Learn to surf expectations
Min Read Time

Managing expectations and how they can make or break your surfing

Expectations can set us up for failure or success before we even hit the water, this guide will explain all the pitfalls and how to make sure you set yourself up for success.

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The Full Guide

Do you ever feel like you go for a surf, the waves are pumping, the conditions are just right and you’re gonna rip?

Come out of the surf and it was total crap

But then flip that, when the surf is rubbish sometimes we come out from a surf and think, hell yeah that was sick!

Why is this?

It has everything to do with you and your expectations you set before you’ve even gotten into the water.

Another way to think of this - you are setting yourself up for failure or success before you’ve even started.

If your expectations are sky-high, you won’t meet them. If they are low, you can either meet them or better them.

It’s not trying to be pessimistic or realistic, it’s more about putting your mind in the right state so when you surf, you aren’t putting pressure on yourself so that you can enjoy it.

Examples of ways we set bad expectations

There are three main expectations we set for ourselves and they are based on:

  1. The conditions of the surf
  2. The surfboard we are riding and how we expect it to perform while riding a wave
  3. Ourselves and how we expect ourselves to perform in the surf

All three of those we can own, we can control them but most surfers will let them run rampant.

Conditions and expectations

What the conditions are doing is a biggy in terms of expectations, the surf forecast says it’s all-time, we get there and it’s crap. I almost don’t want to know what someone else thinks of it, same with a mate, I don’t really want their opinion unless I can’t look at it.

If they say it's all time, it’s amazing, I get hyped up. If they say yeah it looks fun, that can mean so many things and I love that. It looks fun and that’s what I want. That could be knee-high log waves or it could be head high, overhead beach break barrels. Fun is all that matters.

If we get to the beach and we get skunked, the winds switched, the tides wrong, we are already in a bad mental state and think urgh, this is a waste of time. We’re going to have a bad surf.

The other side of this is, the waves are perfect, I’m going to get a sick wave, the wave of my life, this or that, if that doesn’t happen, you can only come in frustrated. 

Expectations of our equipment

Expectations around our equipment are the worst!

Now that I bought this high-performance board with its hyperflex 2000 design and flame spray, I’m going to rip, all of a sudden my bad surfing will change and I am a new surfer.

It. Doesn’t. Happen. That. Way. 

The board may be designed to move that way and allow high-performance surfing, but if your ocean awareness, knowledge, mental calmness and body all function at a low-performance level, that board is just going to highlight all of those problems.

Then we see surfers blaming their equipment.

This board doesn’t turn well, it can’t create speed, it just feels wrong.

For this, I’ll give an example, I took a twin fin board from Clay the other week, never ridden it, big double vee the whole way through it and took it to a small point break because my partner had the longboard.

Came back to Clay and he asked how I liked it and I just said “I surfed it so wrong and on the wrong wave”. It wanted to be on rail with the double vee, not flat, sitting on a slow small point break waiting for it to stand up so I could do a turn, wrong board, wrong expectations that this was the better pick as it was this or a standard shorty. Took the more foam and volume and paid the price expecting the wrong thing from it. The difference was I owned my own shit after it and then the next surf went, right rail to rail, lower my expectations and just chill. Night and day difference between surfs.

Managing the expectations of ourselves

The hardest one that hurts the most, is when we expect ourselves to surf a certain way or move a certain way and we don’t.

We’ve been practising on land, on the skateboards and we’ve got it, we get to the water and nothing clicks. Why? Why can’t I do this?

This sets up the expectations of we will get it first time in the water or very quickly after trying it in the water. It takes time, gotta slow it down and find the small wins rather than think we can go from zero to hero.

The other side of this is when the conditions fire and we think we will rip, if our surfing is total crap, we go hot and cold and come in thinking I surf so much better than that, why couldn’t I link it together today?

We’ve gotta flow and relax, if we try to move our bodies and expect high results, we usually end up trying to hard and fail.

How expectations negatively affect your surfing

All of these expectations are forcing us to try to hard, surf the wrong way or push us towards a way of surfing that doesn’t match the conditions or our skill.

If we aim high we can only go down, it will either be like yeah I surfed ok or I sucked and we get frustrated. 

How expectations can work in your favour

By setting the expectations low, finding the small wins, working on one small thing we set positive expectations. It’s not about the whole experience, those small wins let you find success and anything else is a win after that and can be celebrated. 

Or we go out expecting a shit surf and let's just get wet and suddenly our mind isn’t stuck in this process of forcing us to try, it becomes just let what happens, happens and whatever that is, is sick because I thought nothing would happen.

Finding the right state of mind

We can set this up before each surf, some of that is ignoring the forecasts, what others say, matching the right board for the right waves, expecting little of ourselves, calming the mind and finding those small wins. The final thing which leads onto next week's episode is to own our own shit, excuses get us nowhere, they may make us feel okay when we say it but you walk away not feeling any better.

Written by
Luke Hardacre
surf coaching