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Erik Logan post on Substack

Erik Logan recently posted a few words about his headspace leading to, and after, his WSL exit. Photo: Erik Logan//Instagram

The Inertia

Erik Logan, the ex-Chief Executive Officer of the World Surf League, has broken his silence after his exit from the top rung of professional surfing. His missive, posted on Substack, doesn’t shed much light into the reasons behind his sudden departure, but it does offer a glimpse at his headspace in the months leading up to it.

When Erik Logan left the CEO position at the WSL after a few short years, he was gone with little to no explanation. Rumors flew, as rumors are wont to do, but as of this writing, there hasn’t been an official explanation as to the reason for his sudden departure. Logan has been relatively quiet online since then, taking what appeared to be a break from any social media, but now he’s broken that silence. His Substack post is wide ranging, almost in a stream-of-consciousness style, and winds its way through his journey with surfing and how it affected his life.

“In almost four decades of my professional life, I have heard all the cliches and sayings about the business world,” he began. “Some cliches become such because they are true. Others miss the mark. One, in particular, I thought I had achieved, but came out the other side with a different perspective.”

The cliche he was talking about is this: “Do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” Logan went on to explain that that quote — or some variation of it — guided most of his professional choices as he worked his way through a variety of different careers. Before his stint with the WSL, Logan ran the Oprah Winfrey Network, a job could be considered wildly different from running the World Surf League.

“Throughout my career, I let this idea guide my professional choices, and tried to make my job my passion,” Logan continued. “The reality was that I was passionate about my work, but it was never my burning passion. Four years ago, I took a passion that I had discovered and made it my job and I can now say I’m not 100 percent sure this cliche is the best advice, at least for me.”

As a guy from Oklahoma who didn’t start surfing until the age of 41, his new job running a company unlike any other sporting organization was a bit of a head-scratcher to more than a few surf fans. But I’m of the opinion that those in charge of running sporting organizations need not be experts in the physical part of whatever sport they’re in charge of — NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, for example, played football in high school, but his playing days ended there — but they do need to be experts in everything surrounding the actual doing part. Erik Logan knows how to get eyes on things, and since pro surfing is a business, getting the proverbial butts in the seats is what he was tasked with.

At first, surfing took over Logan’s life. He dove headfirst into his new passion, holding nothing back. It’s likely that mindset that has taken him to many of the high points over the course of his career with different outlets.

“A 4:30 a.m. wake-up call is way too early for any normal human, but for me, it quickly became a new normal,” he wrote. “I was checking the waves, tides, and winds, wanting to start each day with a surf no matter what. Going surfing each day ignited a devotion that became a daily ritual. As this new passion (some might call it obsession) grew, I traveled to places I had never heard of before: Namotu, Fiji; Nosara, Costa Rica; Lemore, Calif.; and others. I was experiencing new cultures and new waves to surf, and it all made for an addicting adrenaline rush. Pre-wetsuit, I never understood this lifestyle or culture; how many surfers do you know from Oklahoma, like zero? It was a brand new world to me. And it’s NOT what I thought.”

As time went on, however, and he was shoved into the realities of surfing as an industry instead of a pastime, that fire began to flicker.

Like many who start surfing later in life, the idea of surfing as it is portrayed in television and movies is the attractive part. The reality, as you know, is much different. It’s not all perfect waves, warm water, and swaying palms. It’s stinky wetsuits, wax blobs in the carpet of the car, shitty waves, and hostile locals at crowded waves. Sure, those are all things you grow to love because they’re part of surfing, but the idyllic charm that surfing is often portrayed as having is not exactly how it really is. And for Logan, who found himself very publicly part of a community he had formed an idea of without being a long-term part of it, that reality hit hard. He was at the helm through a particularly tumultuous few years at the WSL, and those years proved to be hard on him, both mentally and physically.

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A post shared by Erik Logan (@elo_eriklogan)

“I was at the league for over four years, and those years were filled with so many ups and downs as a sport and company,” he explained. “Navigating COVID is just one example. It was hard work, enriching on many levels, but also very taxing personally. On a health front, I had a stroke, heart surgery, and some other health scares – honestly, I don’t believe work caused them, but the stress didn’t help, for sure. Concurrently, I was going through a challenging family separation, and my life was turned upside down, which still remains a source of pain. As an escape, I would grab my board, get a surf, and attempt to unplug, but even the most straightforward attempts didn’t help.

Through it all, something was happening inside me. There was an eroding and flattening of my love for surfing. It wasn’t sudden; bits and pieces of joy chipped away here and there until the love was broken and the passion was gone. I would think back to those early moments of feeling that this job would be so great for me; and that being on the ‘inside of surfing’ and getting deeper into this world I loved would unlock more ways to deepen my passion and engage my business brain. I was wrong again.”

As many have found when heeding the advice of a cliche, things don’t turn out exactly as the cliche says it’s going to turn out. Doing what you love for work ain’t always all it’s cracked up to be.

“The reality is that when my passion became my job, those lines became blurred,” Logan went on. “What once was a sanctuary, where anonymity was nearly assured with many of us wearing identical black wetsuits on our boards, not caring at all what anyone did outside of the ocean, suddenly became a place I didn’t want to be. People constantly approached me, wanting to talk about surfing and the WSL and give their unsolicited opinions of the sport or the company (good and bad). I would always take the time to talk with them and listen, thank them for the conversation, and try to be as present and thoughtful as possible. To be honest, there were many times that it felt good; my ego loved it, and even when the conversations got heated, I still loved the debate. So, on the one hand, I was feeling good on the ego level; on the other, my love for surfing and passion were eroding – catching fewer and fewer waves. The erosion continued.”

As time went on, his love for surfing guttered like a spent candle.

“It became so bad that I couldn’t get away from the professional part of the sport and just get a surf in,” he wrote. “My love for surfing was gone almost as fast as it came to me. Missing this fire led me to find another sport for an escape – tennis. I love it – it’s fun, I’m terrible, and it’s a good workout. However, it has never given me what surfing has – no fire, no burning passion, no strong devotion. I became bitter and angry at these lost moments – my spirit and love for surfing were broken.”

Those early morning dawn patrols no longer were something to look forward to. The surf sessions didn’t fill him up. He was burnt out — not so much on the act of surfing, but everything that came along with having a career revolving around it.

“I used to have fun and get up at 4:30 and get to the water at first light, but no longer,” he wrote. “What was clear to me was that I was not having fun surfing anymore. The passion was gone. I couldn’t find it anywhere. It was gone as fast as it overcame me. And then, in late June of 2023, I was no longer working – passion and profession both gone.”

Like I said, Logan’s letter doesn’t give any much-searched for information about why, exactly, he departed the WSL. But his exit did have a silver lining: his passion found its way back.

“Over the Fourth of July weekend, I grabbed a board and just went for a surf,” he explained. “The waves were small but uncrowded. I’ll tell you right now, it might have been my best surf in four years – small waves, sunshine, and peace. I sat beyond where the waves were breaking, looking at the horizon, remembering why I fell in love with this sport. I wept, waves of sadness that I lost this connection, but also tears of immediate gratitude as I rediscovered a feeling of peace and comfort I hadn’t had before I went to work at the league.”

Since then, he’s been surfing nearly every day again. The pressure that he once associated it with is gone now. It’s surfing for surfing’s sake again. If it’s flat, he’ll just swim around. If it’s firing, he’ll surf. If it’s somewhere in the middle, he’ll do a bit of both. And he’s never been happier.

“My friends have all said they haven’t seen me this happy in the ocean in years, and this translates to my happiness on land, as well,” he wrote. “Having a passion for your profession is critical – it builds a commitment that drives one to higher levels of success. I have always found excitement and commitment from working at different radio stations, the Oprah Winfrey Network, Harpo to XM Satellite Radio, and many other jobs. However, with my surfing experience, I have learned a key difference: I was passionate about all those other jobs, but they were NOT my passion. It might seem like I’m parsing words, but it’s a huge difference. I have learned this lesson the hard way, and I believe understanding that distinction is essential.”

For now, he’s keeping his cards close to his chest when it comes to what the future holds. But from his letter, he’s optimistic about it. He’ll keep chasing passions, but he’s learned that balance is necessary to remain passionate.

“Exploring your passion and profession is noble and grand and might be perfect for you,” he finished. “Protecting my passion will be paramount as I embark on new journeys building my companies. Undoubtedly, I will find many things (maybe too many things) to become passionate about. That is the exciting part of the journey, but I plan to always protect my passion. I’m hoping you do as well.”


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