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How to be a champion in life? Learn from ancient surfing wisdom

Tom Pohaku Stone on his surfboard

“We look with our eyes, but not with our mind and spirit.” Tom Pohaku Stone

Tom Pohaku Stone is a legendary native Hawaiian surfer and waterman, who has been on a life long journey in search of his cultural heritage. He is known as a pro surfer and for his magnificent handmade, 18-foot wood Hawai’i surfboards. He teaches History of Surfing at the University of Hawai’i. In this interview we cover:

  • How champions surf

  • Surfing lifestyle vs. office jobs

  • How to train life skills


I met Tom at the first Belgian Surf Exhibition in Knokke. He was carving and crafting handmade surfboards inside the exhibition room!

Tom, what is surfing for you?

I believe the physical and mental being are connected. By doing a sport like surfing, you realise that the ocean is alive. If you get into the ocean, it will always embrace you. It brings your spirit out of yourself and connects it to our mother, the Ocean. It allows us to look past the difficult things in life and reinvigorate our spirit.

Today, in the modern world and in sports, we don’t stop to look around. As a cyclist, you only focus on the speed and you don’t notice the wind or the smell of the trees or flowers and all the things that go by. This makes the difference between champions. For champions, everything slows down and they can see everything around them.


“Champions see everything around them.”


How can cyclists or people who practice other sports learn how to be a champion in this way?

You should feel your energy. My energy is going very fast, and because my energy is going faster I can see faster. I have a sense of seeing. We look with our eyes, but not with our mind and spirit.

When you catch a wave everything is going so fast, you have to move faster than the motion of a breaking wave. So, that means you have to see everything before it happens. You can only do that by letting your spirit come out. Peripheral vision is not how far you can see, it is what you see.

If you don’t see everything, the consequence is wipeout, and this can hurt. A cyclist might be focusing on building their body up to be the best rather than building up their spirit. If you would build your spirit, you would see that your body will become strong as well.


“I train people to enjoy what they are doing.”


Can the spiritual teaching (like ancient Western and Eastern philosophy “gongfu”) be brought back?

The young generation of surfers are all focused on the technologies of surfing and not surfing for the love of it. The trainers focus on repetitive exercises. If you train for cycling, you train using weightlifting and cardio exercises.

It becomes a business and a job and you disconnect your spirit from it. I always train young surfers to enjoy what they are doing and not to worry about the competitiveness. You can easily build competitiveness, but you cannot build the natural reason for doing what you do, no matter what it is.

People today are often expected to go into an office job. The idea to do something you love is often put aside. How can we tackle this challenge?

Do what you really want to do and do not do what everyone else wants you to do. Young people don’t want to drop out of their community and they avoid doing what they love to do. When I grew up, as a child, I was taught to embrace everything I learned: fishing, climbing a mountain, and running as fast as I could and laughing about it. It is not laughter because it’s crazy funny; it’s laughter inside that makes you feel good.

Whether your work involves sitting behind a computer, carving wood, or drawing with a pencil, because you are an artist you love to do that. In today’s world we are all so much alike and our society wants to make us all the same. However, people wake up and say no, I am programmed differently. This is what people like Einstein made great: he saw equations and numbers in a different way. This what we all should be doing. Even though we have similarities, we are all completely different.


“Do what you really want to do and

do not do what everyone else wants you to do.”


Have you ever been challenged to do something different in your life?

My father said that surfing would lead to nothing, because I am not doing what all the other people are doing. I said that’s ok. I will work all my life to go surfing every day and every night. By embracing what I love to do, it allowed me to develop the things that are important to self-growth.

I learned that hardships in life are just like riding a wave. Every wave is different, some waves you make, others you don’t. But, what do you do when you are wiped out? You have to get back on the board and paddle back out. To avoid a wipeout, you have to see everything going on around you. That doesn’t mean the environment, it means in you, in people and how they impact you, how they affect your thinking. It is not easy.


“I learned that hardships in life

are just like riding a wave.”


I do martial arts called Budo. Budo is about understanding the motion of your body in reaction to the energies you encounter. It is to connect to the energy and move it in a direction you want that energy to go. Imagine you walk down the street; how many people feel the little changes in the street? Balance is the essence of your spirit and your body. This is what I teach my son as well. People are always thinking about physical balance and not looking at their spirit. These have to be balanced.

People train to do something, but not to be part of what they are really doing. It is like when I am carving the board. It is about feeling the lines. It is about understanding what you are doing. Are you just making a surfboard? If so, you are not really learning anything. When you are actually carving it and putting life into it, you feel the different parts of it, the wood and the spirit that is in the wood.


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