key to growth. From the athletes I have interviewed I think the key message is to embrace competition. It will push you to test boundaries but at the same time it’s crucial to have respect for others in your space.


Ryan shared an interesting perspective on when big waves can be too big. Watching from the land or on TV I guess it can look amazing but what’s it like from a competitor’s perspective?

“It gets to a point where it’s survival especially when it’s paddling in. Its one thing to talk to a big wave surfer that is focused on catching big waves with jet ski assistance or toeing in as we call it. The new age generation we are about paddling in and we only use jet ski’s if we have fallen and we are under and something happens so they are there for safety. It does come to a level where if it is too big, performance levels go down as we are not catching enough waves and can’t get in position quick enough as the waves are moving too fast”


We can all face a point where we need to make a substantial decision for our life and career. We can also push over selves to a point where we need a realise we need a break.

“It was really tough when I first had my child I’m not going to lie I was really close to quitting big wave surfing. The same year was El Nino. Once every decade you get these crazy weather patterns creating huge waves and really good weather conditions. When my daughter was born like most fathers you get pretty caught up in that moment and obviously I was really enjoying it. But then I didn't really get to prepare so I went into that El Nino winter really unprepared and basically we had 10 or 12 sessions out at Jaws that were huge. One of my mates caught one of the biggest paddle waves ever it was 65 feet. Mentally I got to a point where I pushed myself too far and completely fried myself, fried my adrenal glands and I was mentally screwed and nearly had a nervous breakdown”


The power of your inner circle to help you in times of need cannot be truer in Ryan’s case. He’s also had so much to learn over the last two years seen first hand how life can change so quickly.

“Fortunately I have a really good team that I work with and throughout my career I’ve had some testing moments and time. That transition over the last 2 years from being a young father to seeing one of my really good friends go through an injury where he nearly lost his leg and then the same year I had to resuscitate a friend who drowned in front me in Fiji, he basically drowned and we had bring him back to life and then another 2 months later I saw it again. This all happened in a two year period. I had two people drown in front of me, one of my best friend nearly lose their legs and dealing with being a father. There was a lot to take on and it's not something normal people have to deal with”


“Joel Parkinson and those guys set such a high standard for anyone else trying to be an aspiring surfer. They were put on such a high pedestal because it was such a dynamic thing to have three freaks at the same time from the same little area so everyone else was in their shadows. It was great but pretty hard you had to do some special stuff to stand out. You know honestly I don't feel like I would be where I am at today if it wasn't for that. You definitely have to been in check and being from the Gold Coast has definitely helped that”

The power of an inner circle and the people you choose to surround yourself with. When those around you strive for the better it will also push you to step your game up and reach up to your potential.


“In Hawaii it wasn’t the size of the waves but the power was tenfold compared to what I was used to. When the waves got huge it blew my mind as a kid. I was there for 2 months my first time and I some what kind of got used to it. There were a couple of moments where I got caught inside at huge pipe and basically thought I was going to die. I came back to shore with tears I only got a 10 foot wave that felt like buildings. The worst thing you can do when you surf big foot waves is panic and I was way out of my depth and ended up panicking. And once you panic your breath hold gets thrown out the window. Looking back at it now I can laugh at it but at the time I thought literally I was going to die”

Challenging yourself is a beautiful thing and every success story has an origin. A challenge such as above takes the ability to continually get better every day. When you do something every day you will take some impressive steps when you look back at your progress after 6 months then a year but there is a path success and the need to embrace the sets along the way.


Another great perspective from Ryan was around controlling our thoughts and how it can influence the outcome.

“Being positive isn’t even a question anymore. It’s the first thing you teach yourself. If I panic I’m dead because I’ve been in these situations a lot it’s not even something that crosses my mind. I’ve put myself in this situation and the only way I can survive is to relax not panic and let the work I put in to get me out of it. The training & preparation. If you panic or have doubt you won’t survive its bad because you know as soon as that thought hits your mind you’re already in a state of panic you need to ride the process out”

“I’m not going say I don’t get scared or afraid because I feel your body and mind needs that to keep you alive. I feel that when things started to turn for the better for me was when I just realised what these signals were and why they are there. Believing in yourself that it’s going to be fine. If something does go bad and actually enjoying the moment and just surfing”


The power of the “Why”. When you look deep in your soul and rip out the purpose you will find it.

“Why do I surf big waves? The reason is it’s my identity it’s what I do. I love it and not for any other reason. For me I know I’m in the moment when everything works even if I wipe out I enjoy it. It could have been heavy but let’s get another. That’s the mindset of the now and enjoying what you’re doing. It feels like nothing. You can get in the moment if you enjoy your time in the water. If things aren’t right these days I literally won’t go, it’s not worth the risk and I know I won’t enjoy it”

There were some great takeaways from the podcast. Personal stories can be a powerful tool for us to learn and reflect as we search for growth in our lives.

To summarise the learning principals from my perspective would be:

[if !supportLists]1. [endif]Clearly identify your “WHY” to find your purpose

[if !supportLists]2. [endif]Positive self belief can be a game changer at difficult times

[if !supportLists]3. [endif]Every journey has an origin embrace the struggles of the beginning

[if !supportLists]4. [endif]Surround yourself with people who are striving higher which will challenge you to do test your boundaries

[if !supportLists]5. [endif]Persevere through the bad times as better times can be just around the corner

[if !supportLists]6. [endif]Life can change at an instance learn from your experiences and be grateful for the people & opportunities in your life

[if !supportLists]7. [endif]Preparation and Knowledge can separate you from the competition

Think about how can you use Ryan’s experience to help you in your own journey?

Be sure to continue to follow Ryan on his journey.

Be the first to listen to future episodes as well as catch up on previous episodes of the show. One on one conversation’s with legends like Steve Waugh, Greg Chappell, Wayne Gardner, David Reynolds, Kieren Perkins, Mark Occhilupo, Michael Klim, Andrew Ettingshausen, Paul Harragon, David Campese, Bradley Clyde, Karmichael Hunt, Matt Toomua, Mark Hunt, & Robbie Maddison

You can find all of these episodes online or subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher or wherever you listen to your podcast.

For show notes, athletes lists and more learning articles, please visit

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