Using Fear to Tap into Your Superpowers

Big wave surfer Chris Bertish shares the secret to performing at your peak.

richardlyons/Dollar Photo Club

“My dad was an open ocean waterman warrior,” says Chris Bertish, big wave surfer, world-record holder, and inspirational speaker. “I’m the youngest of three brothers, and from an early age I was incredibly determined to be able to keep up. I don’t think I realized it at the time, but that helped me become ridiculously focused.”

That razor focus led Bertish to achieve seemingly superhuman feats. He won the Mavericks Big Wave International surfing event on the biggest waves ever recorded in the history of the sport. He holds the South African 24-Hour Open Ocean Stand Up Paddle Board record, and the 12-Hour Open Ocean Guinness World Record. He travels the world as a professional speaker/waterman/adventurer.

Bertish believes that everyone has the power to achieve, well, anything. His motto is: dream it, see it, believe it, achieve it. And when you hear him tell his stories, you start to believe anything’s possible. See, he’s got a secret. A superpower that he says all of us have, but most of us ignore. What is this superpower? It’s fear.

Fear is a Superpower

“Everybody experiences fear, it’s normal and natural. People don’t realize that fear isn’t something that should paralyze you. Fear puts you in a heightened state of mental and physical ability to help you achieve and overcome whatever adversity you’re facing in that moment,” says Bertish.

Instead of letting fear hinder you, he says, you can recognize that it’s actually there to help you. Fear is the trigger that prepares Bertish to perform at his best.

“Ask yourself, what does fear do to your body?” says Bertish. “It sends endorphins into your body, and then it sends adrenaline into your system, then it makes your heart pump faster, and shoots oxygen throughout your body. It makes you three times stronger than you normally are, and allows your mind to process information faster than it normally can,” Bertish explains excitedly.  

“Once you take fear out of the mind and look at what it’s doing to your body, you can recognize that it’s basically setting you up to achieve whatever you’re trying to achieve.”

“Once you take fear out of the mind and look at what it’s doing to your body, you can recognize that it’s basically setting you up to achieve whatever you’re trying to achieve,” he says. “Fear is saying: this is the perfect time to be able to do what you’re trying to do. Your body is actually preparing you to have a positive outcome. Once you can really understand that fear is an emotion like any other emotion, you can learn to manage it. And then you can do things that most people consider to be extraordinary,” says Bertish.

Coming from a man who surfs waves as tall as five-story buildings just for fun, this description of fear makes sense. Bertish uses fear as his link to that flow state that athletes claim allows them to perform at their peak. He’s learned to manage and process his fear in a helpful way. “I see fear as an incredibly positive thing that is necessary and essential to achieve everything that I do. If I’m in a state of fear I try to manage that experience to the best of my ability. I use it to make quick rational decisions under pressure. Utilizing all the knowledge and experience I have from the past, coupled with the physical fitness that gives me confidence, and backed by the powerful tools that have just been given to me in the moment—I can make the right decisions very quickly. This has helped me achieve success and survive some intense situations in the ocean.”

Wipe Out Fear

Check him out in this video below as he surfs (and wipes out) on the biggest waves in the world:

While Bertish uses fear to manage life and death situations, he believes this superhuman physical boost can help you in any part of your life. “Basically, your body is pumping you with a natural performance enhancer. That’s what’s actually happening inside you. Fear allows you to operate at your absolute, beyond possible peak. And it’s a natural state!” he laughs. “It’s amazing. It’s the best-kept secret.”

Of course, you still have to put in the time to practice, prepare and train. “This is what gives you the mental confidence to know that you can push it to the next level,” says Bertish. “That self belief, knowing you are physically and mentally ready, is crucial and essential in the constantly changing and deadly environment I play and compete in.”

What’s next for Bertish? Aside from speaking at conferences around the world, he has plans to paddle across the Atlantic Ocean on a custom-built stand up paddle board. And once he sets his mind on something, you can be sure he’ll do it.