Saturday, February 17, 2001
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Posted on: Saturday, February 17, 2001

Book Review
Helping surfers to chill

Book increases awareness of violence in ocean

By Brad Yates
Special to The Advertiser

The elevator door in the lobby of the Princess Kaiulani Hotel opens and out steps Australian surf legend Nat Young, his wife and young son. They look like a travel poster for Australia, typically "Down Under," tall, ruggedly handsome, healthy looking.

After polite introductions, Young and I sit down to, as he says, "have a go" at an interview. Young is 54, the blond Afro that he wore in the ’60s is gone; his hair is now short and well groomed. His skin looks amazingly well; his eyes shine clear and alert. He is the perfect picture of the professional athlete aging gracefully.

NAT YOUNG: Australian surf legend was seen as arrogant and ended up being attacked by a fellow surfer. To heal himself, he wrote a book.
More significantly, also gone is the brash attitude that characterized him so many years ago - in and out of the water. Young’s style, which has been described as "animalistic," was a serious jolt to the era’s traditional surf scene back when a more soulful attitude ruled, and the only major championship in Hawai’i was held at Makaha. That change was the impetus for his new book, "Surf Rage, a Surfers’ Guide to Turning Negatives Into Positives" (Nymbodia Press, $22.95).

In the words of Island surfing legend Clyde Aikau, "Nat has mellowed." He smiles as he thinks back. "We had some intense sessions and words back then, but we’re cool now."|

Young was born and raised on an Australian beach in what he calls "ideal conditions." As he grew, he quickly adapted his gangly body to his own particular style of surfing. At 15, fueled by the desire to overcome a serious injury, he trained himself to surf beyond his ability, beyond the standards for his age, becoming the youngest-ever Australian champion.

From that day forward, there was no holding him back. Blessed with an innate intelligence of the kind that psychologists refer to as "ego strength," he believed beyond a shadow of doubt that he was worthy of greatness.

His self-confidence allowed him to develop his amazing skills, harness his aggression and strike out at the opportunities that came his way.

The result was a winning style that captured an impressive number of world titles, a membership in Australia’s prestigious Sporting Hall of Fame and all of the trappings of success.

Unfortunately, there was a downside. His aggression and success were labeled as arrogance, resulting in criticism from the press, ridicule by the jealous and, just recently, a violent attack from a fellow surfer. The injuries he received actually threatened his life.

What happened to Young is hardly a rarity. While there are no real statistics on the frequency of violence among surfers on and off the waves, every surfer has a confrontation story. Somebody gives somebody attitude; somebody muscles in front of somebody else in the line-up; a newcomer challenges a veteran and harsh words, physical blows or worse result.

After it happened to him, once again, Young’s special form of intelligence pulled him through. The same clarity that enabled him to seize the moment on the waves enabled him to see his options clearly after the attack.

The same desire that allowed him to surf beyond his ability has also allowed him to recover from the injuries suffered in the attack. The same tenacity that allowed him to excel in the water and the business world has allowed him to reframe the negative situations he’s faced, reversing the outcomes into positive learning experiences.

"It makes me really sad to think that it took almost getting killed to realize that I’ve been part of this problem," Young said in a moment of introspection.

"I wanted to heal myself of any anger or resentment and contribute to the surfing world in the process. I can’t change the way I was back then. This book is my way of giving back to a sport that has given me so much."

Young said he has been able to accept his mistakes, heal his wounds and make amends to others after reflecting on the deeper issues.

"My aggression was always aimed at the wave. I now realize that my actions were part of the problem in surfing. From here on, I want to be part of the solution. I want to bring an awareness to the dark side of aggression and a return to the true spirit of surfing."

Finally at peace, surrounded by a loving family and supportive friends, this gifted athlete is "cool now" in himself and with the surfing world.

Brad Yates, a lifelong surfer and a former Punahou teacher, is now a motivational speaker and life-change coach.

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