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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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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Fit To Surf?

Anyone who knows me is aware of the fact, that I am, by no means, an athlete. However, I am fortunate enough to be able to surf everyday, which keeps me in OK surf shape. I can paddle for hours and catch most of the waves I want, in any conditions. Ask me to run to the store and back it becomes a very different story; I will return a breathless, tired, sweaty mess. So, clearly I would not be the first pick to represent my country in a half marathon that’s for sure, but if they needed someone to paddle through white-water for 4 hours I think I would be a strong candidate.

This is an example of sport specific fitness.

To perform to your maximum potential in any sport, athletes have to put in hours/weeks/years of training to become better, faster, stronger than their competition. This is also true in modern competitive surfing. Nearly all the guys currently on the world tour have personal trainers. Consequently the level of surfing is truly amazing.

Now, I am not writing this telling everyone to get down to the gym and do 300 sit ups a day because, to the recreational surfer, this won’t apply (although it may be a good idea…myself included). I am writing this as a reminder to get fit before a surf trip so that you can surf longer and catch more waves. Which I think will guarantee you a better and more memorable surf trip. In my experience of surf coaching and guiding over the last 15 years it’s usually someone’s surf fitness that lets them down.

Did your last 7 day surf trip go like this?

Day 1

Super amped to surf, but it was harder to paddle than you remembered so you missed a few good waves. But you’re stoked…you surfed somewhere new.

Day 2

Paddling is feeling better, its but you’re still not able to catch as many waves as you want. Feeling a bit tired on the second surf.

Day 3

Usually the best day, your paddling feels good, your catching the waves you want….life is good.

Day 4

Another good day, shoulders are feeling it, but you are still getting great waves…maybe you decide on skipping the last surf and have a massage. Note: This is also the day that all the rashes and sunburn kick in.

Day 5

Tired, starting to miss a lot of waves, getting a little frustrated. Guys will usually have back or neck problems.

Day 6

Deep down you are getting tired now, you’re putting on a brave face in front of your mates, but surfing feels like work.

Day 7

When will the paddling stop? Hopefully a few token waves to finish the trip.

Sound like you?

There’s a simple fix, which you all know already, you just forget to do it….

If you are lucky enough to live by a beach – surf, surf a lot, even if it sucks (no excuses) Make some good food choices. Remember to stretch. Get down to the pool and get some laps in. You will need a minimum of a 2 week lead-in for a week long surf trip.

If you’re landlocked it’s harder, but you just need to hit the pool…a lot! Alternate distance swimming and sprints. This is the closest you can get to re-creating going surfing. Stretch, eat the right food, get amped watching surf videos, go skateboarding. Do everything you can to get prepped for your trip. Again, you need a 2 week lead in minimum.

When people sign up to run a marathon, they train, because they want to get to the finish line. And when we book a surf trip we all daydream about the epic waves were going to ride. And if you get fit before your next trip, you’re far more likely to be the one catching and riding the best waves rather than floundering on the inside with tired arms.

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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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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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Foam Is Your Friend

Extra Volume In Your Board Can Mean More Waves For YouShortboards are sexy, sleek looking things that are the definition of surfboard performance.

They easily fit under your arm, they slide into any-size car, and they’re what all the guys on the world tour are riding.  This makes short boards seem very desirable.

Because of this, a large percentage of surfers either prematurely move down in board size (before they have the ability) or are currently riding boards that are too small for them.   You often see surfers strutting down to the waters edge with a small, shiny new board under there arm. They paddle out, still looking great…  and then don’t catch a single wave in 2 hours.

If you are using a board that is too small, you’ll be spending entire sessions watching people around you catch loads of waves while you are missing every wave you paddle for. Frustrating! This could partly be down to your wave reading skills, but there is a good chance poor board selection is creating the low wave count.

Small (low volume) boards are amazing to use if you are at peak surf fitness, can generate your own speed on a wave, and are comfortable with super late takeoffs.  If you can’t do those things and are riding a small board, you are probably using unsuitable equipment and could be massively slowing down your rate of progression.  Some time spent on a larger board could really pay off.  Note: a larger board is a board with more volume (float), not necessarily longer.

So what does extra volume do for you?

1) Gives you a higher paddle speed. 2) Helps you glide over fat sections. 3) Gets you into waves earlier. 4) Increases your wave count. 5) Makes the board more forgiving to use (foot placement etc. is not so critical). 6) Makes paddling easier if you are not “paddle fit”. 7) Enables the board to carry more speed down the line.

Overall more volume in a board makes surfing easier.

“You can’t ride what you can’t catch”

 -Lulu Wiegers

Things to consider…

Wave Count

If you are catching less than 60% of the waves that you paddle for it may be worth considering using a bigger (higher volume) board.  Once you make the switch you should soon be catching more waves.  The more time spent on a bigger board > the more waves you’ll catch > the better you get.   As you get better (catching 60% + of waves paddled for) you can then get back onto a smaller board.

You May Have To Step Back to Step Forwards

If you are sinking on some waves or just getting sometimes getting left behind, try going back onto a bigger board just for a session or two and see how it feels. During the first surf on a larger board you will probably be catching more waves than you have done in ages, able to make more sections/waves and have the speed to do some turns.

Remember,  If you can turn a big old longboard you can turn anything!!  Spending time on a bigger board will always help your surfing in the long run. When you have mastered the “big ‘un” and you want to move back down in board size you will actually be able to make the most of the extra maneuverability a smaller board has (maneuverability, duck dives etc.), rather than just languishing in its disadvantages (low paddle speed etc.).

The right time to go onto a different/smaller board is when the board you’re riding is holding you back.

Wave Type

If you are surfing small, fat, slow, mushy waves you need to be riding a board with large volume to allow you to catch waves and cruise over fat sections (not steep).  If it is big and hollow you may also need a high volume board to get enough paddle speed to get you over the ledge (catching a late steep wave).

Feel The Glide

Longboards or Mini-Mals are a great option for those that don’t get the chance to surf often or who are not surf fit because they allow you to maximize the number of waves you can catch per session.  The other bonus is they go well in smaller surf which is what most of us deal with day to day at our local spot (OK, I am a bit lucky on this one).  Mini-Mal’s or Longboards are a perfect board choice to help you get the feel of gliding across a wave and maybe starting to experiment with turning.

Get Your Calculators Out

It’s now possible to calculate how much volume you need in a board for your personal weight and ability.   Have a go on the volume calculators provided by Channel Island Surfboards (Al Merrick) and Firewire , see if you are currently surfing something close to their recommended volumes.  Note: Use these calculators as a guideline and maybe take an average for best results (they vary).

Enjoy it!

At the end of the day, surfing is about having fun.  If you can make it easier for yourself and catch more waves, why not?  Get out there on a bigger board!  They may not look as sleek and they wont fit in the car,  but your surfing will improve more quickly and you’ll probably have a far bigger smile on your face at the end of the day!

“Foam Is Your Friend”

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Grass Roots


With the ASP world tour on a break, I thought it was a good time to cover how to get into the competitive surfing scene at a grassroots (local) level.

I entered my first surf contest at 17.  I was incredibly nervous and intimidated by the other surfers because I didn’t think I was good enough to compete yet.  It took a lot of encouragement from the great guys at Shore Surf (where I was working as a coach at the time) who forced me to have a day off to enter and told me to “get amongst it”.  I knew how surf contests worked and I had already fantasized about winning a few world titles (a dream that took a long time to shake off when the reality kicked in) so after a serious kick up the ass I entered the event, had a great time, and ended up winning the U18′s.

Grassroots surf comps can be many things; a chance to win a bit of local bragging rights, stepping stones to a possible surfing career, or just a really fun, social weekend.  They run some great contests here in Nosara and at most places with a coastline worldwide.

Do not fear if you are a little past your teenage years or do not ride a high performance short board, there are now a thriving Senior 35-44yrs, Grandmasters 45-54yrs, and Legends 55+yrs divisions worldwide and there’s always a Longboard division.  And if you are thinking it might be fun for your child to try competing, they can start at under 12yrs with age divisions right through until they are 21.

I truly believe that entering a surf contest will help you push your own surfing level.  Knowing you have an upcoming comp will give you a little objective in the back of your mind when you surf.  It helps to fuel the fire inside and makes you try to get a little more out of each turn or each wave, pushing you to improve.  This effort will give back to you in spades!  Even if you only do one comp, you might be able to push your surfing level up a couple of notches while preparing for the event and this improvement will be with you for the rest of your surfing life.

Time for a crash course in competitive surfing.  Before you enter your first comp there are some things you must know…

The Contest Rules

There is no point entering any type of sporting competition if you do not know the rules.  This will vary from contest to contest but will usually be based around these factors…

Paddle Out Time

The time allowed before your heat to paddle out into the lineup.  Usually 5 mins, but it can be increased to allow for big surf.  Although it’s now uncommon, some comps will have beach starts and no extra paddle out time.

Heat Length

The standard “grassroots” heat length will be 20 mins but can also be 15 or 30 depending on schedule or conditions.  Make sure you know this before paddling out and wear a watch!!!


It can get a little hectic in heats, everyone wants the best waves and will hussle for them (a lot like a busy free surf really).  The simple “rules of surfing” still apply, do not drop in and do not be seen to interfere with another surfers ride.  Having a priority system is very rare in a local contest.   If you are seen to “interfere” with another competitors wave, the score of your top scoring wave will be halved.

 Number Of Waves Allowed

There will be a limit to how many waves you can surf in a heat and extra waves will not be scored if you catch more than the allowance (usually 10).  Note: any time you take both hands off the rails of the board when you stand up counts as a wave.

Number Of Waves Scored

Nowadays it is common place for your top 2 wave scores to be counted and added together.  Make sure you know how many are counted to avoid disappointment.


Usually somewhat similar to the ASP (Association of Surfing Professionals) criteria. Note: Longboarding will be scored differently

Judges analyze the following major elements when scoring waves:

  • Commitment and Degree of Difficulty
  • Combination of Traditional and Modern Manoeuvres  (Longboard)
  • Innovative and Progressive Manoeuvres
  • Combination of Major Manoeuvres
  • Variety of Manoeuvres
  • Speed, Power and Flow

Essentially, judges will score the highest points for the biggest, most committed maneuvers performed with a bit of style.  The more risks you take on a wave by going for it, the higher you will score (if you do not fall off).


[ 0.0 – 1.9: Poor ]  [ 2.0 – 3.9: Fair ]  [ 4.0 – 5.9: Average

[ 6.0 – 7.9: Good ]   [ 8.0 – 10.0: Excellent ]

Getting 10′s is hard!!   If you are scoring in the average range for your first comp you are doing well!!

Pureline Surf Coaching

"Kiko" Goncalves (far left) son of a good friend of mine Eurico Goncalves (Portuguese longboarding legend) taking his first steps into the competitive surfing arena - 2009

 A couple of little tips to help you out prior to a comp…

Time Limit

Get used to trying to catch a few good waves in a 20 minute period.  When you free surf on the lead up to the comp, try to use your watch to do fake heats with yourself.  Getting comfortable with catching a lot of waves within a time limit is very beneficial,  20 mins is not long!!

Mock Heats

Get your friends involved!  There’s no need to have fake judges on the beach, just surf a 20-minute heat and judge yourselves as you go.  This is a great way of getting used to the system and you may inspire a friend to enter a comp aswell.  It is far more fun do contests with friends – not only to practice with, but also to enjoy the contest day/weekend with.

Watch Surf Contests Online

It has never been easier to get a real feel for surf contest than now.  Most high level surf contests are available to watch online for free.  You can gain a real insight to the whole system by watching how the judges score the waves and via informative commentary.  Not only is this a great education, but it is also incredibly entertaining watching the worlds best surfers compete in the worlds best waves!  For the latest CT comp information go to

Get Out There!

I would encourage every surfer of every level to go and get a feel for a surfing competition. Even if you do not make it through your first heat (and good on you if you do!), you will have gained valuable experience.  And, if nothing else, the competitors gift pack usually comes with some cool things that outweigh the cost of entry. Just try it. There is no pressure to win when it’s your first surf competition, just go out there and give it your absolute best.  You never know, you might just surprise yourself…I did!



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