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How to stay calm under pressure, according to an Ultimate Waterman

Two-time Ultimate Waterman Zane Kekoa Schweitzer shares his go-to practices for keeping your cool in the most stressful situations.

As a two-time Ultimate Waterman and 15-time World Champion in windsurfing and stand up paddleboarding, Zane Kekoa Schweitzer is no stranger to extremely high-pressure (and often dangerous) situations. In fact, high-pressure may be an understatement. On a given day Schweitzer may find himself facing a 60-foot wave or racing 150 miles on the water all while balancing on a paddleboard in the ocean.

Snagging the title of the reigning Ultimate Waterman was no small feat. The event incorporates ten different ocean sports over a 12-day period, including surfing, canoe racing, stand-up paddling, swimming, and an underwater strength and endurance challenge, which requires competitors to run 25 yards underwater carrying a 50-kilogram weight.

And while much of the preparation is physical, the most important part of his training is mental, he says.

Known as “Zaniac” by his friends and family for his obsessive enthusiasm, when we sat down with Schweitzer while he was in New York City for the City Paddle Festival, it became quickly apparent that he’s also found a way to balance his energetic optimism with a grounded, calm head space that undoubtedly plays a major role in his success during competition. In his new book, “Beneath the Surface,” he shares the life practices that he credits for the positive attitude and mental strength that has gotten him through his toughest obstacles.

The good news? Schweitzer says that whether you’re surfing a huge wave in Hawaii or headed to an important business meeting, his strategies for mentally preparing before a high-stakes competition ring true. Here are some of his go-to practices for remaining calm under pressure, using the ocean as therapy and how we can all benefit from the Hawaiian practice of Ho'oponopono.

Schweitzer during the underwater strength and endurance challenge at the Ultimate Waterman competition.The Ultimate Waterman

On keeping his cool during competition

[When competing] we have to really be in the right head space. Of course, months before, we're preparing physically as well. But when it comes down to the wire and we're being pressured to surf, race or do an underwater strength and endurance challenge, it takes a lot of mental calmness and emotional control. As a professional surfer and waterman, we have to learn to adapt with the conditions of the ocean. If you imagine yourself in the ocean, and a 50-foot wave about to crash on top of your head, you might start to hyperventilate and panic and feel your legs go numb. And in this moment, under pressure, this is when our preparation really comes into play, when you can control your panic, control your emotion, and kick yourself into this state of flow and do what's necessary to make it over this hurdle.

On being prepared to hit a hurdle

At the end of the day, success is when preparation meets opportunity, no matter what sport or business we're in.

No matter what sport we're dealing with, or even what business we're in, there's always those times where we confront a hurdle, a problem, and there's always a solution for that. It all comes down to our preparation. At the end of the day, success is when preparation meets opportunity, no matter what sport or business we're in. I have a few ways to really mentally prepare myself, whether its surfing waves over 50 feet or competing in the Ultimate Waterman. For me, visualization and manifestation [plays] a huge role in my success, whether it's with journaling or with forms of meditation such as mindful tapping. [They] really allow me to refocus myself in those times during competition, on the clock, or in a pressured event where I can bring myself back to composure and be confident in my preparation.

On the mental tools that help him stay focused

We enter that time in our meeting or when the competition starts, and all of a sudden, we're nervous. We're shaking. And those are the times when we can either succeed or break. I like to relate this to a huge wave crashing on your head: you could hesitate for a moment and hyperventilate or you could lock into that state of flow, be confident in your preparation and know exactly what you have to do to make it through this challenge. [I have a] few tools that I use to set me up for competition to get myself in the right head space and to be mentally prepared. I like to be in control of my moment, but also be confident in the moment. If I forget about doing these practices, there's a big difference. And I've had times during competition where I've had to stop in the middle of a heat, reset and rely on one of these practices. It allows me to change my mindset, alter my state. Sometimes that's all it takes. As physically demanding as a lot of these sports are that I practice, at times, it's more mentally tough than it is physical.

As physically demanding as a lot of these sports are that I practice, at times, it's more mentally tough than it is physical.

On mindful tapping

One of my favorite practices for visualizing and manifesting a desired outcome or a win is something called mindful tapping. It's a great way for me to get back into the right head space, after being thrown off, or leading into the event during training sessions. Anyone could practice that and help to get them in the right space. As acupuncture hits pressure points, we go through a visualization of how we currently feel as we tap these different points [on the body]. As we go through these different trigger points, we then start to visualize our preparation and how we're going to achieve this. And as we move into our next pressure point, we start to go deeper into detail with our visualization of leading up to that point of competition; that make-it-or-break-it moment, and that decision that we're going to make, whether it be being confident in our preparation or whether it be visualizing our course, or knowing the traits of your competition and being confident in your strategy. [With]] these different visualization methods it's almost like before you even enter competition, you've already achieved what you're going after. Whether you're visiting a business meeting or entering a competition, this can be really valuable for an athlete or an everyday person. And it's definitely something I owe a lot of success for, not just in my athletic career but in my career as a philanthropist and an author as well.

On his five-minute journaling routine

Someone who has really shaped me into the character I am today and allowed me to be a grounded athlete and person is my grandmother. She [taught] me to take on the practice of journaling at a very young age and embrace the attitude of gratitude. One of my favorite practices that I keep most consistent is journaling. It’s a way for me to pre-manifest my success and my overall desired outcome.

Traveling eight to ten months out of the year, I have very little that stays consistent in my routine and journaling has been one of those things that’s stayed consistent for over 12 years now.

Every day, in the morning, I'll list a few things I'm grateful for and then I'll list a few things that'll make today great. Then I'll list a daily affirmation. Sometimes, I'll write as it already happened; try to feel those emotions of a win, and visualize my friends and family carrying me up the beach or the finish line, and really embrace those emotions. And at the end of the day, it's amazing, because of that little practice of journaling, I've made the right decisions throughout my day to put me in the place I need to be to always be taking a step forward. In the evening, it's a moment to reflect. I write down three things that made today great; how a selfless action got to help someone else feel inspired or how I felt inspiration from a selfless action. And then I write down how I could've made today better. It's a very simple practice of journaling that takes me five minutes in the morning and five minutes at night. And you know, with the athlete I am traveling eight to ten months out of the year, juggling up to three different world tours a year, I have very little that stays consistent in my routine and journaling has been one of those things that’s stayed consistent for over 12 years now.

Schweitzer says that practicing on the ocean forces him to be fluid and adapt to the ever-changing conditions.The Ultimate Waterman

On banishing nerves with a war cry

Whether I'm stepping onto the start line of a major race or a big wave surf session out in the ocean, I always have this little method to shake off my nerves before the start or before a big wipe-out. I break out into a war cry to get me pumped up. It immediately sets me off and puts me into that mental state. I'm ready for war. I'm ready to go. And I shake off whatever feelings were slowing me down. Then I'll go through a breathing pattern and try and really fill my lungs with oxygen. And now, I'm ready to lock into that state of flow and just allow my subconscious to take control from there. At the end of the day, a lot of these mental preparations are just the way for our subconscious to really work with us. I'll even do that sometimes moments before realizing that the 60-foot wave is about to crash on my head. It just gives a moment for me to be present.

On the Hawaiian practice of Ho'oponopono

Throughout my day, I'll go through a practice called Ho'oponopono; it's a Hawaiian thought process that actually allows us to embrace forgiveness. It’s part of my culture and it's also something that I've found to really level out my head when there's too much running around. It actually is directed towards your subconscious. So the mantra that I go through, a lot, even in competition when I'm starting to feel nervous, I say it to myself: "I'm sorry. I love you. Thank you. I love you. Thank you. I'm sorry. Please forgive me." These four phrases over and over again. Instead of having all these other thoughts running around throwing you off, if I start to realize my head's running' too fast, I'll start going through this mantra. And it's amazing how the subconscious can really play a huge role when we meet that point of pressure. It's not just what you do in that moment; it's leading up to that moment far in advance.

Athletes that practice in the ocean…our arena is constantly moving and adapting… it forces us to be fluid and to embrace the power to adapt.

On learning from Mother Nature

As a young kid growing up around the ocean, I always responded well to pressure. And I think that's something that's really unique about athletes that practice in the ocean. We have an ever-changing field, an ever-changing course. Our arena is constantly moving and adapting. Never [will] any session will be the same. Never will you step to the beach and be like, this is exactly the same as yesterday. And so, it forces us to be fluid and to embrace the power to adapt. A waterman is someone that's multifaceted in the ocean, someone who adapts with the ever-changing conditions of Mother Nature. Even in my everyday life, this has shaped me to be a better human being as well, to be able to be present in my environment and then be able to make the right choice to adapt and move forward towards my overall desired outcome, whether it be for the day or for my goal that I'm setting down the line.

On using the ocean as therapy

[I started] a nonprofit, InZane SUPer Groms, where we've introduced over 3,000 kids to safe ocean practice all over the world, and our charity, Stand Up For The Cure, has raised over $1.2 million for uninsured breast cancer patients. Introducing the ocean and this connection to nature with cancer patients or children, it's amazing to see this transformation that the ocean takes on them. We use stand-up paddling at our cancer event-as a form of therapy. People fresh out of chemo can go and immerse themselves in the ocean. It’s hard to think about the stress and the problems you have going on in your life when the ocean is immersing your whole body and you're practicing in nature.

This blue mind state is actually proven to affect the emotions; people who live closer to the ocean are proven to go about problem-solving in a more optimistic way.

The ocean really is the world's largest crystal. And it emits this energy. It's proven that people's emotions and the way they feel and the way their body reacts, it changes when they step into the ocean. This blue mind state is actually proven to affect the emotions; people who live closer to the ocean are proven to go about problem-solving in a more optimistic way. And they go about their day with less stress. And they're known to be in a more, broad term, happier people. It’s amazing to create this passion around the ocean because then they have a connection [with] nature. Once you see it as a playground and a place you could benefit from, you learn to respect it. You learn to value it. And then the choices we make throughout our day to day, they're going to be also in favor for the health of our ocean and the health of our environment. And so, through our kids' events and through our charity, it's not only healthy for ourselves, but it's healthy for the world because we're creating this connection with nature and learning how the ocean and nature can benefit us. In return, we want to do something for it.

On being more fearless

If you would like to be more fearless, it all comes down to choices you make, day to day. What is it that you want to be fearless for? Why do you want to be brave? With that in mind, every day, take a step towards being more brave, being more fearless. Even if it's as simple as writing in your journal, "I want to be more brave," or that pre-manifested mantra of “I am brave, I am fearless.” Tell yourself you are; you'll become it. But of course, it doesn't just happen like magic. We need to prepare for it. Every day, we need to move forward on those stepping stones towards our goal. For all those people watching my social media and thinking, “man, this guy's fearless,” at the end of the day, it takes preparation for that. I've shared a few [of my mental strategies] that have really allowed to be fearless and to be brave. And these processes of mental preparedness and mental toughness translate to our physical actions.


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