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Thursday, September 9, 2010

Skate or Die Practicing

Bob Bournquist

Imagine falling 40 feet from a building and landing on concrete. You’d probably experience some serious damage, and the prospect of death is a genuine possibility. Yet this is effectively the possibility that top-notch skateboarders face when they attempt the most radical maneuvers on the Mega ramp.

Bob Bournquist is a skateboarder described as taking “Mega-Ramp skating to daunting new heights.

Bournquist spent two hours last Saturday attempting a 900-degree rotation above the huge wall of the Mega ramp at Vista, California.

Eventually he nailed it. Take a look at the video here. The feat was described as "possibly the best trick to date on a skateboard" by Bucky Lasek. Bob Bournquest became only the fifth skateboarder to successfully complete the 900, but the first to do it "fakie to fakie”. He is also the first to do it on the 25 foot Mega ramp – the others did it on smaller 15 foot ramps. He skated up the wall backward – climbing some 40 feet above ground and spinning 900 degrees then landing backward!

Tony Hawk, the skateboarder who was the first to successfully complete the 900 in 1999 commented that: "Bob has upped the ante once again and ramp skating will never be the same, thanks to him. He is unbelievable."

What interests me about this amazing feet is how readily it exemplifies the features of deliberate practice, as I outlined in my last post  here on 22c+. People who succeed at something at levels far beyond ordinary are not typically more gifted than others. They just work a lot harder and smarter.

Geoff Colvin’s Talent is Overrated is a thoroughly researched volume which shows that innate ‘genius’ is not enough for a person to become exceptionally good at something. What unites the greats from Mozart, to Tiger Woods, to Bill Gates to Bob Bournquist is that they practice their craft again and again and again, intelligently and systematically. Let me just recap the features of deliberate practice. They may seem mundane, but they are vital to anyone who has a passion to succeed at something they love.

Deliberate practice is hard work. You need to come out of your comfort zone, and fail repeatedly, and learn from those failures. Mot people just keep doing the stuff they know they can do, over and over again, year after year. That’s not deliberate practice.

Deliberate practice is designed specifically to improve performance. You must carefully analyse your weaknesses, then work diligently to bring them up to scratch.

Repetition is common to deliberate practice. The most successful footballers, violinists and golfers tend to put in far more hours than those who are less successful.

To be most effective, deliberate practice requires feedback. This is best given by someone very knowledgeable in the domain. Self-feedback must be brutally honest.

Practicing something systematically and intelligently is highly mentally demanding. It requires a great deal of focus and concentration.

How well does the amazing skateboard feats of Bob Bournquist conform to the ideal makeup of deliberate practice?

Bournquist doesn’t give up easily. After a recent competition he announced that he was going for the 900. But it proved extremely difficult. He kept failing over and over again. When asked how many times he has attempted the 900, Bournquist answered, "I've tried hundreds of times, probably 900 times, who knows?"

That’s hard work and a lot of failures. His extraordinary performance required an inordinate amount of time spent out in the discomfort zone. When he finally managed that jump, it was after two hours of trying on that day alone.

Bournquist said: "I didn't want it just to be another 900. In my mind I'm like, 'I don't care how long it takes, I'm going to do it differently.' "

In fact, behind that jump of a few seconds lies 15 years of intense competition for the 33 year old Brazilian, and probably more than 20 years of total skateboarding experience. This is consistent with findings which indicate that it takes at least ten years of deliberate practice to reach world class in most fields.

Bob Bournquist is one committed person living his Bliss. The popular t-shirt says "Skate or die", and Bournquist is a man pushing the limits of mortal existence.


  1. Fascinating post! I read somewhere - and the name of the book escapes me - that people who excel practice their crafts 10,000 hours before they master it!

  2. Absolutely right (it was Malcolm Gladwell, in "Outliers", by the way, who said that).

    It's surprising really that anyone should be surprised by the fact that what you get out of any activity, and indeed life itself, is a function of what you put into it. In the Victorian age this principle was inculcated into everyone - but today we seem to live in the age of the instant, no-effort celebrity/expert. Meanwhile, the universe quietly goes on working the same way it always did ...

  3. Actually the 10 000 hours idea is commonly stated. David Shenk in "The Genius in Us All of Us" also said the same thing (for those who didn't see it, here's a video review of that book I did - .

    Yes, Simon, it does seem like common sense. Practice hard, and practice smart. The surprising thing is that there isn't a lot of data to support the idea of innate genius, according to Geoff Colvin in "Talent is Overrated" although that does not mean that it doesn't exist.

  4. Samuel Goldwyn said:
    "The harder I work, the luckier I get. "