s curve surfing
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Embracing the suck, navigating the S curve and how to get out of it

The s curve is a universal method of learning that we all go through, regardless if you are surfing or not and it doesn't always need to suck.

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The Full Guide

Do you ever feel in your surfing that you are just not improving or seeing any progress? Probably, leading you to just a heap of frustration or worse, disappointment? 

This is even worse if you are actively trying to improve your surfing and may give that feeling of “f* this crap, I’m out”

What you are going through is what’s universally called an S curve and I’m going to tell you how you need to embrace this suck.

If you don’t embrace the suck, you’ll be building an ego and fumbling in the dark.

Embracing the suck is part of accepting where you actually are and figuring out what you need to work on to get better.

You need this negative learning experience and feedback loop to understand when something is done right, and what the difference is between good and bad.

What is the S curve

The S curve is just this graph that looks like the letter S. What it signifies is that to get better at something, you have to first suck and that over time, very little improvement is seen.

The S curve model
Image courtesy of marktruelson.com

As time goes on, the growth starts to build and this is where your confidence and competence begin to form. Eventually, this growth will begin to rapidly develop.

However, this will eventually plateau and level out again. Rapid growth is not constant and this is where you begin to master the skill and improvement becomes all about minute adjustments and tweaking.

This experience and whether you improve or not is all tied to your comfort zone. When you master one part of your surfing, you will enter a new comfort zone and the cycle continues.

How this impacts your surfing

It’s all about how you manage these phases, breaking down where your surfing is at and what you are actually working on. 

The easiest way to improve your surfing is always to focus on just one thing at a time and keep it simple. Everything else is a distraction and takes away from the learning experience for that one thing.

Navigating the S curve

There are several stages to the S curve and how you can help yourself navigate them.

Step 1 - Take Risks

You need to kick yourself out of the nest and take risks. You need to try something. Safety surfing and taking it easy and boring, nothing worse to watch. To get better, you need to find out what you want to try and just have a go at it.

Step 2 - Identify your strengths and weaknesses

As you start taking these risks and having a go, you will run into a wall sooner or later. To get through this phase, you need to start understanding your strengths and weaknesses.

This will help identify what the issue may be and how you can keep progressing. If your stance is rubbish, that cutback will evade you forever. 

Think of this as ticking off the fundamentals of the new movement and if you aren’t aware of them, then you are missing some key theory.

Step 3 - Embrace constraints

Constraints in surfing aren’t so obvious, it’s an open canvas letting you do what you want right?

Unfortunately not, constraints can be the conditions, the type of wave, your board or anything else that impacts what the surf is doing and what you and your board are capable of.

Think, certain wind conditions make it an air day, perfect for keeping the board glued to your feet. Certain tides make it more mellow or stand up and barrel. Similar for your board, some boards want to turn and others are more point and cruise.

The idea is to embrace those constraints, if the conditions line up, go for it, if they don’t don’t fight it, stay humble and don’t beat yourself up by forcing it to happen.

If that board is more of a tug boat than a hi-performance board, think about what you can learn from it for your turns and work with them, not against it.

Step 4 - Drop the ego

Always drop the ego, accept where you are, what you are struggling with and ask for help. Film yourself or get a mate to film you. Play it back, the video never lies.

It’s impossible to argue with the video and say nah that’s not me, I don’t have a crap stance like that. Accept it, review it and see what you can fix to improve.

Step 5 - Step back to grow

At this point, if the changes aren’t going well enough, take a step back. Look at your surfing and see if there is a fundamental or movement you are not doing.

Maybe you need to park this manoeuvre and go back and work on a fundamental, perfect that part of your surfing so you can properly develop the original manoeuvre. 

Or take yourself out of the equation and look at other surfers, take a look at both good and bad surfers. Observe what they are doing both right and wrong. This can be the missing piece in understanding what you are missing.

Step 6 - Embrace failure

Fail forwards, aim to feel something new or feel something better. The goal is not to succeed, you can’t go from doing terrible cutbacks to perfect ones, so fail forwards and aim to feel something, not stay on your feet or do a very average turn.

When you feel that new feeling, go again and again until you capture that feeling.

Step 7 - Play with it

As you begin to find success or mastery, think how can I play with this? How can I change up the feeling, what little tweaks can I make to change this feeling?

Think less is more or do less and feel more.

Comfort Zone

Comfort zones are dangerous in surfing. We all are stuck in them and they are oh so obvious on bigger days when a lot of surfers will sit very wide and paddle for the shoulder. This is their comfort zone and it’s winning.

This surfer is saying they value their comfort zone more than the outcome or change.

It’s horrible but extremely human, so don’t beat yourself up.

Have a sit-down and think, what do you value more, your comfort zone or this change or aspect in your surfing you want to improve?

If you value your comfort zone more, that’s fine, it’s entirely up to you and your choice.

If you want that change, you’ve got to kick yourself out the nest, embrace the suck and get started on the S curve.

When you come to the end of a specific S curve, you will enter a new comfort zone. The cycle will repeat over and over but as it goes on and you learn new skills, kicking yourself out of that comfort zone will get easier.

Zero to hero

The problem with most people that end up giving up is that they want to go from zero to hero.

We all know the type, people who want to pick it up instantly, hop, skip and jump over several steps, cut corners or expect it to come instantly.

Everyone learns differently and if you pick it up fast, that’s fantastic, but if you cut corners, aka gloss over the fundamentals, you’ll always end up frustrated, not sure why it’s not connecting.

This is where habit stacking comes in.

Habit stacking

Habit stacking is this idea that comes from James Clear and his amazing book Atomic Habits. 

It is basically accepting that you can’t go from zero habits to 20 in one go. It doesn’t work. 

To effectively build habits, you need to build one at a time and over time, as they progress and become ingrained in you, build on the next one and begin layering them. The new habits start compounding and building off of each other.

This is exactly what you are doing while navigating the S curve. In the beginning, you are either fixing bad habits or creating new ones. This is slow. One adjustment to your surfing at a time is the goal and then moving on.

Think of this as fixing your stance, finding a neutral comfortable starting position, improving your ability to read the wave, staying in the pocket, compressing and extending, initiating a cutback, opening up the front shoulder to extend the twist, looking through the turn, wrap it around and hit the foam etc. 

That’s a rough list and glosses over so much, but one habit is building off the other. As they connect, you begin to compound the changes and your surfing will drastically change.

This is why zero to hero never works, if you can’t open up the front shoulder, you’ll never do a full wrap. If you are always on the shoulder, the cutback will be very flat and boring.

You need these fundamentals to work on the major manoeuvre. 

Dealing with the frustration

The frustration though will always be real. 

It is not always obvious to you what is missing in your habit stack, fundamentals, knowledge etc. This is where our training programs can help and you can find the training program for you here.

This frustration is what you want though, it is a signal you are missing something and need to fill in that gap.

It’s up to you whether you continue to be frustrated or pay attention to it and think about what is causing the frustration.

Remember most issues are a symptom of the real issue and you want to hack at the roots of the issue and not the leaves if you want to change it.

An example of this is your pop up, in that, if you are nosediving, it can be that you are looking down and the cause for that is the sudden fear of wiping out when the wave stands up. Keeping your chin up during the pop-up is essential, but dealing with the fear and finding calm will be beneficial for everything you do in surfing. It can also be that you are aware of the fix but can’t implement it due to fear.

The body lags the mind

A point to note is that you need to download the information as you progress and that takes time.

The mind learns very quick where the body learns slow. Hence, the body lags the mind.

If you are struggling with parts of the S curve, you may just need time to allow your mind and body to catch up. Put in the training and let all the new information, habits, feelings and movements begin to connect.

Multiple S curves

The annoying reality to this is you are facing multiple S curves. Anytime you change something in your surfing, a new board, new beach, new size of surf, new positioning, new skill, you will face a new S curve.

Some of these will just blow over, some will be quick and painless and some will just be loud and obnoxious. The obvious is surfers going down to shorter boards. If you haven’t learnt the fundamentals, this will be a big struggle.

Finding your S-curves

As part of The OMBE Method, we have broken down the average S curve for all skill levels, beginner, intermediate and advanced surfers and generally what they go through during their phases of improvement. That’s completely free and you can watch any time!


This S curve and negative experience is life trying to teach you lessons and you need to suck before you get good. It’s all ego and people give up because they don't want to suck or look bad in front of their mates.

You have to spend time embracing the change and challenge yourself to achieve the outcome. 

Don’t let your ego get in the way of your progression.

Any change to OMBE, surf a different beach, change your mindset, change your equipment, change the lines you take, change the way you move, so on and so on, it will result in a learning experience with the lessons that need to be heeded.

What you are feeling and the problem you face can sometimes be a symptom of something you are unaware of and it requires you to figure it out or learn a new skill to move forward.

Everything has a problem and a solution, but sometimes those problems aren’t obvious, but you can go back and view it through the lens of OMBE.

Embracing the suck can lead to fun, you’re either in the comfort zone and happy to stay there, eventually bored or chase new highs.

Written by
Luke Hardacre
surf coaching