If you’re not comfortable falling, you are not comfortable surfing and will stagnate in your surfing
This all sounds cliche but the sad reality is most surfers are stuck in a comfort zone where they never try anything, too afraid to risk a wipeout and constantly play it safe.
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The Full Guide
If you’re not comfortable falling, you are not comfortable surfing and will stagnate in your surfing.
If you can’t fail, you can’t learn. If you don’t try, you’ll never succeed.
This all sounds cliche but the sad reality is most surfers are stuck in a comfort zone where they never try anything, are too afraid to risk a wipeout and constantly play it safe.
This can be across all aspects of your surfing. It can hold you back in your positioning, take off, how you ride the wave, the turns or other manoeuvres you attempt.
Why learning to fall and relax is so important to your surfing
If you are not comfortable with falling, with taking risks, with trying things in the surf, you will never attempt new things, work on small parts of your surfing to better understand and you’ll never get that feeling.
What I mean by that feeling, it comes back to only a surfer knows the feeling. It’s something you have to figure out during your manoeuvres, take off, cross stepping etc. You have to feel to understand and then play with that movement to develop that feeling and work on it.
So if you are stuck in this, you’re not improving, nothing will change unless you learn to fall. And what’s not said in that sentence, is to learn to relax in falling. It’s more about letting go than it is about the correct method to fall.
Groms learn faster than us because it's all play
If you watch the groms, they aren't afraid of falling. It's all about play and how they can have fun. They will be constantly trying things, tweaking things and just having a go.
When things are fun, we learn faster and it's why as adults we can sometimes struggle to learn as we are too afraid to let go and try. We are more concerned about what happens if we injure ourselves. That's ok but be aware of that.
Viewing this from other sports
If you take this out of surfing and look at it for snowboarding, waterskiing, skating, kite surfing etc. There’s a more obvious risk involved, it’s hitting a hard surface or hitting the water at high speed with equipment attached.
You would learn to fall early on… or… you would take a few beatings early on and realise you need to do something to not get hurt all the time.
If you want to learn a new trick in snowboarding or skating, you first want to know how to progress through it and fall safely. But most surfers are just hoping they can magically learn a manoeuvre and skip the phase of stuffing it up and failing.
Similar to the Progression based training podcast episode which introduces the similarities between handstands and surfing, if you don’t know how to fall out of a handstand, you will never improve.
Surfing is just the same, important to learn how to fall so you can keep yourself relaxed and safe.
A fear of wiping out invites tension and stress into your surfing
If you are uncomfortable riding the wave and you are worried about being dumped, wiping out, the wave closing out on you etc, you will manifest that stress in your surfing across that whole wave.
You are then constantly running from fear. Trying to escape something that may or may not happen. This will just introduce stress and tension into your surfing and prevent you from surfing your best and moving efficiently because you are mentally and/or physically guarding yourself from a what-if situation.
Trying to prevent an injury and fussing about it can put you in a situation to cause an injury
This is more obvious skating, people will guard themselves, either physically or mentally but it will show as stiff movement and they will constantly watch the risky thing they are doing. They are watching the ramp or the wave if you are surfing.
This is so wrong because you are not moving efficiently or as you should be. Your perception of danger is taking over and you are almost glued to that ramp or section and can’t look away from it.
It goes back to, wherever you are looking is where you are going, if you stare down, you will project your body down.
Staring at the ramp or wave may seem cool, you think yeah I want to see my spray or think I don’t want to be hit or fall, you are making that a reality. You need to look through to where you are going and not what is happening elsewhere.
How to avoid hitting other surfers
This is the same for avoiding a clash with another surfer. If you look at that surfer and think crap I am going to hit them, you will make it an easier reality by being scared and staring at them.
Instead, look the opposite way away from them. Tell your body I want to go this way instead, the opposite direction to them and send that signal to your board. Don’t need to be a good surfer to direct your board that way.
By looking at them, even if you contort your body away from them, you are still telling your board I want to go this way. So stop it and look away, look away from the thing or person that causes fear, look through to where you want to go and move efficiently rather than in a panic of I may get hurt.
There are three types of people when it comes to bad wipeouts in the surf
Before I get into the techniques to help wiping out and relaxing, you need to understand how you respond to these situations. It matters more about how you manage your response rather than which type of surfer you are.
When it comes to falling, there are three common responses people make and it’s important you know how you will respond subconsciously so you can train yourself to relax.
- Those who want to be in control and control their outcome
- Those who don’t want to be controlled or pushed around
- Those who go with the flow and relax
If you already relax during a wipeout, fantastic, but most people will find it stressful, surrendering control to the wave and being thrown around underwater.
It’s not about saying you are a control freak at all. It’s about understanding that you will subconsciously fight the water and try to surface as soon as possible.
Why do you need to relax in a bad wipeout?
When a wave breaks, that water and power becomes turbulent, it is fighting to find the easiest path forward and will flow in every different direction. You will notice this just behind a wave after it breaks, seeing the water fighting to dissipate and lose its energy and return to a rest state. It can be tough to paddle here as you fight that moving water and struggle to get out of it.
If you are wiping out, you can’t fight that, especially on bigger waves. You can’t overpower the flow of that water until it runs out of energy.
By fighting it, you will just stress yourself out and more importantly, you raise your heart rate and burn so much more oxygen.
Instead of preventing the thing you fear, a potential drowning, you are drawing yourself closer by burning up all your energy and oxygen. You are then also stressing yourself out and allowing yourself to enter a negative mindset as you don’t go with the flow.
Techniques to relax during bad wipeouts
Defining how you respond to this situation is up to you and easier by having a wipeout and trying to be aware of how that makes you uncomfortable or how you will react upon falling. It is then up to you to find a good solution or technique to help you relax.
Roller coaster and letting go
Roller coaster is a pattern interrupter and trigger word. You can read the whole guide and podcast on trigger words here.
Roller coaster is meant to stop you from fighting that turbulent water and let go. To treat the experience like you are on a ride at a theme park and it’s all just a fun experience.
It reframes that negative mindset of “oh crap I’m being thrown around” to expanding your awareness, relaxing and thinking, this could be fun and it’s not actually that bad.
To do this, just let go, mentally say roller coaster and just let your body go limp, don’t hold your limbs with any tension, just let everything move as the water acts upon you.
As the water eases up, wait for it to ease to a point you know you can swim against it and reach the surface.
If you get another wave on the head, rinse and repeat.
It’s more important to wait for the wave to ease up than it is to fight that moving water and burn your oxygen.
Count the time you are actually held underwater
This is easy and can be added to roller coaster. Just count the seconds underwater. You’ll be surprised that most falls, we are barely underwater for more than a few seconds. Counting it out makes you realise that 5 seconds of waiting underwater not doing anything but waiting is easy and doesn’t need to be stressful.
You can also go and test yourself to see where you are comfortable and understand that you will be able to last much longer underwater.
Taking a big wipeout first up
If you are nervous and unsure in conditions, follow roller coaster but the first wave, make the fall bad, purposely wipe out on a bad wave and say to yourself, that wasn’t so bad, it can’t get much worse so I’ve got this.
This one is all about setting a mindset and saying these waves can’t affect me any worse than that so this surf will be good.
Falling and positioning your board
When we want to try new things, the fear that holds you back is either being held under or keeping yourself safe from hitting your own board.
Pencil dives off the side of the board are great if you are worried about a big closeout section as it lets you penetrate the water and sink below the energy of the swell and will put you away from your board as it eventually gets dragged by the wave.
Kick outs during manoeuvres
This is very situational and requires you to know you won’t hit anyone. Be aware of those around you as a surfboard can be a missile.
If you are working on manoeuvres and you don’t have them dialled in. You’ll want to be able to practice them without worrying you will hurt yourself. If you find yourself getting verticle, in the pocket, about to hit a closeout and at the last minute you freak out or want to bail from the attempt, just push the board away from you using your legs. It’s simple and effective, just be mindful of those around you and as you surface the board may be above you.
Otherwise, depending on the manoeuvre or position you find yourself in, just ensure you put space between you and your board.
Starfishing for rocks and reef
If you surf a coral reef or something dangerous, ask the surfers who surf it all the time for specific advice, but generally, if you are worried about hitting the sandbank, rocks or reef, you need to image yourself as a starfish, relax, go limp and try to prevent your body from penetrating the water too much. There is a lot of nuance to this one, so be careful and adjust to suit the local conditions.
Bogging the outside rail
This type of falling isn’t fun. You’ve somehow snagged the outside rail and it’s sunk in and you’ve now been thrown off in front of the board.
When this happens, be mindful of the board and its fins and try to put distance between you and the board as now the wave will be pushing that board towards you.
Personally, I like to try and penetrate the water and put myself deeper than the board will go.
Again lots of nuance here and this is a very easy way to get a fin chop to the legs as you tumble around and the board comes back down and hits you while being thrown around.
Especially in barrel riding or pulling into closeouts, you want to ensure you don’t snag that outside rail and put yourself in a bad spot.
Protect yourself if all else fails
Sometimes we put ourselves in bad situations, a lot of that is caused by bad movement, staring at the thing we are afraid of or not knowing how to move properly. When we are in these positions, just fall back to protecting yourself.
An easy one is crash hat or helmet. Simply just put your arms over your head and protect your face. As you resurface, you can use one of the arms to feel if the board is nearby and make sure you don’t hit it.
If you aren’t comfortable falling, you won’t be comfortable surfing and you’re not going to try to do new things that will improve your surfing.
It’s all about awareness, letting go of control and surrendering to the turbulent waters. Relaxing, not fighting it and finding some fun in that brief experience. If that doesn’t work, it becomes about reminding yourself it’s not so bad, the wipeouts can't get worse than the first one, I wasn’t held under for long so it’s fine. It’s about reframing the mental attitude from negative to it’s ok.
When you get to relaxing and you can try new things, work on keeping the board away from you when you fall or bail.
All of these techniques and awareness take time and experience falling. So go fall, go fail forwards and build up that experience. Try new things and get comfortable falling.
If you aren’t comfortable with your surfboard, get a foamie and take the fear away. If you don’t have one, go out and swim in the surf and play around in it with the goal of tumbling around. Or take a bodyboard and get deeper and surf bigger waves than you normally would.
Has this week’s episode given you an understanding of how to fall or motivated you to go out and try new things? Will you work on your response to wiping out or will you work on new manoeuvres with the goal of failing forwards?