Jamie O'Brien surfs at Surf Ranch in Leemore, California, USA on August 9, 2022.
© Trevor Moran/Red Bull Content Pool

Mind over matter can be a powerful concept – just ask Jamie O'Brien

The American freesurfer reveals on the Mind Set Win podcast how controlling his mind enables him to take calculated risks and become superhuman on the waves.
By Thomas Peeters
4 min readPublished on
Jamie O’Brien is one of the world's most recognizable surfers, with his unique content rapidly consumed whenever he hits publish. The newly announced Surfing Hall of Fame inductee grew up on the notorious Pipeline wave in Hawaii and became a champion competitor before switching focus to travel the globe looking for the gnarliest waves to film on.
His decades of experience make his exploits often look easy, but, as he explains to host Lisa Ramuschkat on the latest episode of Mind Set Win, life spent chasing mother nature involves "crazy moments" that require a strong mindset to overcome.
Mind Set Win is the podcast that unlocks the winning mental tactics of high performers and elite sports professionals, and then shows how we can apply the same strategies to our daily lives. Every Tuesday, Lisa Ramuschkat hosts an in-depth conversation with a new guest before being joined by York-Peter Klöppel, Head of Mental Performance at the Red Bull Athlete Performance Centre, on Thursday for a breakdown of the interview

Risk vs reward

O'Brien recalls how it was a quote from big wave surfer Garrett McNamara that stuck with him during his formative years learning his craft. “McNamara said, 'I take calculated risks, and the risks are worth the reward',” he remembers.
Knowing that calculated risks are a part of his sport, O'Brien then set about learning his unpredictable environment through intense training and thousands of hours spent in the ocean. The benefits have been long-lasting.
"Putting so much time into the water becomes so valuable," he says. "As when you get to the moment where you're very scared, you trust your ability to survive."
It's a thought process that O’Brien reminds himself of to this day if he’s ever nervous in the water. “I go back into the [memory] bank,” he says, “and remember how much time and hours I’ve put into it, so that I know I can apply all my skills.”

Mind over matter

O’Brien names his approach in these challenging situations as "mind over matter" and he explains to Ramuschkat how the concept gives him the mental strength to remain calm and execute what his brain is telling his body to do.
"Mind over matter is putting yourself and your mind in the right place and zoning in on the task," he says. "It’s where we all, as humans, become superhumans.
“You go off your instincts and go back to what you know and believe in. It’s very powerful and finding that inner strength is what pushes you through the crazy moments."
Being able to control his emotions and perform to the best of his ability in the eye of a storm has enabled the Hawaiian to frequently push his limits to new heights.
Whether it’s chasing the gnarliest wave, capturing the perfect shot on camera or coming up with an idea that’s never been done before, O'Brien has the mentality to push forward with confidence.
He says: "For me, pushing my limits validates that I'm good enough and that my skill level is where my mindset is. I fight with a lot of these feelings, but some of the heaviest days of your life, when you’re the most scared, are when you’re living the most."
Jamie O'Brien surfing in San Francisco.

O'Brien surveys the frigid surf in San Francisco

© Silvin Morgan/Red Bull Content Pool

Some of the heaviest days of your life, when you’re the most scared, are when you’re living the most.

The routine

Anyone who spends their life at the hands of the elements faces one common challenge: how to analyze the conditions and when to make your move?
O’Brien knows that he can "never win" against Mother Nature, but he's come up with a daily routine that helps him get in the right frame of mind to attack the day.
"I have this one thing in my mind from living at Pipeline my whole life," O'Brien reveals. "I wake up, drink my coffee, walk my dogs and then analyze the conditions.
"I look for three sets of waves and if those three sets of waves spit out white foam three times, I know I'm going out there."
Watch out for Thursday's Part B episode, in which the Head of Mental Performance at the Red Bull APC, York-Peter Klöppel, extracts the most valuable takeaways from the interview.

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Jamie O’Brien

Jamie O’Brien has made it in the world of professional surfing because he's doing things that nobody else can do.

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