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Algorithmic Thinking Frees You to Enjoy Your Life, MIT Alum Samson Donick Says

There is an algorithmic approach to having fun in life, applied mathematician and algorithmic trader Samson Donick says. Consider Donick’s approach to learning how to surf.

Most people paddle out when they see a wave. Then they have their first experience of grubbing, falling off the board.

Donick counsels a different approach.

Photo by Austin Neill on Unsplash

First, focus on standing up.

Find your center of gravity, and make sure you don’t stretch your legs out too far. You may not get this right the first time. Or the second time. Or the third. But if you practice standing up on your board long enough to master the skill, you are ready to go on the next challenge of becoming a surfer.

Next, learn to paddle.

You will exert more effort in paddling than in any part of surfing. It’s important to practice paddling correctly. What’s involved in paddling correctly?

  • Start by kneeling on the board with your hands on the rails. This will help you to get a feel for the board and to maintain balance.
  • Use a “freestyle” paddling technique to move the board forward. To do this, alternate dipping each hand into the water on opposite sides of the board, pulling yourself forward with each stroke.
  • Keep your arms straight and close to your body as you paddle. This will help you to maintain good form and to generate more power with each stroke.
  • Use your core muscles to help propel yourself forward. Engaging your core will help you to generate more power and to paddle more efficiently.
  • Take regular breaks to rest and conserve energy. Paddling can be physically demanding, so it’s important to pace yourself and take breaks as needed.
  • If you are having trouble paddling or are getting tired, try switching to a “side-stroke” technique. To do this, paddle on one side of the board using a sculling motion with your hand. This can be less tiring than the freestyle paddling technique and is also useful for steering the board.

Paddling doesn’t seem all that complicated, does it? But a systematic approach to paddling will help you get a lot more enjoyment from the sport.

Next, you will need to get into the habit of stretching before you go out. Once you have some success paddling out to wait for a wave and riding it to the shore, you need to paddle, paddle, and paddle some more. Learn to paddle with a board. Then work on maintaining straight knees and a bent back. As you advance in your surfing skills, learn to read the waves.

But approach your sport systematically, so the technique becomes second nature and the experience becomes pure joy.Samson Donick grew up in Tiburon, California, in Marin County, just north of San Francisco. As he was growing, Samson was fascinated by great literature, historical fiction, the Golden State Warriors, the San Francisco 49ers, surfing, skiing, hiking, live music, basketball, and spending time with his parents and his three younger siblings. Samson;s native curiosity took him to MIT, where he was a guard on the basketball team, and his love for volunteering took him to Puerto Rico, where he helped families restore power after Hurricane Maria. The discipline of algorithmic thinking, Samson says, leaves you free to find a depth of appreciation for people. Samson Donick currently offers his services as an algorithmic trader in New York City.

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