The Achiever

David O’Keefe surfing up north during a big swell. Photo courtesy of David O’Keefe.

When his aspiration and motivation met, there became no capacity for the lengths it would take to reach his goals. 

It’s midnight on a Monday. The rest of the school is reaching the end of their day and nearing sleep, as one set of eyes is widening. There is not a sound heard and no clouds are seen in the sky.

First-year business major David O’Keefe pulls back his bed sheets and tips his toes off of his bed. He reaches under his bed to grab one of his surfboards which is stacked on top of his four others. A yellow sticker with a hand can be seen on the bottom. It reads Body Glove, a company he has been sponsored by for almost four years. 

He cracks open the door and squeezes through, trying not to let the light of the hallway in. As he walks down the steps of the dorm building he doesn’t speak to anyone and into the crisp air he goes. Board wedged under his arm, he has a plan. 

The moon illuminates his path as he makes his way down the hill and onto the dirt trail that creeps closer to the water. As he looks out into the distance, he catches a glimpse of a wave crashing with vastness around. Solitude, a stark contrast to the daytime lineup that he was once used to.

Day after day the water is crowded. Day after day he had to fight for his spot in the lineup. 

He found a way around it. 

Unlimited waves and not another surfer in sight. The only challenge was the darkness, but that won’t stop him. 

As O’Keefe begins to step into the water he thinks about the session he has ahead of him. What maneuvers he wants to perform, how long he’ll be out and how it will better him into the surfer he wants to become. 

His inspirations are Griffin Colapinto and Ethan Ewing. Both have a competitive mindset, “flawless” technique and a well-rounded spirit according to O’Keefe. 

First wave up. One turn, two turns, off the wave.

“I should’ve pushed harder,” thought O’Keefe as he analyzed what went right and what went wrong on his wave.

He should’ve done this. He could’ve done that.

Another wave up. One turn, turn turns, three, off the wave. 

“That turn felt good. I can still push harder,” he mutters as a fire begins to ignite within him. His arms begin moving faster and his turns begin to grow in power. 

Wave after wave he goes, taking in the surrealness of his surroundings but not letting it deter him from why he’s out there. 

Left arm, right arm, left arm, right arm. 

He paddles back and forth from the end of the wave back to his starting point. It seems like he has done it 100 times tonight alone. 

“It’s probably been like one and a half hours or two hours,” thought O’Keefe.

It’s a school night, and he has class the next day. He figures he should restrain himself from catching only one more wave so that he can get a decent amount of sleep before the morning.

He catches one more that matches his standards, paddles in and checks his phone, 4:05 a.m. is shown boldly.

O’Keefe is no stranger to surfing long hours. His longest session was from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. 10 hours in total with the separation of a comparable 10-minute granola bar and water break. 

Apart from this out-of-the-ordinary instance, he holds himself to surfing 20 to 30 hours a week. 

“When the waves are good I need to capitalize the most opportunity,” said O’Keefe. “I’m not coming in because I know if I come in and it’s not good the next day, then I’ll know I should’ve stayed out for longer.” 

There is a pressure to get better and do better that is imposed by nobody else but himself. Intrinsic motivation. 

Many collegiate athletes follow the NCAA guidelines which limit intercollegiate teams to practicing four hours per day and 20 hours per week. 

When it comes to surfing at Point Loma Nazarene University (PLNU), it is clear that this rule simply doesn’t apply.

The PLNU surf team calls itself a team, but according to the PLNU Athletic Department, they are technically “a club.” No weekly practices, no head coaches, yet still expected to compete and hang onto the title of reigning national champions.

How do you stay motivated and disciplined without a guiding hand from a coach with authority to hold you accountable? 

Noah Kawaguchi, a third-year business major, friend of O’Keefe and fellow member of the surf “team” attributes his motivation to surf in his free time to the “natural high” it gives him and his love of the improvement process. 

The Association for Applied Sports Psychology furthers this point by saying competitive athletes who want to practice are driven by their enjoyment of their sport as well as their focus on “skill improvement and growth.”

David O’Keefe is no different. 

“He doesn’t want anything more in his entire life than to improve at surfing,” said Kawaguchi.

He trains to compete, eats certain foods before competitions and refrains from the partying and drinking that tend to go hand-in-hand with the college experience. 

Nevertheless, O’Keefe never grows tired of it. For him, it tops all other sports. It is unpredictable. Currents changing, tides changing, wave height changing. It’s never the same routine. 

It’s still fun, but for O’Keefe, it is so much more than a mere hobby. He has the desire to win. 

“If I lose a contest, I have to work my butt off to get to where I want to be,” said O’Keefe. 

The need to improve keeps him in the water. As the sun rises and the sun sets he sits on his board. Half his body under the water in silence and the other half above listening to the coaching in his head.

One turn. Two turns. Not enough.

One turn. Two turns. Still in the water getting better.