What I wish I knew about surfing when I was younger to help me improve
Here are three things about surfing that I wish I knew when I was younger that would have drastically changed my surfing.
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The Full Guide
We’ve all had that moment in surfing, finding something out, a lightbulb moment and thinking, geez I wish I knew that when I was younger. It would have saved so much time and my surfing would be so much better now.
In this whole guide, I’m going to break down the things I wish I knew when I was younger to help me improve as a surfer.
What you need to understand first is this is what worked for me and how I have developed as a surfer and that may be different to you.
What this is not, is here are 5 hacks in your surfing you wish you knew, this is more real talk.
Knowing is one part
I could quite easily say, go back and listen to all these previous guides and podcasts I’ve written and that’s all I wish I knew earlier.
And that’s partly true, knowing all those things in the same depth as I do now would have been useful but it’s not what I wish I knew when I was younger.
Knowing how things work, how to surf better, board design etc is great but there is a massive gap in surfing when it comes to knowing something and doing it in the surf.
Being able to apply all that theory is a vastly different experience and being able to understand it all comes from doing.
You have to have a go, you have to try, and this comes back to some corny marketing from a cereal company I always heard growing up in Australia, “you only get out what you put in”.
So here are three things I wish I knew when I was younger that would have helped improve my surfing, other than just theory.
Be curiosity driven
In every podcast, email and guide I always try to squeeze in questions. I want you to think about yourself and your surfing.
Every time I suggest a drill or for you to figure things out, I always repeat the same line.
How did it feel, how did you move, did it feel awkward, how did your board respond or how would your board respond to that movement and finally how can you make it better and or do it with less effort?
I want you to be curiosity-driven, to try to figure these things out for yourself. To do it, to apply the theory but then work through it and see ok why this feels better, why is this a better technique?
Again it oddly comes back to my childhood and always remembering things in an odd way. A teacher told me to always ask the 5W’s & H. Who, what, when, where, why and how. If we try to apply that to what we are doing in our surfing, we start to understand it more.
We don’t want to be a parrot and just regurgitate things we have been told, we want to apply it and know for a fact, this feels better, this is how we can move with more efficiency and make our surfing better.
The question of how can I make a movement better or how do I do it with less effort is huge. Surfers are often stuck in this trap of I need to put more effort in. Not less.
But if we think of movement in terms of efficiency and how easily we can do something, it will also look stylish and perform the required task. So by asking yourself those questions and going back, repeating a drill or manoeuvre with less effort, you generally end up achieving the same effect as before with less effort or you make it look better.
The stress is gone, the body moves better, and the technique is improved. All of that comes from being curiosity-driven.
You can have all the answers but if you don’t know how to apply them, don’t know how to get your body to do it the way theory says, how are you going to get there?
Be curiosity driven! Set up feedback loops, review your training and surfing on video as much as possible. Push past the pain and just ask questions.
Even if it’s not about your training, don’t just take a word as gospel, ask questions as to why that is a good technique. Never be afraid to be the dumbest in the room because most other surfers don’t know and are just not willing to ask. When you ask the questions it will force others to work through it and explain it in detail to everyone gets or force everyone involved to dig deeper into the problem and figure out why.
If I was curiosity driven as a young surfer, my surfing would be drastically different, I didn’t need the theory, I needed the attitude to ask questions and have a go.
Fail forwards, challenge yourself and just try
This leads to the next part, which is to always fail forwards, challenge yourself and just try!
Too many average surfers are stuck in bad habits and all too cushy comfort zones where their surfing is unwatchable. It’s the same thing over and over again, with nothing new, no change but an expectation or desire to improve. Pure insanity.
You can’t fix your cutback or make the rebound on the cutback if you don’t try. Too many surfers looking for perfection from the start, going zero to hero instead of trying to figure it out.
This attitude of I can’t waste a wave trying to figure something out. This thinking that fun only comes from completing a wave but I bet the last time you felt something new, you had a smile on your face thinking what was that?
So, if you want to work on that cutback, nose riding, getting tubed, whatever it is. Just have a go, be curiosity-driven in your approach, challenge yourself to try, and set the expectation that all you will do is try and success is met by trying, not by achieving.
Fail forwards! If you can’t fail, you can’t learn, if you can’t learn, you can’t grow.
It’s through aiming to fail you will grow as a surfer.
As an example, think of trying a floater, set the goal to how long you can hold the floater, not how many can I land. You are now curiosity-driven, aiming to figure out how long you can hold it which will open you up to new experiences you hadn’t had before.
It’s the same with the cutback, don’t set the goal to doing a half-baked turn, just wrap the damn thing all the way around until you see or hit the foam. Broaden that comfort zone into new grounds and surprise yourself with what you can do when you lower expectations and just try!
Again it’s the same with surfing top to bottom. Just have a go, start trying to surf more vertically and see where that leads you. Work through it and see how you can do it.
Failure is guaranteed in surfing, embrace it and move with it.
If you ever compete in surfing, it’s a sport you will lose more than you ever win.
If you apply this attitude you will soon start seeing your surfing completely differently, what's possible and what the wave will allow you to do. The goal of trying things now because something you want to chase and when you somehow land that first manoeuvre, it's a genuine shock and pure joy!
This would have changed my surfing entirely. My teen years were too focused on milking waves for as much as they could give me but that didn’t push my surfing forwards. It was safety surfing.
Work with your personality, not against it
The final and last thing is true for everything we do in life but surfing has this special place of bringing these things front and centre. It’s a unique environment.
And that is to work with your personality, not against it.
You are you, what makes you, you is different from me. But to understand how you tick, how you learn, how you respond to stress, excitement and all the other aspects of our mind and behaviour is huge in surfing.
If you know that being out of your comfort zone is stressful, then you need to work with that and find a way that calms you down. If being out of your comfort zone excites you, then you need to lean into that hard!
It’s all about how you get the most out of yourself.
For lack of a better analogy, you need to be a better driver of yourself and your body. You need to know how the machine responds to outside and internal influences and how to manage that.
What psyches you up for a surf and what doesn’t?
There is no one trick for this, we are all different, it simply starts with you just asking the questions, trying to take a moment, observing yourself from the outside and thinking how can I better respond to this or put myself in a better state to take advantage of this?
It’s not meant to be some insanely hard spiritual journey, but by your mid-twenties, you should have some idea of how you tick, what you like and what you don’t.
And the final two things, which come from a great book The 7 habits of highly effective people, is we always have a choice, everything we do involves a choice and it’s our choice of how we respond to things and what we do. And the other quote is it is not what happens to us that hurts us, but our response to it. No one can make us mad unless we let them.
Think about that the next time you are uncomfortable, or the next wipeout. We can make that experience better or worse for ourselves based on our response to it, and that is a choice we make, whether subconscious or not, we have the ability to work on that and change it.
Knowing is one part of things but you have to put things into practice, you have to work through them to see a change in your surfing.
So be curiosity-driven, ask yourself whenever you do something; how did it feel, how did you move, did it feel awkward, how did your board respond or how would your board respond to that movement, how can you make it better and or do it with less effort.
Always chase improving a manoeuvre by doing it with less effort for the same result.
Fail forwards, challenge yourself to just try. Lower the expectations and set the goal to simply try, so everything after trying is a bonus.
Don’t be stuck in a cushy comfort zone where nothing happens or changes. Try new things and surprise yourself with what you are capable of when you try and accept failure.
Finally, work with yourself and not against it. Think about how to get the most out of yourself in these situations, how can you psyche yourself up, how can you calm down the easiest and when you surf the best.
If I had applied this attitude when I was younger, I have no doubt I would be a different surfer, but we can't live in the past, we have the present and you can start right now.
Is this what you expected? Is it different to your expectations or were you hoping for here’s a bunch of quick surf hacks to improve your technique?
Do you already apply this attitude and love it?
We are back here, always asking questions to get you thinking. Be curiosity driven!
I’d love to know, you can reach out anytime, message me in the app or send an email to email@example.com anytime.
Next week I am going to be talking about when to stop riding a soft-top surfboard and when and how to make that change.