Pureline Surf

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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No Excuses

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.

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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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…I’m On A Boat

Soon it will be time to go back to Waterworld.

In Nosara, Costa Rica where Pureline Surf is based, we are lucky enough to have a very long surf season that stretches from November right through to August.  But sadly, September and October are a bit of a write off.  The swell is still there, but endless days of rain and onshore winds make it pretty unappealing. And there’s also the little problem of flooded rivers, muddy roads, and lack of supplies to our little coastal town. By all accounts it is not somewhere you want to be unless you are a duck!  So rather than sit around in the rain and moan, we are headed back to the Maldives in mid-August for more tropical sunshine (just can’t get enough of it!) and some great reef break waves.

This will be my third season in the Maldives and I truly love the place.  It is the most picture postcard perfect place I have ever been!  With crystal clear water, beautiful marine life and palm fringed islands, what’s not to like?  When you factor in uncrowded (or usually completely empty!) world-class waves it’s an easy choice when looking for an escape from the rain!

We work with a fantastic company out there called Tropicsurf, which is hands down the best surf travel company I have ever worked with (trust me I have done the rounds). The brain child of Ross Phillips, a fantastic surfer, coach and surf pioneer, Tropicsurf  provides luxury surf adventures for all ages and abilities in a style that cannot be matched. They are industry leaders in coaching and luxury travel and run trips in Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Maldives, Seychelles, Morocco, Fiji and more!

Three years ago, I took my maiden voyage in the Maldives on the Four Seasons Explorer (a 150ft luxury catamaran) as a Tropicsurf surf guide and it’s an experience I will never forget. Pairing the best guides and coaches in the world with a luxury catamaran in the most exotic place on earth is match made in heaven. The thing that has always impressed me most about Tropicsurf is their insatiable drive to get quality waves whatever it takes.  Twelve-hour overnight trips and chartering seaplanes is pretty standard with these guys. And all the while their guests are blissfully enjoying their fresh sashimi and lobster while sitting in the hot tub! Truly living the dream.

Tropicsurf is also stationed on land at two luxury resorts in the Maldives, The Four Seasons Kuda Huraa and Anantara Resort and Spa, I’m happy to say that I’ve had the pleasure of managing both of them. This year we will return (for the third time) to our favorite spot in the South Male Atoll, Anantara Resort and Spa. This fantastic 5 (and 6) star resort is spread across 5 small islands and just happens to be right next to some of the best surf in the Maldives that is suitable for all levels (even beginners). With a beautiful 50 foot surf boat at our disposal, we will be taking our lucky guests to the best surf in the south for a truly unforgettable once-in-a-lifetime-experience.

And after a few months in the Maldives, we will be back in Costa Rica in November to take advantage of the dry season and the amazing waves here.  Consider yourselves updated.

Only guy in there!

 South Male Atoll Surf Spots

 Nonya’s

A super fun right had reef break that is fun for all levels, Nonyas has two very distinct sections, a super mellow outside sections suitable for beginners that can link up with a super long rippable wall on the inside with the occasional tube.  A longboarders dream wave, but still fun on a chunky shortboard.

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 Jacks

A bit of a secret spot off the corner of one of the islands, a short, shallow tubing left that is super fun once you get over the “shallow and sharp” part.

 Henry Reef

A fickle left across the channel from the resort, it has a long playful wall that accelerates as it goes down the line.

 Twin Peaks

Picks up the most swell in the South Male Atoll, a bit of a funky wave but always surfable.  Offers fun rights that grow in size along the reef.

 Boatyards

Named boatyards as it’s across the channel from a local boatyard (clever hey), but over the last few years the reef has shipwrecked a fair few vessels that got to close.  This is probably one of the best lefts in the Maldives, on it’s day it’s a world class left that drains down the reef for a really long way.

 Kandooma Right

I think this is the best wave in the Maldives, when it is on it’s full stand up barrel perfection….need I say more?

 Riptides

So ripable, it should be called skateparks,  when small it’s great for all levels, when it’s big…it just gets better!  There is a very defined channel so you can get out of harms way easily here at any size.  If you are lucky there could be some large Mantas feeding in the channel while you surf.  Great spot for a surf & snorkel trip.

Hospitals

Looks perfect…bites

 

 

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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

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