Surfing is hard. Wait, scratch that. Surfing is incredibly hard!
Being good at any sport takes a lot of time, practice and dedication. In an average session, you probably spend 95% of the time paddling around and getting hit by waves with only 5% of the time actually riding them. So, achieving quality time “on your feet” is a precious commodity that’s invaluable for improving your rate of progression.
This is why it blows my mind on how often people will write-off a potential surf because the waves are “too small”, the lineup’s “too crowded”, the waves are “a bit bumpy” or it’s “too windy”.
Granted, surfing is more fun when the waves are perfect. Everyone knows when you have glassy, peeling waves it’s easier to improve and surf well. That’s why we all crave great conditions and perfect waves. But if you wait around to surf only “perfect” conditions, you might spend weeks or months out of the water wasting precious practice time. So, although the surf might not be perfect, there’s always something you can learn from every session. What’s important is time spent in the water, practicing your sport.
So next time you think it’s “too small”, go grab a longboard or a big soft board and get out there and have some fun! Work on your wave count, experimenting with cross-stepping and foot movement, and staying in the pocket on slower waves. You’ll soon be laughing as you play around in the surf and getting precious “on your feet” time which will always serve you well in the future when the surf is better.
If the waves are “too crowded”, paddle out and get amongst it anyway! Make sure you’re confident with surf etiquette and see if you can position yourself for a good wave while you’re in the middle of the pack. Yes, a crowded line-up can be a bit frustrating, but it’s a necessary skill. Some of the best waves in the world are crowded (Uluwatu, Sunset, Pipeline etc) so if you want to surf a life-changing wave in one of these famous spots you need to be able to hustle.
When it’s a “bit bumpy”, get in there and practice picking the best waves from a confused line up and hone your wave reading skills. When the waves are really bad, it’s a great opportunnity to experiment with new moves because you won’t be wasting amazing waves if you fall off.
When it’s “too windy” and howling offshore you can practice your late take-offs, work on your rail surfing and keeping low to the board. And you never know, strong offshore conditions might throw out a little barrel or two! When the wind is onshore, the wave face is so varied that you will encounter many different sections where you can perform several manoeuvres on one wave. Most high performance aerial surfing is performed in onshore or cross shore surf and these waves, although not pretty, offer so much scope for improving your surfing. You’ll improve your wave reading skills, reflexes, and, if nothing else, the surf will build up your paddle muscles! However, occasionally (although it’s rare) it can be so windy that it’s dangerous to surf. So, then (and only then) it’s OK to pull the pin and come back later.
Think about how many amazing surfers are from areas with below par waves – the Hobgood Brothers, Cory Lopez, Kelly Slater, Layne Beachly. Even 2012 ASP world champions Joel Parkinson and Stephanie Gilmore grew up surfing in Queensland, which on occasion can be epic, but more often than not is home to small, weak and windy little beach-breaks. These surfers are as good as they are because they practiced often – even when it was small, crowded, bumpy and windy!
I can assure you, you’ll always feel better if you go for a quick surf than if you drive away from the beach with dry hair.