For all you non-surfers out there, I’m going to walk you through what goes through a surfer’s head when he’s about to drop in on a big wave. First he paddles out into the line-up. On bigger days, that usually involves ducking diving, or dodging a few big waves before he’s in position to catch one. Sets come about every 20 minutes, so there’s a good amount of time of sitting and waiting for the waves to come. Also surfers have rules and there’s an unspoken “line” that each surfer is waiting in for his turn. All this means is the surfer is rolling over a few big ones before he gets to try for his own. The power of the wave is very apparent when it rolls under. It effortlessly picks up the surfer and puts him back down, and a set will do this about every 30 seconds, 3 or 4 waves in a row. By the time it’s his turn, he’s been hit on the head with large amounts of water, been picked up and put down several times and waited a while all while his nerves are going to his stomach.
Now he sees a bump on the horizon. He looks around at the guys around him and he’s given the OK, that it’s his. He paddles into position and then gets ready to sprint. Tucking his board under his body, he turns towards shore with the wave barreling down on him. He feels his tail get picked up as he’s paddling with all his effort. The wave is in slow motion and he keeps rising and rising and staring at the water below as it gets further and further away. A couple more strokes and he feels the wave start to push him forward. The moment of truth. The water below is 12’ or 15’ away, he can see the razor sharp reef at the bottom, the rocks sticking out that he’ll hit if he falls, and he can feel the power of what’s behind him. He has a choice. Grab the rails and pull back or push his body up and stomp his feet on the deck and take the drop. He hears a voice, “Just do it.”
Sometimes surfing feels like life or death and on some level it is, even though surfers actually rarely drown. Gary Gilmore was in fact in a life or death situation. Or really in his case it was a life then death situation as he was being executed. When asked if he had any last words, he said, “Let’s do it.” This phrase was the inspiration for Nike’s slogan, “Just Do It.”
The reason Nike’s slogan is so successful is every athlete goes through something similar to the surfer in the example. Whether I’m dropping into a big wave, hitting a kicker on my snowboard, or convincing myself to get out of bed to hit the gym, “Just Do It” is the mentality that’s the catalyst to action. Athletes need that extra push from their inner voice to do just one more rep, one more shot, one more lap.
While doing this paper someone asked me if it was risky for Nike to base their slogan on a murderer who was executed. Not only do I think it’s not risky, I think it’s the perfect situation to base their mentality around. The mentality wasn’t related the murders or even the execution, but about facing fear head on. There’s a moment in every athlete’s routine where they have to decide to pull back or push harder and the “Just Do It” attitude is what gives them that extra push. The mentality has always been there, it’s in human nature, Nike just put it into words.