Why is surfing hard
Min Read Time

The body lags the mind - why it takes a while for things to click in your surfing

When you learn something new, it can click in your mind straight away, but why is it so hard to put that into practice or perfect? This guide will break it down.

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The Full Guide

Why is it that when we learn something new in surfing and we rush out to work on it, it ends in this horrible frustration or disappointment?

You’re pumped, you get the idea but for the life of you can’t execute it?

They say only a surfer knows the feeling but for most surfers, how do you know what it feels like if you’ve never felt it?

This is where this frustration comes from, your mind may understand it but the body is stuck in a long list of bad habits or has no idea if it’s coming or going. It hasn’t felt this yet and doesn’t know the nuance to it yet.

The mind learns quick

Whenever we learn new things, the mind is able to grasp them quickly and we have these yeah sure moments over and over.

But if we can’t do the new movement, then we haven’t full grasped it yet. Taking on information and applying it is very different.

Most surfers find this stage horribly frustrating, but this is good, this is what you want.

You just have to accept that you need to download that information first, mull over it, fail at applying it and eventually after a little while things will begin to click.

The body doesn’t learn fast, it’s trained to follow habits and when you want to start again and teach it something new, you’ve either got bad habits that need replacing or you have the building blocks firmly established ready to layer the next block.

The body learns slow

This is where you need to put in the training, you need to develop the muscle memory and neurological pathways. 

These neurological pathways are the connections between your brain and your body. Thankfully these can be trained relatively quick but need stimulation and work to adapt and develop.

This is where the body needs to catch up. This is like going to the gym for the first time, initial strength gains are more neurological pathways building and becoming familiar with the movement and figuring it out how to do it better. Then over time muscle develop more slowly.

The trick is to stay humble and accept the journey

So when you are trying to learn something, stay humble, and accept you will need some time at the start to really figure this out with your body. 

You have to fumble at how this all connects or how to apply the theory.

This can take weeks or months, it’s up to you, the pace you go at and how much you put in determines what you get out.

If you know you need to slowly download this knowledge and apply it, it will make this journey so much easier.

You will find more forgiveness for your failed attempts and ease the pressure you create yourself. This is vital

My first time going through this

The very first time I went through this, it was mind-blowing. I had Clay work on my backside, growing up surfing the Gold Coast as a natural footer, you just don't really go left, so suffice to say, my backside was horrible. For a month I beat myself up over it, I knew the problems, I knew the fix but applying it in the surf was a completely different story.

I spent weeks struggling to see little improvement thinking what is going wrong.

Enter a week-long lull of swell. 

I took the opportunity to forget surfing and work strictly on my surf skating in a bowl, only on my backside. 100% same thing over and over. Playing with it to figure out all the nuances and train the muscle memory and neurological pathways.

Skating, went great, motivation and expectations of myself were still low.

A few days later the swell came and for whatever reason, the angle of the swell coming off this rock wall river mouth in Northern NSW was a perfect uncrowded left. I took this as a sign and said, stuff it, if this isn’t an excuse to go left, what is.

One surf in, low expectations and my mind was blown, never had I surfed anywhere at that level on my backside. The feeling was completely different and it all just clicked. “Oh so if my front arm lifts up, it will control my lift and open the space for my body to twist and turn back down”.

Only through struggling, and playing with it in the skatepark was I able to get the change that quick.

Clay was bombarded with texts along the lines of major lightbulb moments and it’s all just clicked. 

Moving past this experience I learned to be so much more relaxed on myself and take that hard look at how I can help my body catch up to what my brain now knows.

Eventually, you want the body to take over

Linking this back to the 4 stages of competency, eventually, you want the mind to get out of the way. You want to be unconsciously competent where you don’t have to think about everything and the body just acts. This is the goal but you have to understand that the rate of learning is os different for your mind and body.

Eventually, your body will learn to just act without thinking and almost become automatic and just respond to the stimulus.

At this stage, the body will be able to react quicker than you can think of what to do and tell it to do that.


This process is very much like sleep, you need time to download the day's events and cement them in your learning.

The body will initially learn slower than the mind and you will want to go easy on yourself, accept the initial pace and as it all connects, work towards that movement becoming automatic.

Next Week

Does this fill in the gaps of why surfing can sometimes seem so hard?

Does it change how you view your training or surfing?

I’d love to know, you can reach out anytime, either message me in the app or send an email to info@ombe.co

Next week I am going to dive into how to do your training properly and get the most out of it. How it only takes a few minutes but will give you faster progress. It’s all about building your own solo feedback loop and doing the training quicker.

Written by
Luke Hardacre
surf coaching