TEDxUCLA 2018: Waves

A violin in the most unlikely places


About Nuno

A Violin in the Most Unlikely Places is about challenging myself on the highest mountains and in the biggest waves around the world. It’s an endeavor that requires the best of me at all levels with the purpose of playing my violin in some of the world’s most remote and extreme settings, as a way to know myself and to understand the fine balance between confidence & humbleness, resilience & patience, team work & self-reliance.


Welcome to a violin in the most unlikely places. My name is Nuno. I come from Portugal. I’m thirty-seven. And ten years ago I started a project with the goal of playing my violin on the world’s biggest waves and highest mountains.

And just before we go any further, I would just like to say that I’m more nervous now than when I’m surfing or climbing. Let’s just hope I don’t wipe out!

Okay. So you may be asking yourselves, “Why would I do this?” And the main reason is very simple. It’s about passions. It’s about combining passions.

But there’s more into it. This is the path I chose to enhance my personal growth or, in other words, to become a better person. You see, this is an intersectional project that brings the best of me.

I currently teach in a Portuguese university and my background, my academic background, is in sport science, sport management, and engineering and management. And that gives me the knowledge to prepare myself for these environments.

At the same time I am also a musician and my professional experience as a musician adds the uniqueness to this project. And finally human traits come to place, most of all resilience: the capacity to stand up after you fall over and over and over again, and I’ll stress this in a minute.

One of the things that is most important about this project is that it takes me away from my comfort zone. As you can imagine, these are very extreme environments. They are very unpredictable. And the preparation is key and the approach has got to be very, very calculated.

And what I take from this personally is a high sense of self-awareness because when you’re already in extreme environments, everything you are as a person that comes to the surface. You cannot hide anything. Your strengths, your weaknesses. So your courage, your calmness, versus your fears, your anxiety, and even sometimes panic.

At the same time it teaches me very interesting lessons about balance, balancing opposite traits such as confidence and humbleness. So you’ve got to be confident. You’ve got to believe yourself. I’m gonna make this wave. I’m going to climb this mountain. But at the same time you’ve got to be humble because these are very extreme environments again and you’re not in control of nothing.

At the same time you’ve got to be able to work as a team because you cannot achieve anything alone, but you also need to be prepared to face on anything alone.

And finally, it’s a situation that, when it comes to my mind, searching for this balance is very valuable. Finally, it’s also very culturally and environmentally enriching because I go through certain places and you learn about those places and those people and that is also very valuable.

So what can you guys take from this? The conclusions I can tell you is I believe there are two ways to become someone in life. One of them is being the best at something. And if you’re the best at something, that means you will gain the profits of that and the respect of that area, that business. But! But you need to abide to the status quo. Either you like it or not.

At the same time there’s few competition. If you’re number one, everybody wants what you have. So you must expect to live in a very competitive environment and that might not be very healthy.

And third of all, it’s very volatile. Sooner than expected someone will come and take your place and you’re easily forgotten.

Now the other way is doing something that no one else can replicate because each one of us, we’re unique. We have different traits, we have different capacities. And if we do something that only we can do, we set our own rules. We don’t depend on others. And nobody is going to take our position. It’s just like a signature: everyone has his own, and it’s not easy for somebody to come and imitate our signature.

And finally, and probably most important of all, you only need your own approval. You’re not depending on other people’s decisions or approval. So that means you only rely on yourselves.

And you know what? I’ve been criticized for this project. And from people saying it’s just to show off, just to be on the news. Or some people come and say, like the surfing purists say, “That’s not real surfing.” Or some people saying. “That’s ridiculous, to risk so much just to play the violin somewhere.” Or some people coming to me and say “I told you so” when things go wrong, and things go wrong many, many, many times.

I just came from South America and — just to stress that resilience factor — I was climbing a mountain. And I tell you, I was saving money for ten years. I was saving holidays for ten years and preparing myself to climb up three mountains.

The last one, on the last mountain, I was feeling really good. I was almost reaching the summit, was more or less a 20,000-foot mountain. I was one hour away to reach the summit, feeling really good, seven hours climbing, all good.

And then suddenly I fell into a crevasse. A crevasse is a very deep hole in the ice, deeper than this hall. And obviously I was able to climb out of it, luckily without getting injured, but the climb was over because the mountain didn’t want me there. So I gave up and they turned back.

And it’s not easy. Sometimes you just know when to stop working hard for something, and you know what? What I think is important for you guys is to go out there. To be bold. To be courageous. Do not fear anything.

Learn about yourselves. That’s paramount. Because when you learn about yourselves, your strengths and your weaknesses, everybody knows the first step to solve a problem is to acknowledge that problem.

So what I say is go out there, learn about yourselves, know yourselves well, accept who you are. We’re not perfect, but accept that. And I promise you that if you do this no mountain or no wave will ever be too big. Thank you.