overcoming fears in ocean
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Overcoming Your Fear of Waves

In this article, we are going over the things that you should not be afraid of and how to manage your fears so that they don’t affect your performance.

kids paddling

Have you ever seen those golfers that just can't go through with the swing? They stop before they hit the ball. The golfer is overthinking the motion to such an extent that their brain is sending the wrong instructions to their muscles. It’s the fear of making a bad swing.

While surfers and swimmers do have a bit more of a foundation as to why they might develop a fear of waves, the same rules still apply. It’s not that surfers fear for their lives or think that they are going to die because the waves are going to drown them; it’s more to do with the fear of not conquering the wave. If this is not you, it might seem like a very unreasonable predicament because no one really conquers anything—surfers refer to a successful ride as surviving the wave. 

For the most part, surfing and crippling fear don’t really go well hand in hand. How can a surfer expand their horizons and develop moves and techniques if they don’t have a calling to try everything they are physically capable of doing? At the very core, surfing is about moving away from your comfort zone and setting yourself free. 

You Are Not Alone 

Let’s make one thing clear from the get-go. Surfers are adrenaline junkies. We’re terrified, their bones might be shaking, but the desire to break through is stronger than the earthly powers and reasoning holding us back. 

So, if you are feeling anxious or afraid, just be aware that every single surfer out there feels more or less the same. 

Whether your fear of waves is warranted or not, you still have to face the same obstacles. You still have to get in the water and get on the wave.  

Surfers that have developed or have a crippling fear of waves need to find ways to understand their fear at its base levels and then work towards overcoming it. It’s either that or putting down the board for good. And if you’re reading this article, you haven’t put that board down yet, so let’s work on overcoming it. 

Switch Your Perspective

Overcoming fear is all about perspective. At present, you might be facing a situation where no matter what you tell yourself and which supplements you’re taking, you still cannot move past the crippling factor. The fact of the matter is that instead of pushing through, you need to take a step back and reassess the situation. Give yourself some room to breathe. 

Where does your fear stem from? Is it from the lack of preparation in the past? Or maybe you have been exposed to scenarios that have shaken you to the core—something along the lines of a near-death experience. Or maybe you are bringing the fear on yourself by saying I cannot possibly do that? 

Whatever the case might be, you need to get to the root of it and deconstruct it. Once you find the source of your fear, then you are no longer dealing with an imaginary enemy. You know which points you should be focusing on and working on. 

When your position is well established, you are setting for a journey towards the other side of fear. 

You have to break your mental barriers one by one in order to get there. The main mistake that people make when attempting to overcome their fears is that they try to make a fifteen-step jump at one. This is why their attempts are usually met with failure. 

Even experienced veteran surfers that don’t overthink their moves and have the ocean in their bones cannot shift their perspective at a moment’s notice. Well, not as straightforwardly, at least. 

What If?

One of the most crippling thoughts that surfers experience is the “what if?” question. Once your brain finds itself in the infinite chamber of what your performance would be, your overall confidence is sure to suffer. 

As we mentioned at the beginning, these thoughts are not entirely unwarranted because there have been people that have legitimately lost their lives to waves. However, for the most part, the imagination tends to run wild with a mind of its own. Let the survival instincts kick in, have a bit of faith in them, and move the brain away from your motions. You will be facing completely different circumstances during your day-to-day ventures. 

Another difficult fear to overcome is the anticipation fear. This one comes up while surfers are headed towards the beach or even when they are paddling along to the pop up spots. On many occasions, the undertaking is so big that the surfer cannot wrap their mind around it and develops a fear response as a result. 

Trick Yourself

In a way, you have to trick yourself and trick your mind that everything will be alright. The first reason is that you have to let go of what you cannot control. Questions such as, “what if the wave breaks unexpectedly?” aren’t really worth your time because there is nothing you can do to influence this. You will never be able to control the ocean, so why even ponder it? Isn't that right, Poseidon? 

This is the first argument that you should take hold of because it’s based on fact and reality. You aren’t necessarily tricking yourself with this one just yet, but you are setting up the scene; you have a solid and real base on which you can overcome your fear. 

You’re in Total Control

From here, you have to make yourself believe that you are in total control of what happens due to your ability to react to whatever comes your way. Your mindset should shift from What If? To When? 

Your body is under your control, so it’s not what the ocean throws at you; it's how you react to what it throws at you. 

This step will prompt you to prepare a lot more so that you can feel more confident in your moves, which, at the end of the day, is a good thing. 

Once you have these two down and are starting to loosen up, you have to start to question your perspective on your fears and move towards shifting it. 

Think of an unfortunate moment that was the catalyst for something good. There are a million instances where something that you view as a negative actually sets you in a different direction. 

Yes, your ex wasn’t all that good, and you shouldn’t have trusted them, but because of them, you met Jim, and Jim changed your life. The truth is that almost every situation can be viewed as positive or negative; it all depends on what you place around it and which perspective you take on it. 

Changing your perspective might be the hardest part to tackle when overcoming your fear of waves, but the good news is that there are an infinite number of perspectives and prisms to go through. You will never run out of different perspectives as long as you’re willing to overcome your fear.

The Fear Of Missing Out

Most of the time, surfers are very confident in their abilities, preparations, and training but can't get over the hump of trusting their instincts. A good technique to turn this around is to go by the ocean and develop a fear of missing out instead of a fear of failing. 

Once you are there, watching others letting loose, having the time of their lives, and experiencing utter joy, you will start to feel left out, and you should start to feel a desire to get in there and join in. Of course, this will be met with a good dose of the What If? Fear at first, but the more you place yourself in a position where you are unable to resist the temptation, the more that fear will be pushed to the back of your head. 

High Notes

You know, most of the time, the fear is tied to not being comfortable in the water or not having enough experience in the surf. You are basically afraid of the stories that you tell yourself and not what’s really at hand. 

The key here is to dive head first into your fear and go into the water. You don’t have to do anything crazy, but keep in mind that professional surfers always want to end on a high note. So, even when they fail or have a bad day, they will go back one last time and just attempt something basic to end the day on an upward trend. You have to set your fear against your growth in order to make the most of it. 

How to Overcome Your Fear of Waves

busy waveline

You first have to understand that what you’re going through is completely normal and justified, even if it isn’t. You have chosen this sport for a reason, so don’t back down when the going gets tough. 

Your brain is entering a flight or fight mode when it’s faced with—what it deems to be—great danger. It’s your job to go through the motions and dissect them so that you can understand them better and, ultimately, control them instead of allowing them to take hold of you. 

One thing that you should never do and that is always detrimental during surfing is panic. No matter what you are facing and how bad the odds might seem, going into full panic mode will only make things worse. So, even when you’re super afraid of getting wiped out, you cannot allow yourself to be consumed by panic. 

The main point to address when dealing with panic is remembering to breathe and prepare for the part. Don’t lose yourself; always be aware of your surroundings and have a plan for your next move. Keep your eye on the target, even if the target is survival. 

Prepare and Go Through Wave-Like Motions

Are you sure that you have done your absolute best to prepare for the task at hand? Have you ever seen shadow boxing for hours upon end? They are going through the motions so that their brain is out of the equation when it comes to muscle memory. 

It might seem a tad silly. However, you can approach every single thing with the utmost importance when going for a surf. The way you walk out of your car, the way you walk down the beach, the way you get into the water. All of these things are motions that are embedded into your overall approach to the task at hand. All of them, no matter how mundane and insignificant, add to the end result. 

Athletes of every caliber follow routines before a performance because they are getting their subconscious ready for what’s to come. Take a note from the best out there and walk the walk in every aspect of the game. 

Navigating Tidal Waves and Wave Pools

Tidal waves and wave pools have very little in common. So make sure that you know what you will be going against and prepare accordingly. Is your skill level up to the level of the task at hand? There is no shame in admitting that you’re not there yet. In fact, it’s much better to give yourself a bit more leeway before diving in. Don’t prolong the action, but simply make sure that you’ve done all and everything you could in order to go out on top.

Another important aspect to consider, apart from your skills, is your equipment. Can your board hold up to the task? Is it suitable for tidal waves?  You can’t expect to eat soup with a fork. These things might seem obvious, but always double-check how you’re faring gear-wise before you go wave hunting. 

Make decisions and always remember to breathe.

Going Through a Big Wave Surfing Session

Are you aware of where you are and what's going on around you? One of the best things that you can do in order to combat fear is to be fully aware of your surroundings and how you’re moving through them. 

And it’s not only about the surroundings; it’s about the whole scenery and what it brings. Being lost and out of place can quickly escalate to fear and panic, so know what you’re up against and be aware of your movement.

How does the reef look? Are the waves coming at you familiar in any way? Can you recall surfing similar waves? Are your skills up for what you’re trying to accomplish? 

By continuously asking yourself logical questions, you will ground yourself and your mental state. It might seem rudimentary or redundant at times, but this is your anchor to calmness and control. Converse with yourself, it might seem silly, but it works. 

Expose Yourself

Overcoming fear is just as much about throwing yourself at a bigger surf as it is about tackling deeper lifelong fears that ignite panic within you.

Do or do not—there is no try. Never second-guess yourself. Once you have done the precautionary thinking and have prepared for a move, do not try to talk yourself out of it. Just go. There is literally no better way of overcoming something than doing it and coming out on top. 

Your confidence is led by your actions and the completion of the tasks that you set aside for yourself. Once you successfully do a maneuver, you won’t be able to hold yourself back from giving it another go. The fear? What fear? The fear goes away in an instant when you’re hit with that dopamine and adrenaline rush. 

Remember, you’re doing the thinking and preparation beforehand, so when it’s time to go, fire on all pistons and trust your abilities. Repetition is the great fear killer. Now put it to use. 

A Few Words Before You Go… 

The bottom line is that you’re still here, and you’re still thinking about going out for another go. That means that those situations that seemed life-ending weren’t all that bad. You survived. Sure, you got a few bruises here and there, maybe the occasional stitch, but you lived to tell the tale, and the ocean moved through you. How did that feel? 

Sometimes we all face exaggerated or irrational fear when facing crashing waves or deep sea swells. Bigger waves always look scarier than they are in the surfer’s mind. When you see waves hitting the cliffs, especially big ones, you might be faced with an abnormal fear or even panic attacks.

It’s quite simple, isn’t it? You're weighing the experience of riding out a wave against the fear of it. You are going to fail more times than you will succeed, but you will have built yourself up for that, and you should be ready for it, come whatever may. 

Through failure and fear, you will know growth and progress.

Written by
Jeremy Dean
surf coaching