Mental Prep

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

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Finding The Reset Button

Regardless of your surfing ability you will have, no doubt, had a session where nothing seems to be going your way.  The good waves are not coming to you, every attempt at a turn ends in a bogged rail and simple skills, like the timing of your take-offs, end in a head-first trip over the falls. We’ve all been there. And when you’re having an absolutely terrible surf it’s hard to escape the anger, frustration, and negative attitude that inevitably sets in.

This is when you need to be able to find your reset button and salvage the session.  The goal is to try to wash away the frustration you’re feeling so you are in a better mental state for the rest of your surf.

THE RESET TECHNIQUE

Rest

When you realize your surf is going downhill try to take a couple of minutes to yourself.  Sit on your board a long way out the back, take some deep breaths and let your muscles relax.  Often, a session can start to go badly due to fatigue.  If you’re already having a bad surf, you tend to paddle for everything that moves and this will tire you out.  So, sit out there for as long as it takes for your body to feel relaxed and rested and once you’ve achieved this, it’s time to regroup.

Regroup

Try to take your thoughts away from the nightmare session it’s been so far.  Be aware of how this negativity is affecting your session and if you can, let go of it.  In the regroup phase your task is to take your mind off of what has just happened, if you can do this you will have achieved the biggest step in the reset process.  You can train your brain to get faster at this over time once you find the right trigger.

Here are a couple of examples on how you can do this….

Drift Away
Look out to sea and focus on something else. Focusing on passing boats or sea birds will let your mind drift away from surfing for a while. Don’t worry about the sets if you’re still out the back, just let them slip by. Think about something completely different, something that makes you happy.

Chat To A Mate
Take your mind off the surf by having a bit of a chat with someone, try to talk about a non-surfing related subject like the football game yesterday (note this could lead to extra stress if your team lost), what went on last night at the bar (usually good for a few laughs), or even just the weather.

Find The Source
If you are struggling to reset, perhaps there is another issue that has been bothering you? Maybe there is a personal problem or stress from work that is clouding your mind? Find the source of your frustration and make a mental note to deal with it after your surf. The problem isn’t going anywhere, but the swell and tides are…so surf now and sort out your life later! When your mind is well-rested after a fun surf, you’ll  be ready to take on the bigger problems in life.

Laugh At Yourself
Think about how ridiculous you are for getting angry at a sport that should be a fun escape from the stresses of real life and smile to yourself.  Don’t take it so seriously, everyone can have an “off” session and falling head-first over the falls can be quite hilarious to others, think of it as a crowd pleaser.

You should find when using these techniques that a few minutes will have passed where you haven’t thought about surfing. Now your body is rested and your mind is regrouped, but you’re just bobbing around like a buoy in the lineup getting no waves…it’s time to refocus.

Refocus

Think of the rest of your surf as a completely new event that you have the power to make into a positive experience.    There are many factors in surfing that we do not have any control over – conditions, crowds etc.  So for the rest of your session try to focus only on what you can control, like your wave selection and the choice of maneuvers to suit the conditions.  Think about what you are going to do well for the rest of the session and how good it will feel when it all comes together. Hopefully by this point you will be prepared to paddle into the next good wave with a cool head and absolutely smash it!!

But If All Else Fails, Get Out!!

If you continue to have a bad session and you cant let go of the stress and frustration, it might be time to get out of the water.
Paddle in and take a break by enjoying some time on the beach. Rest. Grab a snack, chat with some friends, or simply lay back on the sand and relax. Regroup. Turn your back to the sea and forget about surfing for a while. Refocus. Gather up some positive thoughts and start thinking about your next surf session. When your mind is relaxed and positive, it’s time to get back out there!

A Positive, Relaxed Mind State = Positive Results In The Water

Tagged , , , , , , , ,