Surf Coaching

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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Autopilot

Turning Off The Autopilot

For those of us that surf often we can be guilty of surfing on autopilot most of the time. What do I mean by autopilot? Essentially, going through the motions during a surf session. You’re surfing on autopilot when you only surf the waves that you are comfortable with, perform the same manoeuvres wave after wave, and do the same thing you always do when you surf.

Every lineup has a surfer that you have seen surfing the exact same way on each wave they ride. They never fall, but then they never do anything that amazing either. They are just doing what they always do, going through the motions.

So if you’re that surfer, is there really anything wrong with that? In theory, no. If you have been doing the same thing for years and you’re having fun then its all good, right? Sure, but at the same time you might be seeing other surfers in photos, on surf videos or even at your local break doing amazing manoeuvres and thinking “why can’t I do that?”. Maybe it’s just a new way to hit an end section, going a bit more vertical off the top, or maybe you just admire someone’s “cojones” for taking off deep on big waves.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of just repressing these thoughts and stick to what you know and keep surfing on autopilot for the rest of your session. Instead, try to dream big. For 20 minutes of every session get out of your comfort zone, try the new move that you have been dreaming of, take off deeper on a set wave, try hitting the lip a bit harder! And don’t worry if you fall off! In fact, be happy that you have – if you are falling, you have turned off the autopilot and you’re trying something new! And when trying something new, you’re bound to make some mistakes which will help you figure out how to improve. If you’re struggling to figure out a technique, it’s never to late to get some professional coaching ; ).

After 20 minutes of bravely facing the unknown, then its fine to go back to your regular routine, but if you can spend 20 minutes concentrating on a new skill you will soon see a big difference in your surfing (and surprise everyone at your local break!).

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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

Counting

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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