This Is the Key to Adding Consistency to Your Surfing

Shredtown awaits. Photo: Unsplash

The Inertia

Reliability. Regularity. However, you want to slice the avocado, I struggle with consistency in terms of my surfing. I’ll often follow one of the best surfs “of my life” with a session during which shocked bystanders would swear that I’ve lost all control of my bodily movements. Why do I struggle to link stand-out sessions together, and how can I prime the pump for consistency? 

After a little profound reflection and a lot of deep talks with other surfers – some of whom struggle with the same affliction, and some of whom think I’ve lost my marbles and should quit surfing and focus only on balance boarding – I’ve come up with a few reasons why average-Joe surfers sometimes struggle to string together killer sessions. And they all involve that thing between your ears. Yes, your mind is the key to consistency.  

The Evil of Expectation

Deer Tick, one of my favorite bands, sings a song called “Hope is Big,” and that’s often how I feel when I’m jogging the beach in the hyper color dawn: frothing with the hefty weight of expectation. If I seemingly perfected a new maneuver or technique the day before, I fully expect to be able to pick up exactly where I left off. 

This lofty sense of expectancy can quickly tank a session, because after a few average or below-average waves, I’m disappointed in myself. After a few more, I often find myself loudly sharing all my inadequacies with disinterested pelicans.

The fix for this is to remind ourselves that no two surf sessions will ever be the same. Surfers’ sketch their masterpieces – or mistakes – on eternally fluctuating canvases, and the number of variables that must coincide to bring us rideable waves can also conspire to complicate our sessions. For example, even if the swell direction and wind is the same as the prior day, the tide is restlessly cycling through more changes than Tupac.

Plus, just like the tides, our thoughts and feelings fluctuate every day. Everything from how much sun we get, to how stressed we are at work, to how many Coronas we take down after work to combat said stress, influences our mood. In turn, our mood influences whether we attack the surf like prime Occy or float around like a brokenhearted seal.

It’s tough, but I try not to compare prior waves to current carves. Instead, the goal is to stay open to the unpredictability – and possible beauty – of the moment. Sometimes, you can screw up what you’re trying, but unlock something new. For one entire session, I was stuck on doing floaters the way I had the day before. One of my final mistakes, however, sent me soaring over the lip (did I land it? Not a chance).

The Crystal Ball of Confidence

Trying to strike the right balance of confidence can turn into a quagmire. Personally, if I’m not feeling confident enough, for whatever reason, then I’m not locked in, and I overthink my surfing. This means I tend to hesitate, which is one of the worst things we can do when a wave is lifting us to the sky.

A lack of confidence can have many causes: a tough bail, an injury, a bad day. When my back and legs were blazing with nerve pain, I pulled out of some great waves because my brain kept warning me not to make my injury worse. The flip side of this dearth of self-assurance is what sometimes happens following a stellar surf. We all know those landmark sessions, when everything seems to slow down, and each wave is like an old friend who only wants the best for you. The next day, you’ve got a swing in your step because ripping waves is like walking through the park – you don’t even think about it. You eye the swells, frothing to rip, buoyed by your prior performance. Your muscles are already loose and warm, and nothing could screw up your first wave, until everything does.

When I fall prey to this temptingly delicious burrito of overconfidence, things typically don’t go as well as predicted. There’s a fine line between being sure of yourself and overly cocky, and if I’ve gorged on the latter, I usually forget the fundamentals and go down the tubes, as opposed to in the tube. While my mistakes in chest-high surf will only hurt my pride, Pro surfer Nathan Florence notes that in bigger surf, overconfidence can quickly lead to injuries, or worse.

For pro surfer and surf coach Mike Parsons, there’s a dividing line between the confidence necessary to succeed and a dose of unneeded arrogance. Parsons also highlights the idea that happiness and contentment on dry land influences surfers’ performances in the water. I often see this play out myself: when I’m already in a good mood, I typically surf well, even if I screw up my first wave. If I’m stressed or tired, I’m more prone to frustration and anger in the water if things don’t go as planned.

Calming the Mind: Slow Down to Speed Up

After surfing this morning, I am fully focused on writing this article. OK…I’m focused, but I also can’t help also reliving my last wave, a glassy right that took me 800 yards down the shore and featured a fun bowl section inside. Whenever I get to surf next, I’ll probably still be dreaming of that wave, and when a similar right lines up, I’ll be so amped up that I’ll probably forget to take my foot off the gas and focus on the process.

The energy the ocean stirs up within us can be downright uncontrollable. Even when my back was injured and I wasn’t supposed to run, the sight of a horizon full of swell lines lifted me, forcing me to jog down the beach in the pre-dawn light (at least that’s what I told my doctor). In New England, during hurricane season, many of my friends can’t sleep the night before a big swell hits, and we carry that mix of fizzing nerves and stoked synapses straight into the water the next morning.

This category of calming the mind is not dissimilar to wrangling our confidence: there’s a sense of balance that, if achieved, will help us surf better. If we’re too pumped up, (and, for me, jittery from caffeine) we rush. We don’t scope the waves before paddling, we take the first wave of the set as it collapses on us, and on and on. However, the right amount of this nervous energy can make us paddle harder, stay alert, and be more aggressive and creative when in the pocket.

Surf Coach Claudia Hirschberger advocates for some deep breathing, yoga, stretching, or just “a little bit of Zen” before jumping into the drink. When we move too fast before the session – and I’m not talking about chugging your coffee and sprinting to the car to beat the Sprinter Van Mafia – we miss important signals. When we don’t watch the waves for at least a few minutes on a big day, for example, we might find ourselves paddling out at the wrong spot, and wasting valuable energy, or worse. Even when I don’t feel the need to stretch, I like to spend a few minutes chilling on the beach and taking some deep breaths before paddling out. This process seems to rid my surfing of some of the eager tension that used to plague my waves.

Treating every wave as a unique experience might also be one of the best ways to get that “best session ever” to mirror itself. Surfing, though, is like life: as ever changing as it is cyclical. We may think we want a perfect repeat of yesterday’s performance, but if every day and every wave were similar, we’d grow bored and our progress would bog down. That said, if Kelly Slater Wave Co. wants to build me a wave pool at my house…I’m listening.


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