Mark Mathews, 32, from Maroubra, New South Wales, Australia, has been one of the world's best big-wave surfers for more than a decade. However, while riding huge waves is at the center of his career, he has also been instrumental in the making of the worldwide theater-released feature film Fighting Fear, co-produced a successful TV series called "The Crew," is the main man behind the Red Bull Cape Fear surfing event and moonlights as a corporate speaker.

We asked Mathews to provide the key life lessons he has learned over his 10-plus years earning his keep as a big-wave surfer.

Mentoring is important

I was terrified of big waves when I was small. My mum would have to come and rescue me on a bodyboard when I was stuck out the back. Pretty embarrassing, really. At 16 I moved next door to Koby Abberton and we became thick as thieves. I went from never surfing anything remotely big and being absolutely scared of big waves to going around the world trying to surf the heaviest waves we could find. That's what started it all.

It's not about talent

Mark at a wave called Ours near his home. Photo by Red Bull

Mark Mathews at a wave called Ours near his home. Photo: Courtesy of Red Bull

I was never especially talented when I was young. There was loads of kids at Maroubra that would beat me in the local competitions, so I was never that good. I mean I'm not that good now, to be honest. I've just made a career from taking off on waves that other people don't want to take off on.

Personal inspiration

In 2001, I went and surfed Shipsterns, which was relatively unknown and by far the biggest waves I had ever surfed. The biggest thing that came from that experience was that I was hooked. I went from being really scared of big waves to taking the biggest leap you could take in surfing at the time.

After that, I couldn't even find waves that were that big enough to scare me. So it was like going through the whole process of learning how to surf big waves in one trip. 'Cause then I'd go to The Box or some other slab and they were just so tame in comparison. It was just a massive jump-start.

Overcoming fear

Mark (to the right) photographs Taj Burrow on a massive wave in Western Australia. Photo by Red Bull

Mathews (right) photographs Taj Burrow on a massive wave in Western Australia. Photo: Courtesy of Red Bull

You have to want it more than you fear it, that's the key. You know, it's funny: I've been doing loads of corporate speaking with banks and corporate clients in New York, Hong Kong and London about overcoming fear. The thing is, I'm terrified of public speaking. So I'm giving a talk on how to deal with fear and I'm petrified about doing the talk, but I've learned to control the nerves and know that the benefits, both for me and the participants, are worth it.

How to be a role model

I try to send a positive message. You don't want to see kids end up on drugs or in jail just for making a few stupid or wrong decisions. When they grew up in this environment and this community, peer pressure is so powerful and can sway what they do and the decisions they make in those years when they are particularly susceptible to it. So I know you have to be really careful what you show those kids, 'cause you can wreck their lives.

How to wipe out


Obviously the key is improving your performance and ability to ride waves so that you wipe out less. However, training for wipeouts is important. I've learned if you can't grasp the anxiety that the mind creates, then you can't perform anywhere near your physical best.

The underwater training has been critical in improving that. It varies, how long I can hold my breath; it's not so much a physical as a mental thing. How relaxed you are is the main determinant. Now I'm aiming for 90 seconds, but at a high heart rate under intense pressure. That gives me confidence.

The business side

In some ways maybe I'm a lot better at the business side of surfing than I am at the surfing side of surfing. I've learned that there are parallels to being a big-wave surfer and being successful at the business and marketing side. It's like I've done a marketing business degree over the last decade and you actually know more than you think.

It all comes down to hard work

Yep, this looks like hard work alright. Photo by Ray Collins

Yep, this looks like hard work, alright. Photo: Ray Collins

I was never super talented, so I figured out every way I could do to get paid more than I deserve. And that comes down to just hard work. That's about it, really. Do the hard work and hopefully the rewards will come.

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