Surf Lessons: Get a Surfboard

Surf Lessons is a collection of stories, analogies, and illustrations meant to help improve and inspire our daily grind, in work and life.

Imagine yourself standing at the edge of the Pacific Ocean, the foam of the waves barely reaching your toes. With a boogie board under your arm, you gaze out on the horizon and think to yourself, “I am going to be a surfer”.

First of all, 👏👏, I commend you. A surfer is a very respectable thing to aspire to be! But like with all aspirations, you soon find that you need to answer the question, “how do I get there?”

Too often we find ourselves defaulting our answer based on our current situation: the tools, equipment, or skills we already possess.

And the sad reality is, you won’t be a surfer if all you have is a boogie board. You need to find a way to get a surfboard!

Don’t let your tools define your strategy, let your strategy define your tools.

Like most software engineers, I constantly find myself weighing multiple different options to approach a problem. Prioritizing timelines, architectural purity, and existing frameworks all factor into determining a project’s path forward.

You might be facing down some of those very same decisions in your work. You know where you need to end up, but how do you get there?

Don’t fall into the trap of settling because of tools you already have at your disposal. Let’s take a look at how how letting your strategy define your tools can set you up for optimal success.


Use the Boogie Board.

Upon taking a closer look at your becoming a surfer strategy, it may occur to you that you want to get in the water, maybe get a little workout, and have fun - but it is not as important to you to stand, or spend time mastering a new skill.

That boogie board under your arm, in this instance, is exactly what you need!

Instead of steering away from existing tools and capabilities that support your strategy, leverage them.

The shift in mindset to letting your strategy define your tools is critical to achieving your goals. If your strategy leads you to tools, skills, or other capabilities you already possess, then use them as a catalyst to get where you need to go.

There is nothing wrong with leveraging the boogie board to ride some waves. If you have what you need, get out there and make it happen!

Many projects fall into this category. An existing infrastructure, reusable equipment, or out-of-the-box open-source solution may be exactly what you need to get going.

But what about the case where you really do want to surf, but only have a boogie board; where what you have doesn’t quite fit where you want to end up?


Get a Surfboard.

So by now, you have taken a close look at your strategy and know you want to hang ten.

That means, it’s time to get yourself into a surf shop. Upon stepping in, you notice: there are a lot of options to choose from! Short vs. long, wood vs. foam, colorful vs. plain. How do you pick?

Do your research and choose the best board for the job.

From a software development standpoint, just like the options in a surf shop, the open-source community provides us with a wide array of tools to jump start building a project. In many cases, it is worth the time investment to weigh the options and choose the best one. For other industries, this may be simply stated as: get the right tool for the job, it’s probably out there.

Even when picking these off-the-shelf boards, there are often ways you can customize these offerings as well: new fins, different wax, a pad on the back. All this adds up to a huge benefit: they are tried and true; built by professionals.

And with that, of course, comes the shiny price tag pasted on each deck. At this point, you’ve vetted your goals, and are ready to surf (remember, the boogie board didn’t cut it). So, keep this in mind:

Don’t let sticker shock deter you — the investment pays dividends through realization of your strategy.

Obviously each case is different, so make the best decision for your situation. Do your research, commit, and take home the right board.

In some cases, your analysis might lead you to realize none of these boards are quite what you need. You may need to ride big waves in exotic environments, or simply need something more tailored to your needs.

What if you need something made with a bit more love than a wholesale board?


Build a Surfboard.

Hidden away in shaping rooms across the world are the artisans behind surfboard shaping. The product: fascinating, hand-crafted custom boards tailored with the highest levels of detail, control, and specificity.

Where an off-the-shelf solution doesn’t cut it, a custom one will.

If you find yourself in this situation, there are massive benefits, and of course, some downsides.

Let’s look at the downsides first: be aware, building your custom board comes at a high cost.

The efforts associated and the time it takes to learn or to teach are nothing to take lightly. If you embark on the custom board journey, be aware: it takes time!

Building your board will set you back a bit, especially if you are new at it. In addition, unlike other board solutions, it only has one purpose. It doesn’t typically result in a framework that works for all; this board works for you, and only you.

So why would we do this? As mentioned before, the amount of precision here is unmatched. Every curve, every detail, created to meet your strategy exactly from the beginning.

If you’re faced with a project that has unique use cases or a need for unmatched quality standards, pulling up your sleeves and building your board will get you there.

If you have never built a board before, it’s a rare opportunity to learn from and partner with your local shaper. Involved in every aspect of the project, you will be able to provide guidance, and in return gain knowledge of the process.

There really is no better learning experience than hands-on.

I have been fortunate to have opportunities to build products that have very unique requirements, unlike many other projects. In turn, it has given me the chance to collaborate closely with teams (experts on the subject matter) across the company. The most successful experiences have come from embedding directly with those teams — learning, growing, and contributing.

To be honest, these experiences has shaped me as much as I shaped the board. They have enabled me to go on and build new projects that need these sorts of experiences. From it, I can build more boards.

So is building worth it? That’s for you to decide.

Together, we’ve explored various approaches to a project: use the boogie board, get a surfboard, and build a surfboard. If you’re faced with this kind of decision, remember to let your strategy define your tools.

Let your wave define your board.

A boogie board may not get you where you need to be, or might be exactly what you need. Learning to build your own board, on the other hand, might sound great, but may not be the best decision for you or your team.

I hope this inspires you to do some of your best work, and get out there catching waves! Feel free to reach out, I’m interested in hearing what decisions you’re making! 🤙



Software Engineer at Ridgeline from Half Moon Bay, CA. Most of my free time is spent hanging with family, working on HeroTab, and surfing!

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Donovan Gini

Software Engineer at Ridgeline from Half Moon Bay, CA. Most of my free time is spent hanging with family, working on HeroTab, and surfing!