Facing up to the Challenge – Reflections from a Surfboat

I am 47 years old and don’t look too crash hot in pair of speedos, but I wasn’t going to let that put me off. It was time to take on a new challenge. Time for me to get involved at the pointy end of an iconic Australian surfboat. I have played a bit of rugby and I am also a patrolling lifesaver, but the decision to have a crack at surfboat rowing wasn’t taken lightly. The boats are 7 metres long, powered by four rowers and one sweep (or driver!). I’d seen plenty of them taking on the power of the ocean at my local beaches and know that the ride can be wet, wild and often end up with a swim!

Three months later and I have just competed at my first surfboat carnival. Whilst there was no medal glory, I was stoked. My crew safely negotiated the course. We got out and back four times without drama and even beat another more experienced crew.

On reflection, it was evident that we had planned and executed the task at hand well and that the route taken was no different to that needed to succeed in a commercial project environment.

Preparation is everything

Put in the hard graft to make sure you are ready. We trained 3 times a week to build the necessary skills and fitness to get to the start line. In the professional environment, this equates to making sure you have done the detail work up front. You must have the appropriate procedures, systems and skillset to not only win the job but deliver it as a quality product in line with the client’s expectations, timeline and budget. Most importantly you need to make sure no one gets hurt.

Build a great team

Surround yourself with good people. Whilst to the outsider my surfboat crew probably looked like a bunch of middle-aged men in crisis, we knew that we were all ready to do what was needed to get the job done. As with all project teams, each person in the boat has their own specific role to play – from the moment the gun goes off to when the boat is safely back on the sand. Effective communication is critical throughout. Belief in your colleagues – that they are fully committed to the cause is essential.

Resilience in the face of the unexpected

Things don’t always go to plan. A surfboat race is 800m long and takes about 4 minutes. That may not sound much, but there is plenty of time for things to go wrong. You are always in the hands of mother nature. On a good day she lets you play nicely. On a bad day……… not so much! Decisions often need to be made quickly and with complete trust in the skills that have been developed during the preparation phase of the project. This is where the real character of the project team comes through. There is no time for blame.


Fast, safe rowing is based on teamwork and the focus on doing many small repetitive things consistently well. You have to coordinate to balance the boat which is surprisingly ‘tippy’. Each of the four rowers must pull in perfect time. Small mistakes make a big difference. You need to keep your mind on the task to the very end. Surprisingly, the most dangerous time around a surfboat is the few metres closest to shore when you’d think the race was over.

Likewise, the effective close out of any project is never the most glamorous task. But it is often the difference between success and failure, particularly when it comes to getting pole position for the next big race.

Winners are grinners

My kid-like excitement at crossing the line at the end of the race was certainly genuine. If someone had told me 3 months ago that I would be competing in my first carnival I would have not taken them seriously. Is there a lot more to learn? Heck yes. Can I do things better next time? You bet. Does it make me want to take on bigger and more challenging assignments? Bloody oath.

It’s exactly this mindset that will enable you to get the best out of yourself and succeed in the professional arena.

Orion Consulting provides specialist project management services across the residential, industrial and infrastructure delivery sectors.

Dominic Lynch | General Manager | Orion Consulting

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