Return on Investment

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

| posted on February 24, 2014
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

  • carl winslow

    Good on him, to each their own.

  • hmmm ok

    you don’t have a job, you’re 21, but you manage to pay for the trips to the best spots… so you’re parents are rich.. daddy found you that job on Morgan… We get the picture…

    • Michael Soule

      Jealous much?

      • Working class

        Sounds like he is just pointing out the reality of the situation that the article neglects to mention. Surfing is bizarre and beautiful because it is permeated by individuals from all walks of life, which is a testament to the universal nature of the euphoria bestowed upon its participants. However, traveling and living near the coast – especially near good surf – is not cheap. It costs money to do the things Nic is doing. He should be thankful that his circumstances permit him to be in a position to turn down a high paying job in order to pursue surfing and traveling, presumably on someone else’s dime. Lots of people are not afforded the opportunities bestowed upon Nic. This isn’t a reason to say anything ill of him but writing an article celebrating his circumstances and his decision seems rather odd. Some people have to pound nails for a living or wait tables or whatever and still surf as much as they can. Ask anyone who has been surfing for 30+ years and they will tell you what was once a predominantly blue collar activity is now far more yuppified, gentrified, and 1%tized. The ocean is for everyone but if you are Lunada Bay trust funder or some privileged college kid who can turn down jobs to travel on daddy’s dime, you need to be mindful not everyone was lucky enough to enjoy the same opportunities. Best of luck to Nic to keep charging, and to Surfermag to find something of substance and relevance to write about

        • geabs

          I think you may have misinterpreted this article a little bit. I think the purpose what not to celebrate his circumstances but rather to view the idea of going away from the classic herd mentality as a positive. Give him a little bit of credit

    • P

      Daddy definitely didn’t get him the job, he gave him Money when he was young and tought him how to invest in the right things.

      • john

        so dad gave him money…most people cant work and just go surf…good on him but sounds like he has a very privlaged life that most of us don’t experience. He is not a pro surfer just a rich kid that can just work out and surf and pass up great jobs. Wish I could, but I have to work.

      • Trogan Fan

        Haha, yeah, good for him – daddy gave him money tells it all. But really, if he was that good he’d have gotten into a better school than SDSU.

        • MikeyG

          You’re ridiculous to insinuate that SDSU isn’t a good school…I was accepted to both SDSU and SC and chose SDSU since I was financing my degree myself. Not everyone can afford $100k or more for a college degree that will put them quite possibly in the same place post-graduation regardless as it did for me. It’s better to be smart and know your circumstances well. You probably know very well about Daddy giving money to someone..

      • Vlad

        You know that for a fact? I slaved in a cubicle for over 10 years, and after quitting my day job, I now can travel freely 2-3 times a year, 2-3 weeks at a time, while making 3 times the money while working for about 10 hours a week from wherever I want. All self made. So allow yourself to imagine that lifestyle like that is actually possible.

    • Alexandre Melo

      could be 🙂

    • lukeryan

      Fuck you, you stupid kook

    • hmmm

      he’s from PV, of course he grew up with a silver spoon.

  • Puretilla

    wot a kok

  • rafael

    how he get money???? is the big question…..i am in the same scenario in a couple of weeks with new contract

    • Kevin

      He paddled out and waited 3 or 4 hours for a wave? Geez, that’s a long time.

  • badbad

    hmm personal trainer, trip to mexico, new quiver and 21 with no job… got a funny last name. he might be like andrew doheny with some trust fund.. Rooting for the kid to charge hard! but don’t make it sound like he made a hard choice..

  • Scott

    Not to pile on, but really, you expect me to feel like he made a monumental choice when he had money to make those kinds of trips in the first place? It’s great that he’s able to do that, but it doesn’t really seem to be the hard choice it was made out to be.

  • Andrew Bennett

    This is what rich people are supposed to do. Worship them, they are your betters peons

  • positive vibes, mon

    Why so much negativity?!

    How about some respect, props and positivity for someone who is able to set a, literally, massive goal and go out and achieve it.

    I’ve worked in high finance myself, going down the similar track as Nic (study, internship, job, slave away in front of a computer) and believe, that is wayyyyy easier than staring down a 20, 30, or 40 foot wave and making it out alive.

    Nothing but respect for the guy! Get after it Nic!!

    • Jimmy the Saint

      So hang on, I don’t understand how Nic has gone down a similar path as you. Admittedly this guy went to college, but he didn’t do an internship, hasn’t had a job necessarily and certainly hasn’t been slaving away in front of a computer, nor has he worked in “high finace” whatever that is. Lots have been to college, big deal. But yeah, good on him for following his heart, not everyone would!

    • Jesse Donnelly

      It’s not being negative it’s being, I don’t like reading this guys story about a 21 year old nube and I want that minute of my life back.
      Shit title about a brat.

      • Roxie Shealy

        You’re a douche bag.

      • Roxie Shealy

        you’re an idiot.

      • Roxie Shealy

        youre an idiot.

      • Grant Shealy

        All of you fucking idiots and suck ass. Mr Vaughan has huge balls… And you’re jealous.

  • Outsider Looking In

    That was a really great article. Congratulations to Nic for choosing happiness over money. I think that the other commentators are clearly jealous that they aren’t in his flip flops. Obviously he made a big sacrifice and he chose to do what many people decide against, purely based off of societal norms. Regardless of how he attained the money, he is making the most of his situation. Who knows, maybe he has worked multiple jobs over the years and he used his investment analyst skills to finance his lifestyle. Did you ever think of that???

    • Jimmy the Saint

      I think history has demonstrated that just because Morgan Stanley or Bear Stearns or Lehmann Brothers offer you a job doesn’t necessarily mean you have ‘investment analyst skills’ . But maybe he has…

  • steve

    How can u step away from a job before you even started? Weak attempt at journalism. I’m sure there are kids grinding through community college and the WQS who would have been better served in this feature, horrible attempt at a newsworthy story Surfer. Did nic’s dad pay for your trip to Puerto this year??

    • Colin

      You’re a dumbshit, Steve. No wonder you’re broke.

    • Colin

      You’re a dumbs***, Steve. No wonder you’re broke.

    • Colin

      You’re a |)um|3 $#!T, Steve. No wonder you’re broke.

  • Alexandre Melo

    I´ve made a choice like him, of course, not for big wave surfing. I went to Australia for a year where I lived and work and surf in Margaret River. However, every choices has its price. I was 25 when I returned to my country with no money left. I’ve got no regrets but it seems to me that this guy has somebody behind to support him because surf trips are expensive even for 1st world surfers whose countries have faced economic crisis, Honestly, If I had the chance to live a dream like I lived , I would have done in a different way.

    All in all, I wish him all the best despite the controversies.

  • Ted

    haters gunna hate. the kid charges harder then you ever will so you have to try and put him down on the internet….your loss no his.

    • CUL8R

      You nailed it. I bet most of us typing on here haven’t hit waves have the size this guy is riding. I know, my biggest was 16-20 foot day, like to think I got the latter but c’mon boys, relax and encourage more to break away from the corp grind!

  • DD

    The kid is humble and charging, Keep chasing swell and your bound to do big things!

  • aloha dave

    Go man Go, life is short, Maybye you can Parley the finance degree into a surf startup and make the next go pro or next surf company, as long as you enjoy it.

  • sabrina27simmonds

    HI im looking for the best place to surf can anyone help me?

  • Walt Decrepto

    He’s the million dollar baby! The best in the world. Driving up debt, getting some surfboards, living the life to get a shot at the prize. Go all out or try politics after the WOTW, BWWT, Oakley, XXL or talon sells out for the other first place catagory prize and becomes eschewed because of the current state of the welfare system.
    Invoice should itemize as something that follows:
    2014 Year-end Expenditures:
    4-round-trip airfare LAX to OAX $470 ea Total $1880USD, Accomadations in Puerto hacienda: 56 days @ $40 per day (40,000 pesos) Total $2240USD, Bar tab: 20,000 pesos, Meals considered part of homestay. $100 x 4 Total $400USD as a buffer for local advice.
    Mexico Expenditures Grand Total: $4720.
    Sounds good and all other incidentals to be reinbursed thru Rdot manufacturing for indemnification and any alterior motives from intellectual property of the state.
    Hola, and seriously Nic has a good odd of winning at Mavericks.

    • GB

      Say what?

    • Guest

      What a pathetic response from someone who obviously hasn’t spent any time in Puerto. The apartments Nic stays in cost roughly 5000 pesos per month. I know because I’ve lived in the same ones over numerous summer seasons. NOT 40000?!?! Bit off there mate. $400USD for meals and ‘local advice’? You don’t need to pay for local advice when you put in your time, as you form genuine friendships with the locals once they see you have balls and character. Two things you clearly lack. Establishing these friendships also equips you with local knowledge to eat cheaply. Bar tab? Really? He’s not there to party. One final note seeing as you signed off with ‘hola’…I think the word you’re looking for is ‘adios’. Quite the expert on Mexico, clearly.

  • sabrina27simmonds

    hi im looking for the best surffing place can any1 help?

  • Trogan Fan

    Mommy and daddy in Palos Verdes will take care of life’s details. Brian Conoly has already done the rich kid goes ferrel thing though.

  • Denny P Jaconi

    Nic you’re the boy! So many of us wish we had a fraction of your talent and balls. Being able to work your tail off for something you love to do without expecting a monetary reward shows an incredible amount of passion and integrity. Go get it Nic!

  • guest

    Everyone with their negative judgments and comments should be ashamed of themselves you sound like a bunch of bitchy women reading a celebrity gossip mag. Nic is one of the most humble, gracious, and genuinely warm-hearted people you will ever meet, not to mention talented and committed. It’s great to see the surf industry backing someone worthwhile instead of another social media star with mediocre ability in the water. There are plenty of ways to fund your dream other than sitting in a cubicle, it just involves defying the social norm and that’s something that most people don’t have the balls to do…I’ve been spending months overseas for years it is always an American who points the finger and rudely makes the accusation that I must be a trust fund baby (which may I add, couldn’t be further than the truth). You all need to get over yourselves you wouldn’t last a day in Puerto or Hawaii with your cynicism and shit attitudes except maybe from the safety of your all-inclusive hotel in Waikiki.

  • eLmuchacho

    good for him, inspiring. Maybe he has it easy financially. I myself have travelled the world for surf for years now, but i -truly- work my butt off a few months a year.

  • steamerslane

    Definitely to each his own. I, for one, am much more impressed with someone who doesn’t quit the pressures of life, and possibly supporting a young family, in favor of max self gratification (surf). Slugging it out, day in and day out, working hard, providing for others, and still finding time to surf is pretty damn impressive in my book and a much better life story when its all over.

  • heaintnosion

    Making heros out of zeros is what this mag is about.

  • ooga booga

    trips to puerto cost time and money…. trips to maui cost time and money… chasing waves all over costs time and money… obviously he has time and money….

  • noel

    How can you be 21 years old, good enough to surf huge waves ( after he didn´t surf for a couple of months ) and be a finance genius at the same time. Also, how does he afford these trips and personal trainer ? fishy …

  • Stu Azole

    on the up side, at least he finished college. Dime a dozen otherwise.

    • Chongo

      That’s right… Dime a dozen otherwise… Well said.

  • Charlie

    Even if he does have money…there’s no amount you can pay for balls of steel to charge waves like that…good on ya mate

  • Pricewaterhousecooperstore

    How is JP Morgan jr. going to feel when his investment house Morgan Stanley realizes that he has lost a contract to a surfer gone feral and must answer? With what was lost when the firm branched out when bequeathed from his father and the vastness of the modern one-day Jpmorgan Chase throughout the globe, we as a class must quell the mixed feelings from racial tension and simply allow for enjoyment of the sport.

    What will follow this renegade? New resorts, transportation grids, whoever may follow shouldn’t benefit from a purported Wall Street entrepreneur. He’s just another proverbial gringo tourist.

  • Yep, rich kid

    This kid is from palos verdes…you can stop wondering where he gets the funds. I went to school with his brother max, super nice guy.

    • PV Local

      I heard his brother rips too.

  • boardallday

    Ive known this kid since he was 8. I Know his parents as well. His parents didn’t give him an extra penny, rides home from school, or boards. Nic Borrowed dads boards , was resourceful & worked even as a kid mowing lawns & getting resourceful for perks. He didn’t get allowance. He started investing before he was 18 and is a natural ringer. His parents didn’t get him a job either, they worked to help pay for his college. Scholarships also helped. Nic’s Boards…….. Sponsors guys . This kid deserves credit for his intelligence, bravery, ability, perseverance, resourcefulness & athleticism, all which have landed him precisely where he is & the ability to travel and play on HIS OWN DIME. His character wasn’t “GIVEN” to him. He owns it & built it . Its easy to judge when you look at a surface, whats unseen is here has merit.

    • Trogan Fan

      You mean his parents refused to give him a ride home from school? So heavy.

  • Chongo

    Wow, who knew, surfing is supposed to be for the dumb an ignorant? Hardworking, motivated, intelligent persons, need not attempt.

  • Chad

    This is what Media will do… Surfer Mag is cool enough to push an article about a young charger and prompts a bunch of pretentious fucking trolls that think they rip on the web to make all kinds of speculations regarding something they know nothing about. I have known Nic since he was a toddler and I actually ended up in school with him at SDSU even though I was four years older than him. ( and you can all save the retard stabs about why it took me so long to finish school… it was circumstantial.) Regardless, I watched Nic’s father push him so hard year after year to work for what he needed. He shaped his own boards, he mowed lawns, worked as an intern for more than one financial firm, began trading stocks at 15, and the list of key points to add to his success goes on and on. When he was ready to graduate he made a decision to use his very own funds to go to Puerto one month before he started his big job and it all snow balled from there. Between Rusty surfboard sponsorship to kickbacks from other financial supporters within his inner circle like investors he started to monetize his lifestyle and made strategic moves to get to where he needs to be. In all honesty I know for a fact that he has not even spent that much money doing what he has done minus a plane flight, he stays with friends on their couches, has friends with great camera skills, and not to mention when your catching the bomb of the day every time your out people start to notice and tend to give you a lot of support just because you have earned it. WHICH HE HAS. Do some research or meet the guy before you bad mouth him anymore. Bet you every single one of your attitudes would change. GO Brotha your making Palos Verdes Proud!

    • Trogan Fan

      Wow, I’m totally sold. I mean it’s super hard for a kid from PV to get into an awesome school like San Diego State! Guy’s a legend and totes deserves a write up on Surfer for ditching it all to surf!

      Nobody begrudges the guy for surfing, but seriously, he didn’t walk away from anything and has taken no risk here at all. That was the story, and that’s why the pushback,

    • LOL

      HAHA….where to start…will your mansion on Elysium even let you see my message without sending a drone for me? You do realize people charge globally and have so for decades, without trust funds, right?

      • Roxie Shealy

        what? go away.

  • Scott Bredesen

    Nic Vaughan is making his dream a reality people no short cuts here… works hard, surfs hard, trains hard totally humble from a great family, and all around good guy!

  • Shooter

    Speak Spanish, married, Community Property, mixed together makes good real property investment and with Nics – acumen precedes him with his surfing and the world at Oaxaca identifies personal property as something to expound upon, ulterior motives or not.
    Australians working with Russians on brick and mortar startups and Mexico lands entertain US citizens vacationing at a possible Zicatela resort Four Seasons with Cuba Libre rum drinks on tap, local fisherman and rickshaws, green energy taxis bring mobility and some new fish catch after the sun, its all there for Tourism Authority. Progress at such a fun place for relaxation at the beach, pesos to dollars Puerto Escondido and Oaxaca is the go to spot for a new era this summer. Good news Nic.

  • heaintnosion

    I need to clarify myself. The whole surf industry is about turning zeros into heros, and mags like this act as the protectors of the product whores.

    Also want to point out that had this guy been good at math he would have gone to a real school, not a mediocre/party school. He’s got a tough road ahead; not many have made careers out of chasing big waves, and a price will be paid. The good news is he won’t have to chase leash sponsors – he can use his umbilical cord.

  • SFOinternationalsubsidiary

    So this is an interest for micro-lending institutions to sweeten deals on the efficacy of a professional career gone awry in Mexico. Great premise for the sequel to Three Amigos perhaps better for the CJS in the murderous intent from MNCs, TNCs, NGOs and the other corporeal priveleged trying to make a living from seemingly precipitious ways to sell international bank notes.

  • CUL8R

    I applaud the go and charge hard attitude and mad skills but I thought we were going to here about this guy working mobile and killing it all while enjoying the big waves…

  • Docket Gengerhyemer

    shouldn’t this feature article be categorized as “A Person Who Surfs”

  • Patrick Smyth

    Lots of trolls here bitching. Get off the net and go paddle out for an afternoon session.

  • Jesse Donnelly

    What’s the ROI on DICK, NIC.?

    He surfs and he works…NEXT!

  • Yurich_Arger

    Good call kid.

  • Idsvilla

    Wow so there’s some bitter people on this thread :s… Aloha guys

  • Paul S

    Best thing I ever did was go to Hawaii when I was 25. Never regretted that decision! Best time of my life. I was young, fit, strong and stoked. Congratulations to him, he won’t regret it either – providing he survives.

  • cononsense

    You internet clowns are ridiculous. Look at this kid’s results from the past year of focusing his energy and talent on surfing giant waves. Did his dad’s money buy the line the chose through that barrel at Jaws? Epic surfing from Nic, art on water. And it was a real choice… he gave up 100k a year in exchange for dividends on a trust fund and a few sponsorships (which he had to earn for himself). You act like it was an obvious decision, but it’s not. If someone offered you a desk job that limited your water time but was 3 times the pay, you’d take it, RIGHT?