Tiger on the Terrace or Kitty in the Kitchen

Posted: Aug 17, 2010


Thomas J. Barrack, Jr.
August 18, 2010

Today is the ten-year anniversary of Laird Hamilton’s mammoth and infamous forty-foot, tow-in wave at ferocious Teahupoo in Tahiti.

As most of you know, Laird was the guest speaker at our Investors Conference in 2008 and he and his amazing wife Gabby have become great personal friends of mine. Laird is probably

the best all-around waterman on earth and also one of the best all-around gentlemen on earth. I am increasingly impressed by his philosophy and commitment to evaluating and conquering “risk envelopes” as well as his gentle and compassionate nature with all who cross his wide path. Even more impressive is watching him exercise those steel strands of integrity in every aspect of his life outside of the water with the everyday “invisible” people and tiny unnoticeable things. Surfing big waves is exactly like investing and he and I share many beliefs about the nature of men, competition, humility, shelf-life, friends, compassion, the conduct of life, and when to “man up.” We are also both a little uncontrollable and very unconventional.

For the last twenty years, Hawaii has been a volatile real estate market. We have always been successful buying assets there in the bottom of cycles and selling them in the up cycle (i.e. Hilton Waikoloa Hotel, Orchid at Mauna Lani, The W Hotel in Oahu, etc.) I had a few meetings lined up in Oahu to take the temperature of the island’s state of play and decided that since I was already in Hawaii it would be the perfect time to celebrate Laird’s Teahupoo anniversary with him in the waters off Kauai. We sawed the cast off my arm and set sail for Laird’s “Surfer Toy Box” at Hanalei Bay.

What I want to share with you is not the fun, fear and humility I gained being in the water with Laird, but rather a few of the thoughts, attitudes, and practices which we shared on this trip that may be of value to you in your daily lives.

1) Most people operate in an environment of such low risk that both action and inaction have very few consequences. So although we may be attracted to the tiger on the terrace, we prefer to live with the kitty in the kitchen. The tiger on the terrace is operating in a high-risk environment so the consequences of his actions are significant. He is keeping everything stirred up and everyone around him on their toes. He is tireless, always in perpetual motion, relentless, obsessed and fills every room with energy the moment he enters. He has a twinkle in both eyes and all in his path are standing on 2 their toes. While he is on the terrace no one is whining, complaining or sick. They are all running for their lives. That is entertaining for most people to watch, but not to live. The tiger is all things to excess and nothing to moderation. As a consequence, the masses choose to trade the tiger for a kitty in the kitchen and lower risk tolerance. The daily risk appetite of the tiger is just too exhausting even though the thrill quotient is significantly higher. Most people want mediocrity, security, safety and repetition. The kitchens are then filled with whining, sickness, complaints and boredom. That is why there are few tigers left in the world and millions of kitties. Leaders are tigers!

2) The attributes of a great man, adventurer, investor or surfer are reflected in how they treat everything around them – not just in their defined skill or art!!! Their friends, their kids, their mate, their subordinates – respect, thoughtfulness, honesty. You can tell how someone is with the big things by watching what and how many little things they can master. You can tell how they will be with you by looking at how gentle and kind they were with the others that came before you. The person you want next to you when you are in a life or death situation is the one who has practiced integrity, selfless strength and pushing through comfort barriers for a lifetime with everyone with whom they came in contact in preparing for that moment. No man left behind!

3) Some become arrogant and cocky by merely catching a lucky wave, not necessarily being the best.

As a result luck may be the biggest impediment to the “shelf life” of a career. If the objective is to be good or do well over a long period of time, being lured into a false sense of security by one lucky ride may be the most detrimental possible event. Anyone can get lucky when the conditions are perfect and the wind is holding up the wave. You will see what you are made of when conditions turn ugly and bleak and the wave is eating all within your reach. Who do you want to be in the water with then?

4) If you are a fisherman teach your children to fish – don’t give them fish. (Easier said than done.) Today, much of our society is struck by the “Disease of Ease.” Everyone wants more for doing less and the wave is one of entitlement rather than hard work and not confusing efforts with results. You can only gain true self-confidence and self-esteem by making it happen for yourself – by testing, jousting, parrying, thrusting, failing, pushing and doing. People that take it easy, find it easy, are given easy, and are seeking easy, find their fuel tank to be empty when they reach to hit the afterburner.

5) It is lonely being a leader and you hear more jeers than cheers. Doing what others will not do and going where others will not go is not popular. Others are threatened by unconventional conduct.

There are observers and there are participants. Participants view defeat as a tool in building towards success while observers view defeat as an unacceptable result. For observers there is always an excuse as to why they are not in the water today. Observers are empowered by banding together in criticism on the shore as the leader paddles off the face of a wave alone and unadorned in the far off line up.

6) The practice of Hawaiian Zen says that it is impossible to add more tea to an already full cup. It is impossible to change attitudes of the mind when the mind is closed. Closed minds say, “I already know. Don’t tell me and don’t show me I already have it.” This is an acquired and simple arrogance that becomes a huge limitation. Great performers have an unlimited cup of “openness” which is manifested as humility. Their cups are open and accepting of all points of views around them. When humility meets boldness, it is magic.

7) If you are always worried about the last wipe out or if you are second guessing yourself, musing that the next wave is bigger than the one you are on, you will not succeed on the wave you are riding. All that exists is where you are at the moment. Be in that moment! Your instincts will tell you what to do; your mind at times will become your worst enemy. If you have not had a disastrous wipe out, you are not pushing hard enough. Don’t lick the wounds from the past wave but rather find the opportunity in the next wave. Be better prepared and better equipped… don’t be more conservative or cautious.
8) If you keep your body, mind and soul in shape, age brings a unique competitive advantage: laser focus!! It’s the ability to not listen to the noise. Most people around us are not happy for our success. 3 They live life by common denominator. As a consequence, when you are young you are influenced by older people who may want to use you or people your own age who want to abuse you. In youth you are searching so the noise reverberating in your doubting mind becomes unbearable and the scope is as broad as a floodlight. With age, the focus becomes honed and you understand that the noise, even from associates, is designed to neutralize you, not elevate you!!! You know what is important and what is not and discount most of the meddlesome influence of those who are jealous or envious. Allow that gut instinct to flow – there is the answer.

9) The strongest, toughest most reliable people are also the kindest, most compassionate and most gentle. The ability to assert incredible amounts of physical, mental or emotional strength on behalf of a group or family by necessity makes one far more sensitive to those who cannot, and far more tolerant of those who are hurtful. For the most part, the most compassionate individuals are also the individuals who, when they finally hit that “impact zone,” you need to get out of their way. They have a long line between taking a punch and “enough is enough,” but when enough is enough, there is no doubt who or what they are.

10) In a survival situation there is one thing that’s certain: The rigid and immovable person chasing an expectation derived from a rule book is a disciple of death. The soft, supple and delicate individuals reacting to their instincts with no expectations or rule book are the enhancers and savers of lives.

11) Make a habit of leaving everyone a little bit better than when you found them.

12) Trust is earned by hours and hours of shared reliability on each other in various situations, and is lost in a single second of bad judgment by a friend who chooses to let you swim for it at a critical moment – “He is strong. He will make it.” You just can never look at them the same way again.

13) Reputations are built on commitment and the broad-based perception of others in the water that you are committed… when you go, you GO. When paddling down the face of a 30-foot wave there is no room for indecision. I will… I won’t… I should… I can’t…. Character is built on the back of “Go” or “No” – not “whoa.” We may not make the wave but no one will be confused about integrity and testosterone levels.

14) Common sense is the uncommon characteristic. You don’t need to learn it…. You have it – use it!

15) Imua!!!!! Hawaiian paddlers navigate hundreds of miles under the stars not knowing for sure where they are going. What they know is that wherever they are going they will get their faster if each paddle enters the water at the same time, with the same force, in harmonic synchronicity. It is not about the strongest paddler, it is about the canoe that is the most in unison together. You can often times hear the chant “Imua” from the steersman which means, “We go! We may not know exactly where, but we will go as hard as we can go, together, committed, with power … without knowing the destination – we just go.” IMUA!!!!!