Tips and Tricks

Rock On

Some surf spots can only be (or are best) accessed by jumping off a rocky outcrop, reef or cliff.  Rock jump entries, when they go well, can save you a lot of time and hassle….however when they go wrong…they go very wrong.

Over the past few months I’ve been surfing spots that are new to me and require a rock jump to get out to the surf…or at least save a huge amount of time. I’m lucky enough to have experience (daily rock jumps in front of my old house) to be pretty confident working out all the factors of the access and make a good risk assessment, thus I got away unscathed.
In this time, I also saw other surfers mistime/misplace their jumps and get dragged across rocks (fortunately only with scrapes), but seriously dinging boards.  This got me thinking, what are these unlucky folks doing wrong and what am I doing differently?

Here are some tips to avoid being that guy…

Watch and Learn

If it’s your first time surfing a spot take some time to study where other surfers are getting in and out.  Watch how they are timing the sets and note exactly where they jump from.  Take your time to do this. In my experience, you are a lot more patient when you don’t have a board under your arm, so do a surf check/rock jump assess before getting all your gear.

Risk/Reward

Probably the most important one.  You really need to weigh up how much paddling time the rock jump is going to save you.  If the jump looks sketchy and the paddle out does not look that bad…paddle, unless you are confident.

Tides

A safe easy rock jump can turn into a rocky nightmare a few hours later, risk assess it each time.

Escape Plan

As you are making your way down to where you jump off point is make sure you know where you are going to run to if a hasty retreat is needed.

Timing

A lot of this comes from watching and learning as above.  In most cases you want to wait until the biggest set of the day to pass through the lineup and jump after the last set wave…avoiding getting smashed.

Don’t be a lemming

Don’t just jump off a rock at the same time as someone else because they have decided to go…make your own decision.  They might completely mistime it.

Onto not into

Almost without exception you want to jump onto the top/back side of a wave so you have a bit of water between you and the rocks below.

Commit

Once you have done all of the above its so important that when you decide its time to go…you commit.  Even if you think its going wrong…most of the bad ones I have seen have been when someone is caught in two minds.

Enjoy

I love the excitement of a good sketchy rock jump (when it all goes right) and there is a pretty smug feeling when your sitting out the back, hair still dry, watching other surfers fight their way out through the relentless whitewater or watching the next crop of rock hoppers lining up their jump.

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Look Behind You!

So…you’re out there in the lineup, you see a great wave coming towards you, you do a perfect pirouetted turn, lie down on your board and paddle as hard as you can towards the beach with the excitement building inside you for the amazing wave you about to catch…but rather than get the ride of your life, you end up doing a very dramatic nose dive. After the inevitable saltwater washing machine cycle, you resurface, get back onto your board and paddle back out wondering what the hell went wrong.

You could blame the wipeout on many, many things – board positioning, paddling to hard, not paddling enough, to name but a few. But before we start to break down the diagnostics of this disaster, think. Did you look back at the wave once you had committed to paddling for it? If you didn’t, this could be the problem.

A wave can, and will, change shape and character within just a few feet of travel. A mellow, friendly looking wave can near instantly jack up into a heaving death pit or vice versa. You have to keep an eye on what the wave is doing so you can adjust your paddle speed and positioning accordingly, even if this just means you know not to go.

A well-watched wave, even if it goes wrong, will make you better at being in the correct position in the future. If nothing else, at least you will know the wave is about to crash on your head rather than it being a nasty surprise!

So remember, when you’re paddling for a wave, all the exciting stuff is happening behind you…keep an eye on it!

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How To Become A Better Surfer Without Surfing

                                                                          Photo: Surfing Nosara, Surfer: Joe Szymanski

A few times over the the last two years, I’ve had the pleasure of coaching Joe Szymanski.  Although Joe spends the majority of the year landlocked and usually only takes one surf trip per year, he’s always stoked on surfing.  In the following blog, Joe shares some of his advice on how to make the most of limited time in the surf if you don’t have access to the ocean. 

How To Become A Better Surfer Without Surfing

Written by Joe H Szymanski

Yes, it sounds kind of funny, but I think I became a better surfer this year without surfing.  I’m one of those late-comers who got exposed and hooked on the sport (and broader lifestyle); but unfortunately, like many of us, I don’t have access to any nearby surfable waves — we feel lucky just to get out there and surf once or twice a year.  On reflecting back on a recent trip, here are some thoughts from one aging surfer on how I improved while out of the ocean.

Get in shape!

It’s stating the obvious, but surfing is a physically demanding activity.  General fitness and aerobic capacity are important to paddling strength, comfort on the board, holding your breath during a long hold-down, endurance needed to get back out through those extended close-outs, etc.  This part of a program can be totally unrelated to surfing (e.g. cycling, running, team sports, etc.), but it’s a good idea to complement it with exercise & activities that will be good cross-training for paddling. Short of some new paddling-specific training machines, the best overall choice is probably swimming.  A healthy dose of balance training & core strengthening will really help too.  (I prefer to use a homemade Indo Board, but there are lots of options available these days.)  While you may not have access to the surf, almost all of us can get to some recreational waterway (lakes, rivers, estuaries, etc.) where you can get out on a Standup Paddleboard (SUP) – a great “nose-to-toes” workout that helps with balance, board handling, and core & paddling strength.  And don’t forget to stretch and improve your flexibility.  This can go a long way to avoiding those annoying minor strains & muscle pulls that might make you think about skipping a session when you otherwise would have surfed.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot one of the most important things – practice your pop-ups!   A fast, clean pop-up is critical to starting a good ride, so do lots of reps on the floor to get conditioned, and help to commit the proper maneuver to “muscle-memory” so that it’s automatic out there in the line-up.  Try to do this exercise throughout the entire year (not just a week before your surf trip!).  Coaches Tip.

Read and watch

(Books and videos, that is).  In addition to the glossy surf mags, there are volumes of books, on-line blogs & forums, etc. providing a wealth of information on surfing-related topics.  For example, try to learn something about surfboard construction, rail shapes, or fin design.  While reference books & firsthand accounts are most helpful, you can find some entertaining surf fiction out there too.  The next time you’re watching a video or competition, try to ignore the bikinis, and focus on paying attention to technique, wave shape, board selection, etc.  If you get to the ocean, but can’t surf, you can still watch the waves & conditions to learn (how fast are they? where are the peaks? what’s the wind doing? are there any rips?).  In or out of the water, it’s always a good exercise to “mentally surf” the waves around you.

Keep a log / take notes.

A surfing journal can be as informal or organized as you like, but it’s a great way to “debrief” after a session or trip to collect your thoughts. Think through how conditions changed, why you missed waves, why you caught waves, what better surfers in the line-up were doing, etc.  Come up with a few key points to focus on for your next session.  Your notes can become a valuable reference in the future, but it’s also a fun way to relive that near-perfect Dawn Patrol session (or maybe that epic hold-down) and stay stoked.

Get involved off the water.

Whether it’s your local surf club, an international organization like Surfrider Foundation, an environmental group, etc. getting involved can help you stay connected with surfing during the off-season or your time away from the ocean.  These groups can also be great resources for broadening your circle of friends and expanding your surfing options.

Prepare for your trip.

Check the surf forecast and start getting mentally prepared.  Review what you want to focus on in the water and set some goals for yourself.  If you are taking any of your own gear (vs. renting), give it a quick inspection and make sure it’s good-to-go (when they only get used a few times a year, things have a way of dry-rotting & falling apart!).  Make sure you take the right gear & clothing to be comfortable in the anticipated conditions (water & air temperatures, sun protection, magic salves for board rash, etc.).

When you do get a chance to surf, take lessons!  Near most established breaks, you can always line up a certified instructor or coach who is suitable for your abilities. In hindsight, I realize how much valuable time I spent “flailing” on my own out in the water before taking my first lesson.  A little expert coaching is a great way to help identify your weaknesses & bad habits, reinforce your strengths, and get you “to the next level.”

For certain, there’s no substitute for getting out there and surfing, so do it every chance you get!  If you haven’t surfed in a year, you’ll need a few “dust off” sessions, but some of these tips will help you quickly pick up where you left off, maximize your time in the water, and charge forward.  None of these ideas are new or revolutionary, but hopefully you may find that a few of them will help you “up your game” as they did for me.  Have fun, be safe, be kind to your fellow surfers, show a healthy respect for the ocean, and go surf (when you can, that is…)!!!

Written by Joe H Szymanski

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Look Where You Want To Go

“Look where you want to go and you’ll go there”.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it?  However, one of the most common surfing mistakes is not looking where you want to go on a wave.  This is especially important when taking off on faster waves.

If you’re finding that you often get left behind in the whitewash as each wave peels perfectly ahead of you, it is usually caused by two things…

1 > Looking at the bottom/trough of the wave as you paddle into the wave.

2 > Looking down at the board when you pop up.

If you look straight down towards the bottom of a wave (or even worse, at the board) when you first catch a wave, you will naturally go where you are looking. Which, in this case, is straight to the bottom of the wave where, if you then look across the wave, you’ll have the unfortunate view of watching the wave peel away without you as you flap around in the whitewash.

Does this sound like you?  Luckily, this is an easy fix.

If you want to go across the wave (down the line) in faster surf you have to make sure look where you want to go.   When you feel you’re about to catch the wave, look roughly 15ft or so down the line (across the wave) and high on the face – this is exactly where you want to go to make the first section and get some speed.   Then with your eyes still focused on your target spot, pop up as normal keep the high line and enjoy the ride.

Coaching Tip : If you’re finding it hard to not look at your board as you take off try practicing your pop ups alternating focusing your vision to your left and right on land (using the corners of a room works well) to get your body used to the new movement.  Often when people practice pop ups on land they are so preoccupied thinking about foot placement they constantly look down… a good habit to get out of as early as possible!

If you manage to consistently take off on waves looking where you want to go, you will automatically stay higher on the wave face right from the start which in turn will give you more speed and help you ride faster waves successfully!

If you feel like you are managing to look down the line on take off but you are still only going straight, you probably have a foot placement or weighting issue….more of that later.

 

 

 

 

 

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Don’t Be Afraid Of Your Backhand

Working as a surf guide can be funny sometimes. You find perfect surf and half the people are happy and the other half…not so much. It seems most people are so much happier surfing on their forehand (facing the wave) and not on their backhand (back to the wave). You take a goofy footer to a perfect right and they have fun, but are begging to go to a left the next time they surf and vice versa.

Granted, surfing on your backhand and forehand are almost like two different sports due to the shape of your body and the direction your knees bend. However I think this difference is one of the real joys of surfing and not something to have a preference on. I love the feeling of doing big gouges on my forehand as much as I enjoy a solid BH bottom turn to reo combo; both offer different sensations and challenges, but are equally enjoyable. You’re limiting yourself as a surfer if you insist on surfing in only one direction. So, what is holding you back from surfing your backhand?

Taj Burrow at Chopes, Notice the shoulders are parallel with the rails rather than pointing nose to tail. Photo by Kristen Prisk

The most common reason people find surfing on their backhand difficult is due to how they hold their leading arm/shoulder. You’ll see this quite often in the surf, someone straining to look over their shoulder at the wave, sticking their butt out to counterbalance their arms which are both pointing towards the beach…this could be you. Luckily this is a very easy fix as it just takes a small adjustment to your stance. Think about the stance surfers use for backhand barrels, very low to the board with the shoulders parallel with the rails of the board, left arm to the left and right arm to the right.

Having open shoulders makes it far easier to view the wave and put weight either on the inside or outside rail. Next time you surf try to catch a few waves on your backhand and think about opening up your shoulder and position your leading arm on the same side as the wave face rather than the opposite side with your trailing arm…surfing on your backhand should have just got a whole lot easier! If you are serious about utilizing your backhand some professional coaching can speed up the learning curve.

I’m natural footed, I love right-handers and I have been lucky enough to have surfed amazing waves on my forehand like Anchor Point, Kirra, Coxos, Lobos, Sultans, Shipwrecks and so on. But for all the world-class rights there is a whole plethora of amazing lefts that you could miss out on like Pipe, Uluwatu, Honkys, Frigates, Desert Point etc. and there’s no way I’d be standing on the beach just because I’d have to surf my backhand!

Don’t limit yourself to going in one direction (think Zoolander), get out there and challenge yourself, go surf on your backhand, open the leading shoulder, get good at it and the next time a perfect wave comes through and it’s on your backhand you will be excited rather than disappointed.

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Autopilot

Turning Off The Autopilot

For those of us that surf often we can be guilty of surfing on autopilot most of the time. What do I mean by autopilot? Essentially, going through the motions during a surf session. You’re surfing on autopilot when you only surf the waves that you are comfortable with, perform the same manoeuvres wave after wave, and do the same thing you always do when you surf.

Every lineup has a surfer that you have seen surfing the exact same way on each wave they ride. They never fall, but then they never do anything that amazing either. They are just doing what they always do, going through the motions.

So if you’re that surfer, is there really anything wrong with that? In theory, no. If you have been doing the same thing for years and you’re having fun then its all good, right? Sure, but at the same time you might be seeing other surfers in photos, on surf videos or even at your local break doing amazing manoeuvres and thinking “why can’t I do that?”. Maybe it’s just a new way to hit an end section, going a bit more vertical off the top, or maybe you just admire someone’s “cojones” for taking off deep on big waves.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of just repressing these thoughts and stick to what you know and keep surfing on autopilot for the rest of your session. Instead, try to dream big. For 20 minutes of every session get out of your comfort zone, try the new move that you have been dreaming of, take off deeper on a set wave, try hitting the lip a bit harder! And don’t worry if you fall off! In fact, be happy that you have – if you are falling, you have turned off the autopilot and you’re trying something new! And when trying something new, you’re bound to make some mistakes which will help you figure out how to improve. If you’re struggling to figure out a technique, it’s never to late to get some professional coaching ; ).

After 20 minutes of bravely facing the unknown, then its fine to go back to your regular routine, but if you can spend 20 minutes concentrating on a new skill you will soon see a big difference in your surfing (and surprise everyone at your local break!).

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Dealing With Hold-Downs

No one enjoys having their ass handed to them by the surf, but it happens. Unexpected waves, continuous sets on the head, and gnarly wipeouts can all lead to a longer than usual hold-down. We’ve all had moments where it’s felt like we’ve been underwater a little bit too long. This can happen whether you’ve been surfing all of your life or if you just embarked on your maiden paddle ‘out the back’ session.

Several pro surfers are making a career out of charging “death pits”, as I like to call them, and tales of double wave hold-downs are all a part of the death-defying acts of bravery that pay the bills.  But for most of us, that are not throwing ourselves down 90-foot waves, hold-downs are not something to panic about.

As surfers, we quickly learn to get used to the regular “spin cycle” from a wipe out. The manic churning of a wave pushing you around is usually followed by a gentle float back up to the surface after a couple of seconds.  We just shrug it off, grab the board, and paddle out for another wave. We know that when we wipeout, the time we spend underwater getting “rag-dolled” is just part of the sport. What catches us off guard is when we’re held underwater for longer than we’re used to and the instinct to panic sets in. Some surfers are naturally born without fear of drowning and never get fazed in big surf, but for us mere mortals there are a few ways to conquer our fears and avoid panic when the surf gets heavier than normal.

Control Your Fear

When being held down, the reality is that usually you’ve probably only been underwater for a just a couple of seconds longer than usual and you will still pop up to the surface at some point (you always have before, right?). The human body is buoyant and naturally floats up to the surface so there’s no reason to be afraid.
For humans, the fear of drowning is a natural instinct that has contributed to the survival of our species. If you panic, it’s just your instinctual fear setting in and, unfortunately, it will do more harm than good. Panicking underwater triggers an alarming thrashing of your arms and legs as you frantically claw at the water in a desperate attempt to scratch your way to the surface. Although, it’s completely natural/instinctual to panic like this, flailing your limbs around in turbulent water is not actually helping you find the surface any more quickly; it’s just burning more oxygen.
Really, there is no reason to panic. Being underwater without air isn’t a problem – you’ve held your breath before, right? Fear of drowning is scary, but it’s not lack of oxygen that leads to someone attempting to breath water, it’s panic!  And the only way to stop panicking and conserve your oxygen supply is to relax.

Test Time

More than likely you are perfectly capable of holding your breath underwater for an extended period of time. Most wipeouts only last a few seconds so if you’re able to hold your breath for at least 10 seconds then you have the physical ability to survive long hold-downs.

So, just to make sure, while you’re at your computer hold your breath for 10 seconds with no preparation. 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10!

It wasn’t that bad was it? In fact, I’m sure you feel like you could probably hold it longer if you needed to.

Hold your breath for another 10 seconds, but this time exhale all of the air out of your lungs first. 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10!

That should have been a bit more of a challenge without the air in your lungs, but you probably still could have held your breath for longer.

The Good News!

If you’ve managed not to pass out in front of your computer (apologies if you did, note: we are not liable!), you already have the lung capacity to survive long hold-downs.

I know what you’re thinking…that 10 seconds holding your breath in front of your computer isn’t the same as holding your breath for 10 seconds when you’re being thrashed around underwater and panicking! Yes, that’s true. While at your computer you are in a relaxed state (sitting calmly and not exerting much energy) so you’re not wasting any oxygen. The key to conserving your oxygen while taking a beating in the surf is to be just as relaxed underwater as you are right now, sitting in front of your computer. So, in addition to being able to hold your breath for 10 seconds, you also need to learn to relax when you take a set on the head!

Techniques To Help You Relax During A Hold Down

Counting

It sounds very simple doesn’t it? But it’s a great way to relax and give you that extra bit of survival time underwater.

The next time you’re underwater after a big wipeout, relax, let your body go limp, and start counting from 1 to 10.  Focus your mind solely on counting and don’t give in to panicking. Most of the time you’ll only make it to 4 seconds before you pop up to the surface and you’ll end up feeling a bit silly for ever being afraid in the first place!

Mental Triggers

When you feel yourself starting to panic during a stressful underwater situation, it is great to have a mental trigger to cue you to relax.  A common technique that I have personally always found very useful is singing to myself.  Pick any song that relaxes you (I like the “Happy Day’s” theme song) and whenever you find yourself in a bad spot, hum or sing to yourself in your head.

This can also work with mental images.  Find something that works for you, something (a peaceful sunset, an empty meadow) that triggers your body to relax.  This technique works because of mental association; the song or image will trigger your body going into a relaxed state.  Once you find the right song/image, practice employing it all the time with smaller wipeouts or even when holding your breath in the pool.  The more times you do it, the more automatic the trigger will be when you need it and the more mental control you can create, the easier it will be to deal with your next long hold-down.

Relaxing will give you extra seconds underwater, burn less oxygen, and also give you mental clarity instead of blind panic. So hopefully the next time you are underwater longer than expected, you will be relaxed and in control (possibly singing “Sunday, Monday, Happy Days”) and pop back to the surface composed and ready to paddle out for another wave.

Relaxed State = More Survival Time

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