Surf tips and tricks
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Trigger words - how a simple phrase can change the way you train and break dirty habits

It can be difficult to break a dirty habit or make a positive change in your surfing, even if you are actively training that area of your surfing. Thankfully, there's an easier way.

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The Full Guide

Trigger words, do you use them? Do you know how to use them? What are they for? Why should you?

I’ve noticed people not using them effectively and I thought it was high time to fully explain how to actually get the benefit from a trigger word.

But first, what is a trigger word and what's the point?

What is a trigger word?

A trigger word is a single word or a phrase that you use to trigger you to cause action.

It is meant to connect movements or actions to that short phrase and simplify the thought process allowing you to focus more on the here and now.

What's the point?

If you were surfing on a wave and went to think about all the steps to do a bottom turn, that would be a long list, resulting in you being distracted and probably introducing tension or stress into your surfing.

By minimising the thought process, the mind can act quicker and shorten all the required steps into one, or highlight one key part of the process to focus on.

Example: Whole Movement - Bottom Turn

If you use the example of the bottom turn and during that moment you wanted to remind yourself to do it properly, would you rather think all these steps:

  • Start in neutral stance
  • Ride down the wave and connect with the bottom power zone
  • Look to the section you want to go to
  • Compress the knees 
  • Lean on the inside rail and engage the bottom turn
  • Draw the back arm down and deepen the lean
  • Hold the bottom turn for 3-5 seconds, continuing to look where you want to go
  • Slowly as you approach the section, come out of the manoeuvre and extend


Think, “lean” or any other trigger word. Tip the coffee out, whatever makes sense to you.

The mental side of surfing

The point is, surfing is distracting, we are creatures of habit and we constantly go into fight or flight mode or DIPI. 

DIPI stands for:

  • Danger
  • Interesting
  • Pleasureable
  • Important

And is somewhat of a priority system for information that comes through us and how we naturally respond to it. With dangerous things overcoming pleasurable things.

This is a whole other conversation and something we go into in our programs but the point being, you need to manage all that information and how it can control you.

Which in turn can make surfing incredibly difficult to maintain long thoughts or focus, hence why flow is so sought after, it’s about being present and letting things happen without force or restriction.

By implementing a trigger word, training with it and repeating it over and over, it can help those actions become easier to replicate and allow more space mentally to make the micro adjustments you need to make on every wave based on what's going on, where you are and what you are trying to achieve.

Example: Fixing on small thing - Cutback

To give another example before we dive into the actual proper use and training, I want to highlight how to use them to fix a single part of a bigger problem.

For most surfers, the cutback will always elude them as they don’t open up their front shoulder during it. If you don’t open up that shoulder, how do you expect to ever turn around, see the foam and cutback to it?

You can’t and all you’re doing is locking up part of the body and restricting movement.

So, if you were trying to work around this one problem, you would forget the rest and create a trigger word that reminds you of how to open up the leading shoulder and follow through with the twist.

This would allow the rest of the manoeuvre to happen but your attention is given to fixing the biggest problem in the manoeuvre, making that 1% improvement each time.

It’s that slap in the face you need to sometimes wake up and do the action or fix the bad habits.

What can be a trigger word or how to make them

Anything can be and you can be using multiple trigger words across your surfing for anything you want.

Ideally, I would suggest focusing on only improving a few things in your surfing at a time to keep focus, measure improvements and keep it fun.

One trigger word per manoeuvre or bad habit. Other than that, it’s all about creating a word or phrase that connects with you and the change you want to make.

You can copy mine, but I recommend you make your own. The more personal they are, the more powerful they will be to you.

How to actually train using a trigger word

Ok, the actual fix, this is the most important part. If you have a trigger word, you need to actually use it.

Let that sink it, you need to use it.

It’s a word, not a thought, say it outloud. Who cares what others think.

The power in a trigger word

The power in a trigger word comes from using it, you need to train or perform the movement while using the trigger word.

This will connect the word to the movement and make the connection between you menatally and physically. Think of it as a neural pathway you need to train.

The more you train that pathway, the stronger, quicker and more accurately you will be able to recall it in the moment.

It’s not enough to just train the muscle memory, to perform an action, you need to train the mind to be able to quickly and effectively act. This is the power of the trigger word and how it can help fix bad habits or train new movements.

Example: Pop up training

If you are practising your pop up, I’d suggest coming up with a trigger word, we call it the walk up, as that is essentially all it is.

You would get into your starting position, laying down on the floor (if doing land-based training) or surfboard completely blank and block out all background noise and use your trigger word. 

Then, immediately perform the walk up.

If you are doing this in the land-training, at the end of the pop up, I would pause and think or use the trigger word again to further cement the connection between movement and phrase.

Then return to the beginning and start all over again.

How to use a trigger word out in the surf

This obviously is very useful for land based training, building muscle memory and the connection between body and mind.

Out in the surf, as I mentioned before, DIPI can take over.

I would actually advocate to not overcomplicate it and make it all very simple.

Tension and stress are your enemy in surfing. It will ruin a good surf, negatively impact style and prevent you from moving freely or well at all.

If you take your trigger words out into the surf, think about them during the lulls between waves, on the wave, try to forget and just act or use a trigger word to fix one small issue. 

This is a process entirely personal to you, you need to figure out what is most effective for you to recreate your training and muscle memory in the surf.

You can come up with a million ways to remember the phrase, write it on your board with tape, write it on your hand, come up with a funny phrase, anything, but the main thing is using it in a stress free way.

How I use my own trigger words

My personal method is to use trigger words in the surf that only fix one small part of that movement, so that I remind myself of it during the lulls and then on a wave, if I feel I am making the bad habit I remind myself of the trigger word. 

That seems to happen unconsciously for me now, I can tell when I am not opening up my shoulders properly, and that doesn’t come from being a surf coach, more just using those phrases and working on habits over time.

If I find myself really delving deep into bad habits and getting frustrated or just not doing what I want to be doing in my surfing on that occasion. I will slow it down and use the trigger word out loud, before or during the movement. Finding a way to calm, relax, breathe and reset.


Trigger words, you need to use them everytime you train a movement, connect them with you personally and build the connection between body and mind, not just the muscle memory.

Out in the surf, focus on relaxing and develop the system that allows you to use them without causing tension or stress in your surfing.

Does that explain how to actually use a trigger word? Does it make you want to introduce more or start using them in your surfing?

As always, I’d love to know.

There will be a follow up to this next week that is deeply connected to this topic, and that’s introducing changes to how you practise your land training and ensure you do it properly without introducing bad habits.

Written by
Luke Hardacre
surf coaching