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Failure to learn is the only failure: Layne Beachley

by Dante St James

Seven-time Women’s ASP World Surfing Champion Layne Beachley talks to Open Colleges about failure as a success-maker and the importance of allowing yourself a few “honesty barometers” in your life.


The name Layne Beachley is synonymous with sun, sand and surf. But reaching the dizzying heights of any sport takes more than kicking back with a few beers after shredding up the foam at your local beach. And whilst success came in spades for our First Lady of the Surf, it didn’t come overnight, or without hard work both in the water and in the mind.

Listen to your mind

Layne recalls the times when she felt like giving up. It was at those times that she had to dig deep to recognise what her reality was.

“Success in competition is ultimately the result of the preparation you have done leading in to the event. The more prepared you are, the more confident you feel. The harder I trained, the more I believed in myself.”

In tough times, Layne would recall all her preparation. All that hard work and countless hours of surfing, conditioning and mindwork. The reality of all that preparation is that she was always ready to face the event regardless of what her mind was telling her leading in to it. The key was to listen to her thoughts and be aware of what her mind was doing.

“I asked myself at these times, what am I thinking? How is that thinking making me feel? Why am I thinking like that? It that thinking valid? What should I be thinking right now that will create the outcome I truly want in this event?”

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Accessing that extra 10%

At the point of exhaustion that every athlete has felt in every competition, there is at least one who can dig down to find that extra 10% that separates them from the pack and positions them as a winner. Layne recalls the many kickboxing training sessions that hardwired the access to this extra 10% in to her every winning moment.

“For years I trained with this kickboxing coach who would constantly push my limits whether I wanted to or not. He’d put me through 5 three-minute rounds of punishment and just as my hands would start to drop and I’d reach the point of wanting to walk away, he’d slap me across the ears or face and yell at me to kick again!”

Practising the overcoming of exhaustion in every training session teaches the body and mind that there is a reserve that we can all tap in to. Experiencing it often in preparation means that it’s almost automatic to dig into that reserve when you need it most during competition.

“When the ocean would push me back, I would think about the time I had spent training and realise that I had worked way too hard to give up now. This is when I dug deeper and clawed myself out of situations where I could easily have just given up.”

Get yourself an “honesty barometer”

Layne was just a teenager when success and consequently the media came knocking at her door. Success brings attention and Layne was fortunate to have a few people who were able to keep her feet on solid ground at a time when she could have easily have been swept up in her own hubris.

“Maintaining a positive attitude can be challenging. But that is when you need to rely on the people around you to keep centred. I have a lot of “honesty barometers” in my life who keep me honest, grounded, humble and real. I expect those things of myself and the people closest to me.”

Commit to overcoming obstacles

It’s not just elite athletes who face seemingly insurmountable obstacles on their way to success. At a young age, and indeed, right through her long competitive career, Layne faced the kinds of challenges you’d expect from a sport traditionally associated with a “boy’s club.” From sexual harassment to intimidation, lack of financial support and even a set of self-sabotaging behaviours in herself, Layne had to not only face down each challenge as it was presented, she had to do with with a determined attitude.

“I overcame them firstly because I wanted to. No matter how hard you are willing to work, you will not achieve anything or overcome challenges if you are not committed to doing so.”

Yet often the challenges we face are too big for any one person to take on alone. That’s when  it’s time to share the burden with those you trust. After all, no one person has all the answers.

“I shared my fears, challenges and concerns with people in my life that were supportive and encouraging and had the wisdom and patience to help me.”

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Failure to learn is the only failure

It’s not often that you hear a successful athlete, business-person or celebrity talk about failure. It’s something of a taboo topic in a world where we are expected to stage-manage public opinion in to only seeing us as successful. Yet failure is a necessary aspect of human development and growth. As children we accept that failure is a part of the process of learning and improving, but at some point, as adults, failure becomes something to be feared. We start to see failure as a sign of weakness.

“I see all setbacks and obstacles as opportunities for future growth. With that mindset I now have very few fears in life. I like to learn, grow and expand my definition of self,  therefore picking myself up and having another go is part of my character. It always has been and always will be.”

Giving back

11 years ago Layne decided that it was time to give back to a community that had given her so much support over her long career. The Aim For The Stars foundation has now provided 350 women and girls more than $600,000 worth of support to invest in their future and help them fulfil their potential.

“Applications open on July 1st and I encourage women and girls across Australia to apply at www.aimforthestars.com.au for assistance with reaching their dreams.”

Still a child of the surf

Life hasn’t slowed much for Layne since retiring from competitive surfing back in 2008. As well as the Aim for the Stars Foundation, the former champion aligned herself with various organisations such as Planet Ark, National Breast Cancer Foundation, SurfAid, Laureus Sports Foundation and Sunnyfield.

Layne also hold a long term brand-ambassador position for Wyndham Vacation Resorts Asia Pacific as their spokesperson and is currently delivering brand building and vitality workshops around the country for their management and staff.

And as if that wasn’t enough, she also sits on the board of directors of Surfing Australia, Sport Australia Hall Of Fame and the International Surfing Association.

But despite all this activity, Layne Beachley hasn’t forgotten her first love.

“Combined with motivational speaking across the globe, my life is brimming with excitement and fun… and a daily surf.”

If you want to read more about transitioning from a day job to training a surfing world champion, read John Gannon’s story on the Careers Blog.

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