OMBE Tales Episode 1: Raz
Once one of the students of the OMBE coaching method, Raz is now a confident and competent surfer. Read about his journey.
What’s the utmost joy of a surf coach? Is it yelling your lungs out to a novice on waves from the comfort of the beach? A little bit, yes, but not entirely. Is it showing off what a skillful and wise surfer you really are? Sometimes, when you’re in the mood for it, but that’s not it either. The real joy is seeing a stoked pupil having “lightbulb” moments with your help when they understand a certain aspect of surfing with the entirety of their being, body, and mind.
Back when Raz was an investment banker, he took up our programme for 30 days. He seemed to have neglected his body (as he didn’t really need to do much with it), so his movement on the waves was—to put it mildly—like that of an old man who lost his walking stick: unbalanced and unbendable.
So, we had to work on that by putting him on BOSU balls, having him surf-skate around with a coffee cup in his leading hand, and analyzing his performances on video for long sessions. In the end, he had his fair share of these lightbulb moments, improving as a surfer and growing in stature, skill, and confidence. That surely was an experience that brought joy to my wonderful crew and me.
Now, a year later, he’s surfing in Fiji, riding barrels, and growing out his hair and beard. We had the chance to talk to him about his journey from a complete novice to a competent surfer. It was a proud moment and an amazing conversation, and I’m sure that you’ll find lots of aspects in it that’ll help you improve as a surfer, too.
The 30-Day Surf Training Challenge With Raz
Let’s start from the beginning, when “Raz the investment banker” came to us and started his metamorphosis towards “Raz the surfer” a year ago. The training challenge he took on was a condensed and watered-down version of our 12-week Surf Smarter.
Yet, albeit only focusing on the fundamental aspects, it entailed everything there’s to learn about surfing. We’d send him out into the water for a body surfing session so that he learns to understand the ocean, and we’d have him back on land to improve his balance and his turns by skating flatly and on the ramp.
Unfortunately for everyone involved, these 30 days coincided with a time when surf conditions on the Gold Coast were not up to the standards. The onshore wind swell didn’t help us during this process either. However, he did his best to overcome all the challenges we and the substandard surf conditions of the Gold Coast threw at him. He still wasn’t a good surfer, but at least he had the basics figured out. Then, he retired from investment banking and disappeared off the face of the earth for almost a whole year.
A couple of weeks ago, though, our mentalist and presenter, Anthony, caught his sight at the Snapper, and what Anthony witnessed that day was the ultimate testament to the completion of Raz’s metamorphosis. He was committed, confident, competent, and highly capable.
In the sections below, you’ll have the chance to get a closer look at his challenges and transformation.
How Did Starting From Scratch Feel for Raz?
One of the first things a beginner surfer should do is to do away with their preconceptions about surfing before they’re ready to be taught. That’s because these preconceptions are mostly misconceptions, and no matter what you’re trying to learn, misconceptions will be a big obstacle toward improving.
That was the case for Raz during the first days of his 30-day training challenge with the OMBE method as well:
Everything that I thought I knew was basically wrong. So it was just accepting that I'd been wasting a lot of my time surfing, just doing the wrong things and that there was a much better way, but I had to start from scratch.
However, being thrown under the spotlight like that and understanding that the passion and love you had for surfing were based on misconceptions isn’t really easy. You need to have a strong mental attitude to take on that challenge, but all credit to Raz since he had a positive attitude from the beginning, and he was able to see it all as an opportunity rather than a shortcoming:
It was so tough. I was so excited. I was learning so much stuff, but it was demoralizing as well. It was so hard trying all this new stuff and I was so grateful to be given the opportunity, but it was challenging for sure.
In the end, though, it was a rewarding experience as now surfing means “so much more” to him, and he’s enjoying it like never before:
Since getting back from Fiji, I went to surf at the Snapper the other day, which I'd never done before. And I managed to pick off a bunch of waves. I didn't get tons, but I got enough to have a really enjoyable session, and there was just no way that would've happened before. And so just even opening up to being able to surf spots like that and really crowded lineups and stuff is just amazing.
How Was His Surf Trip to Fiji?
Raz’s trip to Fiji was one of the luckiest things that could happen to anyone since he managed to land there right before the lockdowns came. During the lockdowns, most of us couldn’t travel anywhere, so you might feel a bit of envy towards him, but hey, he was living the dream:
It was totally my dream. And that was part of the reason I was doing all the training with you guys because I was hoping to do a trip somewhere. The original plan was Indonesia, and then that shut down. And I was going with my fiance, and we were just like, “where can we go?” And we found a loophole to get into Fiji, and I just thought, wow, that'll be incredible if we could get over there because it's still shut. It'll be pretty empty. So we managed to get over there, and yeah. It was just the best year of my life being over there by far. It was just a dream to be over there. There were a few of the locals, a few expats that lived there, a few people that had arrived on boats, but on an average day out would be ten people in the water.
Some novices get anxious about crowds because it means there’s more pressure. So, you can guess how a wave lineup with little or no crowd can improve the quality of your sessions, and Raz was lucky in that sense, too, but also, his trip was proof that picking the right surf spot in accordance with your skills and timing your visit there are quite important when learning surfing:
The plan was to surf as much as possible and yeah to put it into practice, all the stuff that you guys showed me. I actually brought my skateboard over there with me. And I found one of the resorts to practice my turns and stuff. And yeah, I think that the hardest thing is just getting a chance to get good waves to practice on. So the timing was just amazing. So pretty much straight after all the stuff with you guys and then particularly all the stuff we did skate bowl was just so helpful for Fiji. Those steep drops that [inaudible 00:09:22] just you guys showing me what correct posture was, but then how to put it into practice on the ramp. Get that feeling of leaning forward. Because I didn't have any of those movements or those feelings.
It wasn’t his first visit to Fiji either; he traveled to the islands and surfed before, but this time was notably different:
I'd surfed Fiji a bunch of times before, but it was always a struggle, you know? I'd be just flailing away, paddling in the wrong position, probably on the shoulder, making everything way harder than it needs to be. And I think the first time just really just being in the right spot, feeling that glide and just going, "Oh wow, I've got time to get to my feet." Then getting to my feet and feeling, oh that weight forward, that lean, getting the rail in the water—that all works.
Now, you can tell that the experience was different just by looking at his posture, too; Raz himself is quite different.
What Surfing Level Was Raz Before He Left for Fiji?
At one point in our talk, Anthony asks me how I’d rate Raz’s surfing at the end of his 30-day training challenge. Now that he’s a good surfer who can even ride barrels, I think I can be candid and tell you that he was only 2 out of 10. Yes, I know, that’s pretty bad, but I have my reasons.
We have four sub-stages in beginner and intermediate level surfing: beginner, beginner-intermediate, intermediate, and intermediate-advanced. Although Raz mastered the basics of surfing pretty well, he still wasn’t in the beginner-intermediate stage. An advanced surfer goes for the top of the wave, an intermediate one opts for the midsection, but a beginner takes the surf line to the bottom—in other words, to the shoulder of the wave. Raz was the lattermost.
In addition, he struggled with one of the most common diseases of the 21st century: overthinking. You could even identify the moments he was lost in bouts of overthinking from the shore. In the end, he’d freeze on the wave face and give up. Even though, by that point, he had the physical skills to become better, his mindset was still that of a beginner.
On the skate rink, for example, he was quite advanced. He knew how to twist his body when making a turn, and he knew to drop the knee. However, the mind always takes a bit of time to catch up with the body, and facing the ocean isn’t exactly a walk in the park.
So, it makes sense that his trip to Fiji, his experience and experimentation on Fiji’s beginner-friendly waves, and the peaceful character of uncrowded lineups and beaches provided him with an opportunity to improve mentally as well. And now, after a year from the 30-day challenge, he’s advanced enough to accomplish barrel-rides.
How Did Raz Overcome the Beginner’s Fear?
The reason why the mind takes its time to catch up with the body and succumbs to overthinking instead is simply fear.
After all, we’re facing one of the most hectic forces of nature in the shape of the ocean, and to progress, you need to build up the courage to ride larger and larger waves as days quickly roll into months. Even the word reef might send shivers down the spine of a relatively experienced surfer (not to point fingers, but Anthony is surely one of those).
Yet, for a beginner, the automatic reaction to large waves is paddling towards the shoulder and not to the pocket or the lip. That’s the most common factor that takes them away from the power zone and hinders their progress. So, after seeing Raz riding barrels, we cannot help but ask him how he managed to overcome that beginner's fear.
His answer shows that, in surfing, balance is not only important when it comes to standing on the board but also to keep a clear mind:
What was really important was always pushing my limits a little bit, but not too much. And like just always feeling a bit out of my comfort zone, but not like I was actually going to die. And there were some days at Cloudbreak early on that I just didn't surf. It was six to eight feet. And I was just like this is just out of my league at this stage.
Well, sometimes even being a retired banker can help your surfing journey because what Raz says is a perfect example of risk management (sorry, Anthony, I kinda stole your joke):
And it was perfect and there was no one out but I just thought, you know what, I'm just not there yet. And so I kept it at ... Cloudbreak can be scary at four feet as well. It's so powerful. But I think it was good. I was always on the edge a bit, but I did skip some sessions early on where I just thought, you know what, the risk return isn't there. And then by the end of the trip, I did feel like I could handle six feet.
If Raz Could Go Back to the 30-Day Challenge, What Would He Concentrate On Most?
There are these moments in life when a good number of lightbulbs suddenly light up in your mind about a passion or profession, and you realize, “Oh, this was the trick to it! I wish I were aware of that before!” That happens in surf coaching and surfing as well.
For Raz, in line with the moral of the sections above, it was the mental approach that he would concentrate on the most if he could go back to the days he was training with us:
It's so funny looking back at it now, because I feel like I made everything more complicated than it needed to be. What you're actually asking me to do is quite simple, but I was just so much in my head. And I think if there was just some way I could have let go of everything that was in my head, I think, and just probably go up with less expectations.
That brings us straight to the heart of the OMBE method. OMBE stands for ocean, mind, body, and equipment, and it’s the natural sequence of things an aspiring surfer has to master.
For a majority of novices, the only things that matter are their bodies and their surfboards, but no matter how fit your body is and how much you paid for your first surfboard, they’ll count for nothing unless you master the first two: the ocean and your mind.
First, you have the ocean. You need to learn how waves work, how they are formed, and how and why they break. In other words, you need to have some Ocean IQ. Then, you need to have enough mental flexibility to be there, in the moment, being present on the wave. For that, you might even have a couple of Surf Psychology sessions. Only after mastering those can you make good use of your body and board.
How Raz Grew to Be a Barrel-Rider
During his time in Fiji, Raz has obviously become the sole master of his own mind, too. Honestly, how else are you going to accomplish an advanced trick such as a barrel ride? Most of us started our surf journeys with such tricks in mind, but once we experienced the hardships of being a beginner, many of us doubted whether our time in a barrel would come, let alone accomplish it in a stylish manner.
If you’ve seen the video, you know that Raz’s is quite a stylish barrel ride, too! Considering that he only started taking surfing seriously at the age of 30, it’s all the more impressive. So, we ask him how he managed to pull it off:
I've been lucky to do some great trips to really amazing spots like Macaronis and the more I was surfing those waves, the more I actually thought, God, this is just so impossible. This is never going to happen. It's just too difficult. So it was going the other way. The longer I was surfing, the less likely I thought it was to happen. So I think all of the stuff that I learned here was just absolutely essential. I remember when I first came and saw you and I showed you footage of me at Macaroni, trying to get barreled, my terrible stance, my weight on my back foot. And you were like “You could have made that if you had the right posture and the right approach and everything.” So I guess all of the fundamental stuff that I needed got to work on that and then got to practice that in Fiji. Yeah.
No matter how much we would like to take all the credit for Raz’s change of mind and body, we can’t do that. When he was in Fiji, he worked with a great big wave surfer, Alex Gray, and working with him was very helpful in terms of building up his courage, confidence, and motivation:
So he was over there doing some coaching and we became friends just from hanging out in the water. And then I asked him if he could do some coaching for me and I kept pestering him. Eventually he agreed. And because I think he was - he'd done a bunch of coaching and then his client had left. And so he was just happy to surf. He just wanted to surf his breaks out. So I kept hassling him and then after about a month he's like, "Okay, cool." And yeah, just working with him was amazing. He's such a great guy. He's become a great friend and a mentor. And so I told him that I wanted to get barreled and he was like, "I think you can do this, but you've got to have the belief that you can." And he just said to me, he goes, "Once you get one," he said, "everything will change." He goes, "It'll never be the same. Once you realize it's possible, everything will be different."
How the Sessions With Alex Gray Went
If it’s only you paddling out and surfing on a desolate beach when the whole world was locked down in misery, it might get lonely, sad, and even depressing quite quickly. However, when you have a buddy who can enjoy the exploits on the ocean as much as you, it’s a completely different story.
Just the thought is enough to make anyone who’s passionate about surfing writhe with jealousy: you’re on one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, and the only company you have is one of the most competent big wave surfers you can find. No one intervenes, no one stares you down judgmentally, and no one tries to steal the wave under you. You can have all the waves in the world!
That’s what Raz and Alex did, and honestly speaking, there may be no better environment to learn how to surf and improve:
And so we did a bunch of sessions together at Cloudbreak and I was so fortunate to train with him. He knows the waves super well, it's a really tricky wave. And anyway, there was one day... I'd meet him out there at first light. So we'd have it to ourselves for an hour or two before anyone would show. There are also plenty of days where we'd meet first light and it'd be too big. And I'd just say, no, it's yours today. I'll watch it while I go to surf restaurants or something. He was like, cool. But anyway, there was this one day and there'd been a big swell. It was like eight feet the day before. I didn't surf Cloudbreak, it was just too big, too heavy.
Interestingly, though, on the day Raz had his first barrel, he had a moment to himself due to an injured Alex:
It was meant to really drop off and be more my three to four-foot zone that I like it at. And I'd arranged to meet him first light. I got out there and it was way bigger than I was expecting. It was legit 6-foot. And just these barrels coming through and he hadn't arrived and I'd messaged him like, "You coming out?" And he's like, "Oh man, I really tweaked my neck yesterday. I don't think I can surf today." So I was just there on my own. There's no one out. And I was like, "Oh!" I'm getting nervous just thinking about it. But it was perfect. It was one of the best days of the year. And so I was like, "Well I've got to go surf." So I went out on my own and I was just sitting out there, completely freaked out, sitting in the wrong spot. And I was out there for about half an hour and managed to pick off one on the shoulder, make the drop and then kick out.
However, nobody could really resist the temptation of the beauty of the waves that day. At least Alex Gray couldn’t:
And then I saw him arrive, and he's like "Oh, I didn't realize how good the waves are." He's like, "I don't care how injured I am; I've got to come out here with you. This is the day you're going to get your barrel. You're not going to get a better chance in this.” He's like, "It's so perfect. Let's do this." And so, having him positioning me out there was just incredibly helpful.
The Importance of Mentorship in Learning How to Surf
If you’re an avid follower of the OMBE guides for beginners, or even if you’re reading random blog posts you’ve found on the internet, you probably see certain pieces of advice repeated more than others. One of those is to always go surfing with a more experienced friend. It’s not only because they’ll be there to save you if something awful happens, but also because their knowledge and assessment of waves are probably superior to yours.
As exemplified above, they can help you position and angle your body and board better, they can pick waves that are more suited to your skills, and most importantly, they can help you overcome mental obstacles since they had once had those too. That’s surely what Alex Gray provided:
The waves that he was getting me to go on weren't the waves I would have picked for myself because they look like they're going to close out. You just see this wall and you just think that's not doable. But I had, by this point, we worked together a bunch, and I had so much faith in his judgment. His wave selection was just amazing. And so, when he says, this is a good one, you've got to go. Even though I didn't want to go. And also, it's just the two of us, and he's there giving me the perfect wave. So it's—if I don't go, it's never ever going to happen. And also, that's the wave he would've gone on. So he's there giving me the wave. I have to go. Anyway, the first one that happened, I saw it start a barrel. I pulled up into it. I was in the barrel for a second, and I completely freaked out. I jumped off my board.
Yes, he jumped off his board. This particular story didn’t go exactly as you imagined, did it? But, for those who’ve never been inside a barrel, let us say that it’s like an MRI machine minus the beeps—it’s a very exciting form of sensory overload. For those who’ve never been inside an MRI machine, let’s keep on listening to Raz:
It was overwhelming. The feeling of being in the barrel, the noise, the sound, it was just nuts. It was so intense. It's just completely overwhelming. It's the most intense thing I've ever experienced.
Luckily, Alex was there, waiting for Raz on the shore:
I was pretty deep, and I freaked out? Anyway, I paddled back. I had such a big smile on my face. I said, "I got in the barrel." He said, "Then what happened?" I said, “I freaked out and jumped off." And he said, "Don't ever do that again." He says, "You're never going to get a barrel if you do." He goes, "No matter what, you have to commit. Never jump off, just stay."
Finally, Raz Rides the Barrel
Hearing a matter-of-factly pep talk about a shortcoming right after your failure and then going out and making it right? It generally happens in Hollywood movies, and whenever you see it, you’re probably grimacing, “Ugh, could something like this ever happen in real life?!” But it worked for Raz, albeit only to an extent:
We're talking, and then the next one comes through, and then this time I didn't jump off. I stayed and I had a much better ride, and it felt much better, but I didn't come out. I clipped at the end or something.
Still, he knew how to coach himself; he had a level of self-awareness, which is very important for anyone who wants to improve. Therefore, he was able to recognize why he got clipped: he got too high on the wall of the wave. Next time, he wasn’t going to make the same mistake:
And so that was a really exciting step forward to be in the barrel for a couple of seconds and to not jump, and that felt way better. And then the last wave came through, and then this time I did everything the same, but I guess I must have made a bit of an adjustment from the last time ending up too high. And there was this moment while I was in there. It was like, "Oh my God, I think I'm going to come out." And then the feeling when I came out was just the most insane elation, relief, and I had about half a second to enjoy that.
What Happens After You Surf Your First Barrel
Once you get your first barrel, the excitement is generally so intense that, for a while, you don’t want to do anything at all. Or, at least, you don’t want to do anything else until you’re thrown back into the world:
And then I saw there was another barrel coming up ahead. I was just like, "Oh no." And I'm like, "Well, I'm here now." And I pulled into the second one and just got absolutely annihilated. But I just came up so happy.
Yet, that complete annihilation couldn’t reach the Everest-like emotional heights Raz was on:
I paddled over to the mooring, and I just sat there and I actually had a bit of a cry. It was so good. It was so emotional. It was just this thing I never thought was going to happen in my life that I wanted so badly. And it just happened. It was so emotional and I just sat there and just enjoyed the moment. And then I paddled back over to Alex and I said, "I came out, I got a proper barrel." And he was just so stoked.
You probably know the feeling when you discover a very underrated band, film, or book that got you excited in ways you’ve never experienced before; you want to keep it to yourself for a while. That way, when you want to go back to the feeling you had when experiencing it for the first time, it feels more genuine. Raz’s reaction to his first barrel can also be likened to that feeling of retrospect:
I paddled back to him, and I just said, "Yeah, I can't believe it happened." He's like, "Oh, awesome. Let's get another one." And I said, "No, I'm good." I just said I want to keep this feeling for as long as I can, so I'm just going to paddle back there. And he's like... Anyway, that was funny. But he totally got it. And I'm glad that I did that because I just wanted to just relish that feeling for as long as I could. And I didn't surf again for a few more days.
What Happens When You Watch Yourself Barreling
There’s one very important aspect Raz leaves out when he recollects his barrel ride: he got spat out by the wave, which is the dream of every pro. However, his failure to recollect that particular aspect could as well be forgiven since, as he reiterated a couple of times, barrel-riding, especially if it’s your first time, is such an intense experience that you’re not totally aware of what’s going on and what you’re doing. And more specifically, you have no idea how good you look on the wave, but if you get spat out, you probably look very cool.
Fortunately for Raz (and also for us), his fiance was there, recording the whole performance with the help of a drone. Thanks to that, Raz was able to see how cool he actually was, much to the awe of Alex:
I remember looking at it. I couldn't believe that was me. I was in complete disbelief, and I sent it to Alex, and he just completely lost his mind. He's like, "You are kidding me." He's like, "I can't believe that's your first barrel. That doesn't happen to anyone.”
When I received that video from Raz, I also had a hard time believing that this was the guy who once trained with us in a 30-day challenge. Rather, he made it look so easy that he seemed like a pro surfer who’s been at it for decades:
I was so excited to call you afterward. You were top of the list of people I was sending that video to. And just to be able to chat on the phone and hear your guys' excitement and for you to say, I remember you said, "You looked like you've been doing that your whole life." That was just the biggest compliment ever.
I might have complimented Raz on his accomplishment, but actually, his accomplishment was also one of the biggest compliments I’ve ever had. Seeing a pupil transform into a confident and competent surfer will never stop bringing joy to me.
What’s Next for Raz?
After that feeling of ultimate satisfaction you have once you ride your first barrel dissipates, you probably want to surf more barrels. In that sense, it has quite the potential to turn into an addiction. And who can blame you? It’s the ultimate surf trick and it gives you such confidence that you start believing that you can move mountains:
It honestly feels like the greatest achievement in my life, getting that barrel. It really does. It's such a huge thing and it's incredibly empowering because I feel like if I can do something that I thought was so difficult and so impossible, anything else seems easy compared to that.
So, what comes next after you reach “the greatest achievement” of your life? What else can you do? The answer is probably going for bigger and better barrels. That’s at least what Raz’s answer implies:
I want to do more surf trips, obviously. I want to do as much of that as possible.
What’s more, he promises to take us to Fiji once the wind and swell is accomodating, and now, it’s certainly a future we’re looking forward to. Hell, I might even start shaping the boards we’re going to ride there now.
Wrapping Up: The Learning Curve
Raz’s journey from a novice surfer to a barrel rider who’s hungry for thrills provides us with insight on two very important aspects of surfing: what might go wrong and what might go right in your surfing journey.
Yes, as a recreational surfer, you might have a theoretical knowledge of what you should do, how you should do it, and when, but without proper training, your body will trail behind, and the gap between your mind and body will never close. When you realize that the gap is still there no matter how much you surf, you start getting anxious about the whole process, like: “I’m never going to get there.” It means that your learning curve is a negative one:
There were definitely many periods when it was like, I'm definitely surfing worse than I used to surf. That's how it felt. It's like I'm going backwards here. I know I'm moving in the right direction, but it doesn't feel like it and it's so true.
With proper physical training, on the other hand, and by overcoming what mentally ails you (like the fear, freeze, or flight responses you have when you’re facing bigger waves), you can close that gap. Raz’s story is a great example of that, and I hope that you enjoyed it as much as we did here at OMBE.