Surfing Sensation Rick Takahashi
Surfing & Serving Others: Rick Takahashi
Written by Mei Ling Starkey
Surfing sensation Rick Takahashi holds seven national titles, he helped Team USA win a silver medal for surfing, and recently took sixth place in the world. But he doesn’t just stand on the podium; he takes that platform and uses it to help others. Even in the midst of being on track to break the National Scholastic Surfing Association (NSSA) Masters Division Title, Takahashi still finds time to coach high school surfers and serve the beach community. Risen caught up with Takahashi to talk about mottos, mindsets, cliques, and serving the surf community.
Interviewed Exclusively for Risen Magazine in San Diego, California
Risen Magazine: How did you get started in surfing and what do you hope your career continues to look like?
Rick Takahashi: It’s been almost 27 years! I started late considering how early kids start now. I was a freshman in high school and started surfing because we [my friends]were skating all the time. I lived in Santee, California – which is not close to the beach – so I had to hustle rides to the beach all the time. All of my friends were surfing and I didn’t have any friends to skate with anymore. It started out just as building relationships, hanging out and having a good time with my friends and it just grew from that and has stuck ever since. Currently, I’m on the USA Team. I am about to break a record this year, God-willing, if I don’t get injured in the next three events. We have a division on the USA team that is 50 years old and up, so technically I could still be on the team even when I get older. At my age, if I just stay healthy I can excel at what I do. If I have an injury that takes me out of surfing, then I will contribute to the industry in another way. The end is a mystery, but it’s an awesome road to see where God leads me.
Risen Magazine: Because you didn’t live near the ocean, when you first started surfing, you weren’t accepted right away. What advice do you have for others who face criticisms or challenges when pursuing their dreams?
Rick Takahashi: It’s pretty hard. I coach [surfing] at La Jolla High School also and I see how it all works and how people are accepted. There are people on the surf team, people trying to get on the surf team, and people in the crowd who the others want on the team because they are in the clique. It was like that at my high school too. Growing up in East County, I wasn’t in the surf community. I wasn’t hanging out everyday at the beach so no one saw me. The first piece of advice I would give them is to put God first. Because when you do that, everything else is going to be fine. I wish I would have known that when I was a kid instead of trying to be the best. The best is going to come when you put God first. Our focus is so much on us excelling instead of God letting us excel at what we do. It would have made it so much easier if I would have put God first and had the perspective that if it’s meant to happen, God is going to make it happen. There are plenty of contests that I did where no one knew me and it didn’t matter because ultimately, I’m going to Heaven if I win that contest or not. If I would have had that outlook in the beginning, and had my faith, then all of that wouldn’t have mattered to me at all. You have to build your relationship with God first and everything else is secondary.
Risen Magazine: You are part of the USA Surf Team and recently competed in the ISA World Masters Surfing Championship where you took sixth place in the world and helped the United States get a silver medal. You also have seven National Championship titles. With all of these amazing accomplishments, how do you keep things in perspective?
Rick Takahashi: I used to take pictures of myself on the medal podium and once in a while I still do. Last year, I had a perfect season so I wanted to remember it visually. The difference is though that when I wasn’t saved I would celebrate these things. Now I give all glory to God when I achieve these accomplishments. It is not ours to gloat about. I have this opportunity to share the Gospel with people who aren’t saved. Instead of being like the football player who points to the name on the back of his jersey, my hands are up pointed to God. Before, I used to come out and talk about what I had done in the competition. But now that I know that I didn’t do anything, it keeps it all in perspective. I thank God for using me to have this platform to talk to kids and share the Gospel. The accomplishments are great and I am on track to break a record. People ask me what I am going to do after I break this record and I keep the perspective that I am just padding the record so the next person can break the record, because it will be broken. It still means something and I still set goals, but all of these goals can only be accomplished with God. It’s easy not to celebrate these things when it seems like it is God-given. So I am thankful for these things and I have to recognize that it is only because it’s his will.
The best is going to come when you put God first. Our focus is so much on us excelling instead of God letting us excel at what we do.
Risen Magazine: You’ve been involved with Superfest, which gives pro athletes the opportunity to use the platform of sports to share about their relationship with God, and you lead the Surf Ministry at the Rock Church in San Diego. How did you get it started and what does it look like?
Rick Takahashi: The ministry looks different today then when I first joined. When I was asked to be the leader, after our leader stepped down, I had a lot of doubts. Our [former] leader was such a strong man of faith and biblically solid that I didn’t know if I could fill those shoes in that aspect. What I did bring to the table though was being really involved in the surf community. It really complemented it. We are focusing on the younger generation because they will eventually be the leaders and it is our responsibility to take care of them. We used to try and surf and have Bible study all in the same two-hour period, but we found that people either just came to the Bible study or they just wanted to surf. Instead, we changed it to where we have times where we just surf and times where we just have Bible study. It has created a better dynamic because people are more focused and they really enjoy it.
Risen Magazine: What has been the key to keeping the Surf Ministry a success?
Rick Takahashi: When I first took over, I visited other ministries that were successful at the Rock Church to see what they were doing so that I didn’t have to reinvent the wheel. Like any other relationship, communication is key. It also helps to put good people around you. I realized I wasn’t strong in some parts, so I surrounded myself with people that were strong in those parts to complement me. You also have to be humble and allow God to lead you. You can’t force something. God will make it happen. It’s a lot easier when you have others help you.
Risen Magazine: Why are outreach and giving back so important to you?
Rick Takahashi: Giving back is really important. We feel it’s our obligation at Surf Ministry to reach other surfers for Christ. Our slogan is, “Surfers reaching other surfers.” So giving back to the surf community is not just teaching people how to surf. We did that with the disabilities ministry at our church and we do outreaches where we just serve, but we are really here to share the Gospel. We love going to non-Christian organizations and just serving. We want them to see that we are servants who happen to be Christians.
Risen Magazine: Looking back on your career, what piece of advice do you have for surfer kids?
Rick Takahashi: Before the surfing Olympics, I called up two-time Heavyweight Champion of the World and Silver Olympic Medalist, Chris Byrd and asked for his advice. He said, “Enjoy every moment of the experience.” And then I asked him about his motto, “How bad do you want it?” I always had that same motto myself. So I love sharing that with kids. They want to be the next someone. I ask them, “How hard do you train? What are your doing to prepare yourself for these things?” But now I know that it is not just a physical preparation, but a mental one too. Part of training is to prepare yourself mentally for the task so that when you get to game time, contest or an event, your mind is in the right spot. Now, for me it is making sure I’m around the right people, reading the Bible everyday, and preparing myself physically for the task. I want to give myself the best chance to succeed. How bad do you want to win? How much are you willing to sacrifice?
Exclusive interview originally published in Risen Magazine, Spring 2013