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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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


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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The Rules of Surfing

So, why do we need rules for surfing? It’s a sport that’s all about having a free spirit and enjoying the ocean, right? Well, that’s very true if you’re lucky enough to be surfing on your own or just with some good mates (these are always the sessions you remember). However, surfing is growing more and more popular by the day and as a result there are more people in the line up than ever before, especially on the weekends. Crowds are more and more becoming a fact of life at a lot beaches, but it should not mean the end of having fun in the surf.
There are some simple, unofficial rules of surfing which help to keep the lineup properly managed when there is a crowd. These rules were first popularized in the 60′s during the first surfing boom and a lot of them still ring true today. All of these rules are designed to keep people safe and also rewards the surfer who takes off in the best position on a wave.
The following rules are really important and you should be aware of them if you are planning on surfing for the first time, especially in a busy lineup. These rules are recognized world-wide and you will get yourself a lot less potential grief in the surf if you know them.
Here is a comprehensive look on the rules of surfing with a few added tips to make your next experience in the surf a better one.


When a wave rolls in and several surfers start paddling for the same wave, it’s the surfer who’s closest to the peak that has priority. So, when you’re paddling, be aware of who’s around you and who has the right of way. If you’re closest to the peak, take it! If you’re not, let the other surfer go and get in a better position for the next wave.

Some surfers wrongly think that, even when there’s already another surfer up and riding the wave, they can take off closer to the peak and have priority. Taking priority by being closest to the peak only works if the wave isn’t already claimed. The first surfer up and riding has the right of way and dropping into a wave behind someone and claiming the wave as your own isn’t cool. And you’ll probably get hit if the surfer in front decides to do a cutback!



The first surfer up and riding has the right of way. Just like crossing a road, always look both ways before paddling into a wave – if there’s another surfer on the wave, stop paddling and let them go.

When you’re paddling for a wave, don’t forget to look over your shoulders! It’s possible that a surfer behind you will be up and riding that wave before it even reaches you so stay out of their way – the surfer already up and riding has priority.



If you continue paddling for a wave when another surfer is already on the wave and drop into the wave in front of them, not only will you ruin their wave, but there’s a high likelihood that they’ll end up hitting you – and a fin to the face is not a good look. Make sure you look both ways before you take the plunge!

If you’re thinking about dropping in on someone that has a large section in their way (essentially ending their ride), make sure they’re not able to get around that section before you take the wave. Most experienced surfers are able to get past big sections so don’t drop in on them – the wave is still theirs.


If the peak is splitting both left and right, make sure you communicate to the surfer nearest to you which direction you intend to surf so you don’t end up smacking into each other before the wave even begins. Yell “LEFT!” or “RIGHT!” as you’re paddling for the peak.


Essentially the “line up” is where you wait your turn to ride the wave. This works very well for a point break or reef break where the peak is consistent – everyone waits their turn and everyone gets a ride.  But organising a line up for a beach break is more difficult since the peaks are constantly changing. Do your best to take turns and don’t paddle around someone (“snaking”) to get the better position.


Snaking a wave is when you paddle around the surfer that’s closest to the peak and steal their wave by obtaining priority. When you’re surfing point and reef breaks where the peak is consistent and a “line up” forms – wait your turn and don’t “snake” someone’s wave.



Always paddle out around the break so that you don’t get in anyone’s way. If you must paddle out in the middle of the break (like when you’re surfing a shifty beach break) and there’s a surfer on the wave that’s just in front of you, you MUST paddle behind them into the whitewash and take the wave on the head – DON’T paddle into their path and ruin their wave.

The only time it’s OK to paddle in front of a surfer that’s up and riding is when you have plenty of room to cross their path without any worry that you might get in their way – don’t try this unless you’re an experienced surfer.

After you wipe out, quickly familiarize yourself with where others are around you and paddle back out safely without getting in anyone’s way. Don’t waste time fixing your hair, grab your board and get back out there!



When a big set comes, it might be tempting to just ditch your board and swim, but with your board on the loose, it could (and most likely will) end up hitting someone. Remember that your leash allows your board travel a long distance so be kind to others around you and keep your board where it belongs. And after wiping out, quickly locate your board and keep control of it.



There’s no need to be a wave hog. If you’re catching loads of waves, why not let someone else catch the next one? Some surfers, especially those on bigger boards, are able to get into waves really early before the wave even reaches other surfers. If you’re one of the lucky ones that can catch anything that moves, let some waves go so others can enjoy the surf as well. Surf karma goes a long way!


When you make a mistake, own up to it! If you accidentally drop-in on someone or paddle into their path, apologise. Everyone makes mistakes and most surfers are very understanding.


If you’re a beginner and your only experience has been white-water waves on a beach break, then it’s a very bad idea to paddle out into a heavy reef break. The same can be said for more experienced surfers when the waves are bigger and more powerful. If you’re not confident that you can maintain control of your board, then stay on the beach. Be smart and don’t push your limits without the help of a qualified coach.


Just like when you’re driving, following someone too closely could end in a collision. If the person directly in front of you loses control of their board while duck-diving or turtle-rolling their board may fly up and smack you right on the head! Give yourself some space when you’re paddling out and try to pick a path that won’t get in anyone’s way.


Not that we want to add to the crowds, but when you’re surfing, take a friend with you. Surfing can be a dangerous sport so surf with someone (preferably a surf instructor/lifeguard friend!) that will not only keep you company, but who can also help you if you need it.


Learn everything you can about the spot you will be surfing. What’s the bottom like? Are there sharp rocks or reef? What’s the tide doing? Is the wave steep/hollow/fast? Are there any dangerous currents? Before you enter the water, make sure you understand your surf spot. If you’re new to a surf spot, ask a local. If you feel you don’t really understand how it all works, a qualified surf coach can teach you everything you need to know about the ocean.


Boards, fins, reef, and various sea creatures can harm you. Be aware of the dangers that surround you and take precautions. Cover your head every time you wipeout and maintain control of your board so you don’t end up hurting someone. Also it’s a good idea to make sure you know where the nearest doctor or first-aider is (just in case).


We all started out as beginners so when a newbie makes a mistake remember that it takes time to learn to surf and to become confident with the ocean. Even beginners that know the rules may have trouble following them at first so be understanding. Remember the tunnel vision you had when you caught your first wave? Or the blind panic you felt when you accidentally paddled into the path of a surfer riding a wave? Be patient. And if you want to feel extra warm and fuzzy, be helpful.


We’ve all been there, so when you see a surfer in need, help them out. A little kindness is all it takes.


It might seem obvious, but don’t litter. We’ve all paddled out past floating plastic bottles and flip-flops left by careless beach goers…don’t be that disrespectful person.


Surfers love to travel so even if you’re surfing your local spot today, you most likely will be surfing someone else’s local spot tomorrow. So when you’re visiting, be respectful of the locals and follow the rules (and don’t turn up with 8 of your friends and crowd the water). And when you’re hosting, be welcoming and let your guests have a few waves.

One final note on the rules…

Every once in a while someone will make a mistake or it will be hard to tell who was in the right and who was wrong. Don’t worry about it. The rules are designed to keep you safe, not to police everyone. Have fun and enjoy the waves!

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