How Surfing Keeps This RIA Grounded


A stock market correction can be a scary thing for most RIAs. But not Colby McFadden, a San Clemente RIA and avid surfer. He has faced death before and survived it.

When he’s not sitting behind a desk, maintaining a successful practice as a counselor, McFadden surfs, cruises the waves, other surfers and marine life. Although the hobby has been very rewarding, it is not without risk, hence the reference to death.

“My scariest surfing moment was many years ago when I was surfing with my son and nephew in Bali,” McFadden said. “There was a big swell in August with huge sets. We were on day 5 of a 10 day surf trip, and each day we had been surfing for at least 6 hours. So we felt pretty “surfed” but the waves were too good to pass up.

“At this particular location, there is a narrow area between the rocky cliffs where you enter and exit the paddling area. As the tide goes out the conditions change dramatically with a strong current that likes to push you out the exit window between the rocky cliffs. If you miss the window, you either have to crash into the rocks or back up against several currents and hope you don’t miss the window again.

“I was quite tired at the time, so the current pushed me over the reef a few hundred meters like a fast river. I was paddling hard, but it felt like I was going nowhere and my energy was dropping rapidly. Several waves were pulling me down. It was so brutal that I could feel my heart beating in my ears, and I was seeing stars. It was the first time in my life that I felt that I was not maybe I didn’t have enough in me to cross the red zone. Then, just as I was about to give up, I saw my nephew who was only 15 at the time. He was in the same situation than me, but he had a big smile on his face, and laughed, ‘I missed the window.’ I was ready to become fish food until my nephew’s encouragement and youthful vigor gave me a second wind that helped us both out the exit window.

Of course, there are less dramatic ways in which surfing benefits McFadden.

surf beach dog

Colby McFadden/Twitter

“Surfing is really complementary to being an RIA,” he said. “Think of it this way, the ocean is fluid and constantly changing with the wind and tide. In order to have the best experience as a surfer, you need to be prepared. The best surfers study the conditions and know where are the best spots and the best times to surf those spots.That’s also why surfers have a quiver of surfboards in various shapes and sizes for different conditions.If you want to have a successful surf trip, you try align as many environmental conditions as your surf tools to ensure the best possible results.

“Now if you think about financial markets, they too are liquid and constantly changing with rising and falling tides of liquidity as well as winds of change that can occur. We have always viewed our work as RIA as being like the surfer, where our knowledge, past experience, education and partnerships are the tools we use to help our clients combine the market environment in which they can find themselves with the investment strategies and products that best suit their personal needs and desires.

At the same time, experience has taught McFadden to avoid situations that could put himself and his clients in dangerous situations. After all, he might not have his nephew to bail him out.


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