Life is like Kitesurfing

A couple of years ago, I learned to kitesurf. Well, I tried to learn to kitesurf; I tried really hard. Eventually, after seven lessons, I rode about 50 meters. Though in the end that doesn’t really matter, because as I reflect back on the experience I’ve begun to realize that while I thought I was learning about kitesurfing, I was really learning about life.

Let me run you through the kitesurfing basics so the rest of this analogy makes sense. There are two main pieces of equipment involved: a board on your feet, and a kite in your hands. You control the kite using a bar that attaches four lines to the kite. When you pull the bar closer to you, the kite power increases, when you slide it away from you, the power decreases, and you steer the kite by pulling one side of the bar closer to you. Easy enough to remember, right?

Right. That is, until you find yourself neck-deep in saltwater with 20 mile per hour winds whipping across your face, then instincts kick in. For most people, the natural reaction to feeling the wind tug on the kite is to pull the bar closer in hopes of muscling your way into control over the kite. It makes perfect sense, muscles tense in response as seek more control over a relatively scary situation. The problem is, pulling the kite closer to you only gives it more power, so you actually end up losing what little control you may have had. The key to a smooth ride is to find the balance between holding on and letting go.

Hanging on with white knuckles won’t work, but neither will letting go of the bar entirely (however, that is a good way to get a face full of saltwater!) In between hanging on and letting go there’s a sweet spot where you and the wind work together. If the wind changes, you adapt, you shift your grip, you adjust your stance, and you let it flow.

The only way to find that sweet spot is to actually get up and ride, to practice letting go and letting everything flow. Your teacher can yell, “Relax your arms, Carly! RELAX!” from the beach all they want, but you have to feel it for yourself.

Isn’t that just like life? You have to loosen your instinctual vice grip on life to make room for it to flow. Muscling your way through life, willing things into existence, controlling every step of the way is usually a lot less effective than inviting some softness, some looseness, adaptability, and flexibility.

In my opinion that’s one of life’s great paradoxes: letting go a little actually gives you more control.

Knowing this doesn’t make it less scary to let go, though. I can only speak to my life experience here, but I’ve found that life is usually most scary right before something great happens. Maybe that’s just the feeling of living at the edge of your comfort zone, maybe it’s because fear always precedes growth. Here’s what I’ve learned: life opens up if you let it. I have to constantly remind myself of this. Make the scary decision, take the big leap, and then consciously make some room for adjustment.

Whether in kitesurfing or in life, let go so you can let it flow.