How surfing improves your emotional intelligence

It’s not surprising why psychologists and coaching experts find emotional intelligence to be one of the key predictors of success. See how surfing helps your EQ

James Godwin

6 minute read

how surfing improves your emotional intelligence

Emotional Intelligence, describes an ability or capacity to perceive, assess, and manage the emotions of one’s self, and of others.

It’s not surprising why psychologists and career coaching experts find emotional intelligence to be one of the key predictors of success. That’s because people with high EQ can work well under pressure and because they are able to understand other people’s emotions, it is easier for them to get along with others.

Emotionally intelligent people are also effective communicators as they are able to manage their emotions while responding to others. Their ability to listen well makes them more sensitive to the needs of others. Their open-mindedness and capacity for empathy help them adapt to change in both business or social settings.

Emotionally intelligent people make great leaders because they are able to make sound decisions based on facts and careful evaluation that also take into consideration the views of others. They are able to connect with others emotionally, which helps build trust in any relationship.

Jobs such as those in sales and customer service in which emotional competencies obviously make a big difference, we already intuitively know. What surprised me was from the work done at Google with their ‘Search Inside Yourself’ course. They reported that this is true even for individual contributors in the tech sector, namely engineers whom you would expect to succeed purely on intellectual prowess. The top six competencies that distinguish star performers from average performers in the tech sector are:

  1. Strong achievement drive and high achievement standards [EQ]
  2. Ability to influence [EQ]
  3. Conceptual thinking [IQ]
  4. Analytical ability [IQ]
  5. Initiative in taking on challenges [EQ]
  6. Self-confidence [EQ]

Of the top six, only two (conceptual thinking and analytical ability) are purely intellectual competencies. The other four, including the top two, are emotional competencies.

Decades of research now points to emotional intelligence as the critical factor that sets star performers apart from the rest of the pack. It’s a powerful way to focus your energy in one direction with a tremendous results. TalentSmart tested emotional intelligence alongside 33 other important workplace skills, and found that emotional intelligence is the strongest predictor of performance, explaining a full 58 percent of success in all types of jobs.

Emotional Intelligence Can Be Developed.

Some people have naturally good EQ skills. Others need to work on them. The good news is that everyone can get better. Unlike IQ, people can actually improve their emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is trainable, even in adults. This claim is based on a new branch of science known as “neuroplasticity.”

Why surfing helps build EQ

Activity in the presence of nature improves both mental and physical health, reducing stress, improving attention capacity, mood, and general well being.

Surfing produces a powerful rush of neurochemicals associated with happiness and well-being, including oxytocin, endorphins, and dopamine. This rush of chemicals aids in the reduction of stress and the enhancement of attention capacity and mood.

There are five categories of emotional intelligence. They are;

  1. Self-awareness. Identify your emotions and analyse your reactions.
  2. Self-regulation. Practice control over your emotions and recognise impulses.
  3. Motivation. An emotionally intelligent person is capable of motivating himself.
  4. Empathy. Empathy is more than just putting yourself in the shoes of others.
  5. Social skills. Hear the words and the emotions behind what was communicated to you, then respond with honesty and sensitivity.

So how do we train emotional intelligence? It turns out the first step is attention training. The idea is to train attention to create a quality of mind that is calm and clear at the same time. That quality of mind forms the foundation for emotional intelligence. The foundation of surfing is also the foundation of EQ training, “A Strong Attention Capacity”.

The way to train your attention is with “mindfulness meditation.” Mindfulness is defined by Jon Kabat-Zinn as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”

Mindfulness is a quality of mind that we all experience and enjoy from time to time. And many a surfer feels this often! It’s something that can be made stronger with practice. Once it becomes strong, it leads to calmness and clarity that forms the basis of emotional intelligence.

Surfing combined with mindfulness can increase the effectiveness of both practices. Surfing itself is a form of everyday mindfulness. It demands attention to the present moment. Missing the perfect wave or getting pounded by an incoming set is strong incentive to maintain focus.

Surfers must focus all of their attention on balancing on their boards and getting ready for the next wave. Because this requires so much attention, surfers don’t have time to worry about anything else. Anyone who has a lot on their mind can benefit greatly from paddling out into the water and riding a few waves.

Once you have a solid attention foundation then you can move to self-awareness. Surfers become more self-aware by riding the waves. This activity forces them to connect with their bodies, identify their limitations, and acknowledge their strengths. Becoming more self-aware can build confidence and help individuals increase their emotional intelligence.

For many, surfing goes beyond sport and often leads to a more fulfilling, uplifting, and meaningful life. Surfing is an ideal practice for supporting long-term mental and physical health.

Surfing isn’t easy. A surfer can spend a lifetime improving their skills and seeking ever more challenging waves. It is the same journey if you’re trying to improve your EQ. As you evolve as a surfer and as a human, strong self-awareness will keep you on the right wave so you can enjoy the ride :)

My years of managing dev teams lead me to develop an EQ training course. It was easy for me to develop their technical abilities but what I found, what would truly boost their careers was improving EQ skills.

I was fortunate enough to have started Tai Chi a moving meditation at a very early age. Practising Tai Chi for over 25 years has allowed me to build a solid foundation to support the most important aspect of EQ development, which is attention training. My surfing and windsurfing have also been integral in my understanding of EQ.

If you are interested in supporting yourself or helping the teams you manage, the links below can help you learn more about EQ training.

Enjoy the waves :)



  1. What is EQ?
  2. Emotional Intelligence Training Course
  3. Learn to meditate with the Just6 App
  4. Meditation and the Science
  5. 7 reasons that emotional intelligence is quickly becoming one of the top sought job skills
  6. The secret to a high salary Emotional intelligence
  7. How to bring mindfulness into your employee wellness program
  8. Google ’Search Inside Yourself’

Featured image from unspalsh - by Tim Marshall