Return on Investment

How Nic Vaughan traded a finance career at Morgan Stanley to chase big-wave swells

Photo: Neves
Nic Vaughan, a diploma-yielding charger doing work in Puerto Escondido. Photo: Neves

Six months ago, recent college graduate Nic Vaughan was offered the kind of opportunity that many grads would kill for: a high-paying position as an Investment Analyst at Morgan Stanley, one of the biggest financial services corporations in the world. At just 21 years old, Vaughan would be part of a team of analysts responsible for managing half a billion dollars of investment capital. For a Finance Major about to enter a stagnant job market, this was a best-case scenario.

“I had been interested in stocks since I was 13 years old,” says Vaughan. “Working with numbers has always come easily to me, and investment is a numbers game. If I was going to have to do something in the corporate arena, which is what I went to school to do, then this was going to be my path.”

Vaughan signed the offer from Morgan Stanley, but with his first day of work over a month away, he decided to take one last surf trip before settling in at his desk for the long haul. Without looking at the charts, he booked a ticket to Puerto Escondido. And luckily, he packed his big-wave boards.

“I hadn’t surfed in months, and when we got off the plane we realized it was absolutely huge,” says Vaughan. “There were legitimate 30-foot faces just breaking top to bottom. I managed to paddle out and catch a few waves, and then I saw Greg Long get an unbelievable backside tube. Just being out there in those conditions, feeling that adrenaline pumping, I knew that riding big waves was what I wanted to do more than anything in the world. I had never felt so alive in my entire life.”

In an instant, thoughts of becoming an investment analyst were lost, forgotten somewhere deep inside a dark Puerto Escondido pit. Vaughan returned home and broke the news to his family. The next day he called the Morgan Stanley office to decline their offer.

“I had a lot of fear and uncertainty making that call,” says Vaughan. “I really felt this societal pressure of knowing what the responsible choice was. We’re all supposed to go to school and get a job and work until we’ve saved enough to retire, and I would have had a real head start in life with that opportunity. But the other side of me knew that I would always regret it if I didn’t pursue my passion while I was still young and fit enough to do so.”

Turning down such an opportunity was surely difficult, but the really hard part hadn’t even started yet. Vaughan began training like his life depended on it—as it often does in the big-wave realm. Yoga, cycling, paddling, and visits to a personal trainer became his daily routine. He stopped going out for drinks and started focusing on his diet. He looked at the example set by big-wave surfers like Greg Long, who understand that it takes endless preparation to take on the world’s hairiest waves and make it out alive.

Less than two months into his training regime, another massive swell appeared on the charts, again pulsing towards Puerto Escondido.

“The morning that swell hit, I got down to the beach before sunrise. Greg Long and Will Dillon were already out, and I sat out the back for about three or four hours waiting for a wave. I was waiting down at Carmelita’s and then this perfect right came straight to me. It was one of the biggest waves of the day and I was in just the right spot, so I dropped in, bottom turned, and got the view of my life.”

Camille Neves snapped a photo of that wave, which made it into the hands of some folks at Rusty Surfboards. Now Vaughan has a brand new 9’4″ and 10’6″ in his quiver, shaped with some of the world’s biggest waves in mind.

“I’m just going to keep training and watching the forecast for Mavericks, because I’m hoping to be there every single time it breaks this winter,” says Vaughan. “And I really want to get over to Maui and try to paddle Jaws. I don’t have a job now, so when the next swell comes, I’ll definitely be available.”

He told us he wanted to paddle Jaws, then he did. The man keeps his word. Photo: Noyle
He told us he wanted to paddle Jaws, then he did. The man keeps his word. Photo: Noyle
Nic Vaughan, buying low and selling high at Jaws. Photo: Noyle
Nic Vaughan, buying low and selling high at Jaws. Photo: Noyle
Nic Vaughan standing deepest at Todos Santos. Photo: Gordon
Nic Vaughan standing deepest at Todos Santos. Photo: Gordon