Mavericks, California is one of the world’s premier, big wave surfing destinations. At certain times of the year, under the right conditions, Mavericks is home to some of the biggest waves on the planet, cresting out of the water as high as 60ft. In order to catch these waves, surfers have to be towed out into the fray on their boards by jet skis. A rare breed of surfer, though, is able to catch these behemoths using their bare hands and keen observation. One of the most well known of these surfers is the late Jay Moriarty, whose life the film Chasing Mavericks is based on.
In the film, there is a pivotal scene where Jay is standing on the beach, looking out over Mavericks. He’s drenched and exhausted, having just been thrashed by the surf in an attempt to paddle out to where the waves break. His mentor, an older, more experienced surfer is standing beside him. The older surfer motions out over the water and encourages the young surfer to observe the water more carefully. He directs Jay’s attention over to some rocks that jut out from the shoreline, where the water is markedly calmer than what’s directly out in front of them. With all of that energy hammering into the shoreline, it has to go somewhere. Back out to sea. To an experienced waterman, the currents out by the rocks formed something like a conveyer belt in the water. Currents that Jay proceeds to use repeatedly to ride out through the mayhem to catch the biggest waves of his life.
The older surfer relates it this way, “Simple fact is, you’ve got two choices. You can fight things head-on or you can observe the laws of nature.”
In life, as in surfing, there are forces at play that are bigger and stronger than us. We can choose to fight them, we can choose to ignore them, or we can look closely and see how we can best align ourselves with those forces to benefit from them.
It’s next to impossible to see those forces and make smart connections when you’re in the thick of things, though. When Jay was in the water, trying to paddle out to the break, he was too busy trying not to drown to notice the currents waiting to whisk him out to where he wanted to be. It wasn’t until he was on the beach, looking out over the water, that he could make the connection.
Steve Jobs likened this ability to “zooming out” of a situation. Looking at things with such a grand perspective that you’re able to make connections that other people can’t see.
Oftentimes, when someone finds out that I studied to be a watchmaker I’m met with surprise or bewilderment. What would possess someone to pursue a career as analog as watchmaking in our digital age? There are a lot of intellectual, emotional, and physically tangible reasons that I chose to become a watchmaker. Setting aside any of these subjective reasons, though, lets zoom out and take a look at a few numbers.
In January 2015, the American Watchmakers-Clockmakers Institute published that the ratio of Swiss watches imported in the previous year to the number of watchmakers able to care for those watches was 5000:1. Every single one of these watches will eventually require the services of a watchmaker. I don’t know any watchmaker who could come close to properly servicing that volume of timepieces in a single year, let alone in addition to the millions of watches produced every year before that.
Another stat that was published around the time that I was first considering getting into the trade, was that more than 50% of the then currently employed workforce of watchmakers were within 10 years of death or retirement. In addition to that, the current worldwide shortage at the time was reported to be upwards of 20,000. The US graduates a few dozen watchmakers in a good year. Here in Canada, we’re lucky to break out of the single digits in any given year.
The currents looked good and they’ve proven more advantageous than I could have predicted. If there’s one thing that’s constant about currents, though, it’s that they can change—and give rise to new waves, just waiting to be caught.