Surfing Tips

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.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

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 , , , , , , , ,

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.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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”

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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

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 , , , , , , , ,