Let’s face it, surfing is one of those sports with a steep learning curve. That’s especially true for those of us who adopted it at a later stage in life. I wish I had a surfer dad (or articles like these) when I first started surfing.
It’s been quite a ride, but facing my fears out on the lineup and having conversations with some well seasoned Baja surfers has led me on the road to being decent on a surfboard… but I’ve still got a long way to go.
1. Picking the wrong board
This is talked about endlessly. In shaping bays, surf shops and on the web, there will always be some sort of discussion around which board to ride. All it takes is a stubborn newbie and a small wave to cause an accident when riding a board that’s not right for one’s skill level. Riding a shortboard looks cool to some, but remember that there is also a great potential for flow, style and ease while riding fun, long and even softop boards. When you’re comfortable on something a little more stable, gradually step down. That way, you’ll not only save yourself a lot of frustration, but you’ll become a more well-rounded surfer. Don’t buy a board because Kelly Slater or John John rides it. It’s probably way too light, responsive and just plain out of many surfers’ leagues. It’s like learning to drive a stick shift Ferrari when you should be in your mom’s minivan.
If you’re a beginner, don’t make the mistake I made: pitch in with two more friends and buy a shitty, sun yellowed, water logged longboard for fifty bucks. Rent or borrow a board you can get some stable all-the-way to the beach foam rides. Then, after some time, experiment with shorter boards and maybe talk to a shaper.
2. Not keeping it consistent
When I first started surfing, It was only once or twice every month we could get organized to drive am hour to the closest break. We didn’t check the forecasts, and we often went up there hungover and eating junk food all the way there. One year later, I learned the value of a week long (or even longer) surfari intensive with a good board, decent swell, a reasonably forgiving wave, and uncrowned lineups.
Repetition is your best friend. Even if you take wipeout after wipeout, at least you’re going for it. You need to do that to develop the necessary speed, reflexes and muscle memory. You can even practice popping up at home when you’re not surfing. Which brings us to the next mistake.
3. Not training on dry land
Most of the progress I made happened on dry land for me. How? I got a balance trainer (an Indoboard is a good choice) and started following along with my body while watching surf videos. Turning, getting low, getting on your tippy toes and adding some weights trains your body for the worst case scenario. It’s like pilots who learn to fly on a simulator first. Simulate surfing as best as you can. Of course, logging actual water time is the most important, but since you don’t live in the ocean, do some training when you’re out of it. I also took up yoga. The flexibility, concentration and strength you develop is life changing, and some of the most renowned surfers are serious yoga enthusiasts.
4. Not warming up
I’ve seen even experienced surfers get out of their car, suit up, wax on, strap the leash and paddle out. I don’t blame them if they surf every day. They’ve developed that necessary muscle memory. But honestly, you can’t state the importance of warming up prior to ANY physical activity enough. It’s not going to hurt, right?
Jog for five minutes, bust some burpees, jumping jacks, stretch out a little bit, strike a yoga pose, do some pushups, backbends… whatever gets your juice going. But for the sake of people at the beach, don’t do this.
Warming up lubricates the joints and gets the blood flowing in the appropriate places, but most importantly, it sets a state of mind. It brings you into the present moment and prepares your body for the fun that’s ahead.
5. Not paying enough attention
So you’ve chosen a board that suits your skills, then you practiced on dry land, stuck with it, and developed a warm up routine. The skills you have developed have allowed you to overcome the steep learning curve. Now you’re getting some good few waves every session and you think you’re the best – until you drop in on someone and cause some surf-rage madness.
A good surfer is constantly aware of his surroundings, checking in with his land references, watching the action around him and paying attention to currents, the tide, the swell and, most importantly, other surfers. The ambition to get the best waves can be distracting, but a safe surfer is a good surfer.
6. (Bonus) Ignoring surf heritage
Perhaps the reason you decided to surf was similar to Andy Iron’s I Surf Because statement: he wanted the girls, the fame, the whole package. Nowadays, many surfers seem to have lost sight of surfing’s amazing heritage and culture. Surfing was so much more than a sport. It was – and still is for many – a way of life.
This doesn’t mean you have to memorize every name in the surfer’s hall of fame or know the history of all things surfing. But maybe watch a good documentary, or look at some old school surfing photos, read a book about it. Whatever you do, don’t just go around in ignorance. You are now part of a brotherhood, so you better act like it. Be grateful for every wave, every barrel and every humbling wipeout. That’s what we live for.