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Hidden In Front Of Everyone’s Eyes – Our Own Potential

It was right there, but it wasn’t supposed to be, so no one saw it.

Today I want to talk about our own potential as a writer or creative professional – someone who is trying SO HARD to complete and publish their work, to forge a new identity in the middle of their life.

So many of us feel trapped by expectations of others. It is easier for a 40 year old accountant who plays in a local softball league to just continue doing that instead of sharing his poetry with friends and family. There are a 100 things in that person’s life telling him: “Dude, just chill on the poetry, okay?”

There is a shame in this because not only is no one expecting it, but sometimes no one WANTS to find it. I know, you are saying “Bullshit, Dan. Those around you WANT you to express all the magical deep things within you.”

But I have seen lots of examples of how one person expressing a new talent or creative vision, and being met by strange looks from colleagues, or friends or family, and even stranger comments that belittle the idea.

I want to share the story of an example of something similar to this – something amazing, hidden in plain site.

In high school, I was a (very bad) surfer. (Like, I was the worst surfer ever.) But I have always had a sentimental place in my heart for surfing and surf culture. Now, surfing developed as a niche lifestyle in the early part of the twentieth century, and then blew up in the early 60s. It was night and day, from a bizarre thing a tiny group of people did, to something that every teenager wanted to do. Beaches became packed with surfers.

In the 1980s, surfing exploded even further, with the proper advent of professional surfing (which painfully developed in the 1970s.) This is when I got into surfing, now an enormous industry where all the pro surfers had corporate sponsors and great prize money at contests. This was no longer just a lifestyle, this was a profession.

Then came the year 1990. I was a junior in High School, at the height of my surfing hobby, and after decades of millions and millions of people took up the sport/lifestyle. By this time, the media and corporations exploited surfing to death, it was something endlessly tread upon.

Then, something amazing happened. The ultimate thing happened. It was right there, but it wasn’t supposed to be, so no one saw it: the perfect wave.

You see, California is often seen as the heart of surf culture, but Hawaii always had the big waves – the majestic distinction between an everyday surfer who looks for anything rideable (here in New Jersey, we had a lot of 3-4 foot swells), and a big wave rider who ventures to Hawaii for 20 foot sets and above.

But one man, Jeff Clark, made a shocking discovery in 1975: perfect 20 foot waves just off the coast of California, near San Francisco. Now, this is not supposed to exist. California didn’t really have consistently big waves like this, and people long since assumed it couldn’t. So for 15 years, regardless of who Jeff told, no one believed him. As surfing exploded in popular culture, one of the most amazing surf spots in the world went completely ignored except by Jeff.

From 1975 – 1990, Jeff surfed this wave alone. It was called Mavericks. It was a big wave, and a very dangerous wave. You had to paddle out half a mile to get to it, and it broke right onto jagged rocks. In 1994, the surfing world lost one of it’s most beloved figures, Mark Foo, to that wave.

It was in 1990 that Jeff brought yet another group of surfers to the spot, and where word finally began to spread. It went from a secret spot to a surfing epicenter very quickly.

For years, it was one man. One spot. One wave. One experience.

The experience of Mavericks lived and died with him.

But then, the world discovered it. And it became thousands of men and women, at one spot, with millions of experiences.

This is the potential within the writer, within anyone doing creative work. And this is the challenge. Even when the world was desperate for a 20+ foot wave in California, no one could “see” it right in front of their eyes. And just as an individual works to express themselves in new ways and create a new vision, that doesn’t mean that those around them will “see” it either.

And yet, that is where the magic lies. And the decision to either surf that spot – alone for 15 years – or start believing what others tell you: what you see and feel isn’t really there.

The story of Mavericks in this post comes from a documentary called Riding Giants:


  • Don Peek
  • Mary McFarland

    Dan, as an aspiring author I know that feeling you describe, the dad who keeps his poetry to himself because life’s too busy. No one wants to hear him. I’m working on romance novels that reflect cultural hybridization theory. (See what I mean? Few like this strange daunting wave, but I’m riding it). Your advice, as always, keeps me surfing past the shoals, farther out, looking for the right wave. For all who work as I and most writers do, but who fear the isolation of creative drive and goals that you so eloquently place in surfing metaphor, I highly recommend your platform building course. In fact, I recommend all of your courses. I particularly thank you for this post.

  • This post really resonated with me. Thanks, Dan. My closest friends and family are the ones LEAST excited about what I do. It’s almost as if creative pursuits are seen as frivolous or indulgent by those that don’t pursue their own.

    • Thanks for sharing that. Yes, sometimes people’s reactions are merely reflections of their own angst or identity.

      • Trish Feehan

        I find my good friends are extremely supportive. It was me who struggled with the confidence to declare myself a ‘writer.’ Thanks, Dan, for encouraging me to claim the identity which is so central to who I am.

  • rochellebarlow

    I love this! I think often times we’re the ones that can’t see our own potential. Our potential for greatness and happiness. I think those around me that offer me support in my own dream stems from my support for them. I’m not asking for a pat on the back, I just think that if we ask for others to notice the potential inside of us we have to actively seek out their potential and strive to support, encourage, and push them. I love the relation to the 20 foot waves. It’s so weird to think that no one would have found those waves during all that time. Obviously, that’s your point. Let’s open our eyes people! 😉

  • writebrainrd

    I couldn’t agree more. J Thorn’s comments about his closest friends and relatives is quite true. How I engaged mine was to make them beta readers from the start so they had a hand in my eventual success.