Turning down the perfect job opportunity to follow your dream is something we only ever hear of in the movies. Meet Nic Vaughan. After years of intense study, months of preparation and then nail-biting final exams, he decided to close the door on a high paying investment job to pursue a career as a big wave surfer.
Nic embarked on one last surf trip that would seemingly change his life forever. Before he was due to settle in with one of the world’s biggest financial corporations, he packed his boards and made his way to Puerto Escondido. Now with support from Rusty and Spyder, as well as several appearances in Surfer Magazine, Nic Vaughan is well on his way to stardom in big wave surfing.
So you declined an impressive job at Morgan Stanley to pursue a surf career? At what point did you realise that you wanted to chase waves for a living?
Growing up, my parents held extremely high standards for my sister, brother and I, and always inspired us to achieve anything we set our minds to. Through my teen years, surfing big waves was always my greatest passion, but from a career standpoint my sights were set on becoming a successful businessman. I went to college to study Business Finance and built my resume along the way with summer internships and jobs that would ultimately set me up for a career in Investments. As my time in college came to an end, I secured a job offer from Morgan Stanley as an Investment Analyst.
With a month or so until my start date, I embarked on one last surf trip to Puerto Escondido in search of some big waves before I hung the board shorts up for my suit and tie. On this trip I felt the familiar intensity and rush of adrenaline that has always made me feel most alive. During those sessions I just had this epiphany that, at age 21, there was no way I could give that up just yet. Since my parents raised us to have this mindset that any dream or aspiration is achievable, I started to ask myself, why not me? That was it, I decided at that point that I was going to take another path in life and chase my dream of professional big wave surfing.
What did your friends and family think when you told them your choice?
My parents were proud that I had graduated with a job opportunity right out of college, but at the same time they were very supportive of my new endeavor and nurtured my new aspiration as they always have. Some of my friends were supportive, others were doubters, and others were pretty negative. A friend told me “When you’re climbing mountains, you’re bound to hear chatter from the valley”.
How has your life changed since you made that important decision?
My life has changed dramatically! I wake up every morning invigorated and genuinely happy to be alive. Being able to put 110% into something I am deeply passionate about is an amazing feeling that I think a lot of people miss out on in life. The career in investments is something that would have been very mentally stimulating and would have given me a great start in building wealth, but seeing as I am 22 years old, I knew I would have had a strong regret later in life if I did not see this through.
We’ve seen you feature in Surfer Magazine a few times now. Does this kind of publicity help reinforce your decision to leave the world of investing?
The Surfer Magazine piece was amazing. I am so thankful that Surfer Magazine took an interest and decided to tell my story to the world. Seeing the issue and holding it in my hands for the first time was pretty surreal for me. I grew up studying each and every Surfer Magazine that came out and remember ripping out photos of my favorite surfers and taping them all over the walls of my room. Now to be in one of those magazines and think there might be a young kid somewhere stoked on my photo is a pretty awesome feeling.
How does it feel to get recognition and support from prolific surf brands such as Rusty and Spyder?
Rusty is one of the premier shapers in the world and is so highly respected. Not only am I honored to be able to ride Guns shaped by him, but when it comes to a sport like big wave surfing, where the consequences can be so high, it is imperative that you have top of the line equipment that is going to perform for you. Rusty shaped me this 10’6” that I call the “Magic Carpet” because of how fast and responsive it is. With boards that size, it’s generally a “point and shoot” approach, but with this one I’m able to manoeuver and actually go where I want to go on the wave.
Spyder’s support has been so awesome as well. They’ve really done a lot to get my name out there within the local community and have done whatever they could to help me since day one.
We know getting in shape for big wave surfing is pretty tough. What does your training involve?
Yes, I realised early on that there is nothing worse than being under prepared when it comes down to game time. The four pillars that I try to cover are strength, agility, flexibility, and endurance. For strength and agility, I am working with a personal trainer who has created some great surf specific exercises and routines for me.
For example, he’ll have me do a box jump up and then a jump down into a surf stance on a half bosu-ball to emulate an airdrop. For flexibility, I’ve been doing a lot of Vinyasa yoga. This is also really good for learning to calm your mental state and slow your heart rate, a useful tool for when you’re caught inside staring up at a wave the size of a building about to break on you. Lastly, for endurance, I swim, paddle, and pepper some road biking in there as well.
What’s the worst thing to happen to you during training or surfing? Any major wipeouts?
I actually just got back from my second trip to the surf spot Jaws, on Maui, and experienced the worst wipeout of my life. I had gotten a couple of fun waves and found myself out the back all alone and saw this lump appear on the horizon. As I turned and began to paddle, I saw that the wave was steep, but I thought my positioning was correct and that I would be able to successfully make the drop. Right as I begin to pop up, the wave pitches and ejects me out into the flats. I landed head first on my back and shortly after, was greeted by the lip of the wave.
My inflatable wetsuit deployed, and after a good washing machine cycle, I made it to the surface just in time to see the next wave looming. I swam as hard as I could and tried to punch through the face of the wave, but with my wetsuit inflated, the wave grabbed my like a buoy and body slammed me once again. This one popped the inflated bladder and completely ripped the compartment which held it. As I surfaced from that wave, the water safety guys were there to grab me and transport me to safety. By the time I got to the channel, I was coughing blood and realized my board had hit me square in the shins. Not fun, but you’ve got to pay to play!
Where’s your favourite place to surf?
I have so many favourite surf spots it’s hard to choose. Puerto Escondido is one of my favourites because it breaks so close to shore that on a big day you can feel the intensity of the waves shaking the whole beach. Jaws is another favourite because of how technical of a wave it is. The wave requires you to make a big, critical drop, but then immediately you have to negotiate this gigantic wall. It’s also one of the only big wave spots that provides opportunity for a barrel, which if you ask any surfer, is the ultimate.
What are your plans for the future? Any swells you’ve got your eye on?
My plans for the future are to stay on top of my fitness and continue watching the swell models. The northern hemisphere winter is coming to a close and thus swell-producing storm activity will be shifting to the southern hemisphere. This means spots in Hawaii and Northern California will go dormant until the fall, but with that, spots in the southern hemisphere should start to awaken very soon.
Finally, what advice would you give to those torn between an opportunity of a lifetime or pursuing their dream?
I would strongly advise those that are torn to absolutely go after their own individual dreams and aspirations. If you truly want something in life, you will always be able to find a way to make it happen. My dad always used to tell me, “If you can perceive it and believe it, you can achieve it.” Taking the safe and conventional route would have left me always wondering ‘what if’. Every single one of my elders that I have talked to all say that there is nothing worse than living life with regret. Whatever you want in life, go out there and take it… it’s yours!
See Nic’s entry for Billabong ‘Ride of the Year 2014’ in the video above.
A huge thanks to Nic Vaughan, Surfdome wish him the very best of luck with his future in surfing.