become a better surfer
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Surfing bad conditions will make you a better surfer

Surfing in bad conditions shouldn't be avoided, they can make you a better surfer. They highlight the issues in your surfing, you just need to know how to identify that.

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The Full Guide

Would you rather surf bad waves well or good waves bad?

Whichever way you just answered that, think about it for a bit. Do you want to change the answer?

Let me break that down. If you surf good waves bad, how good is your surfing? If you surf bad waves well, what would you expect of your surfing?

This is a trick question on purpose. Most people will jump down the idea of always surfing good waves.

The trap average surfers fall into

The average surfer, especially beginner surfers, can fall into this idea or trap of only surfing when the conditions are good.

The way I want you to interpret that is...

They only surf when the conditions line up for them, their ability and their comfort level.

You may be saying, so, what's wrong with that.

Break it down and say those conditions are knee to waist high, perfect and gentle point break waves that don't closeout.

You are limiting your own surfing

You've now severely limited the times you will surf, but more importantly, you're destroying your motivation to surf.

You are saying, it has to be this or I don't surf.

I get it, I understand big and messy can be off-putting and I'm not saying go out and surf overhead mess from only surfing one foot.

I'm saying you need to learn to surf multiple conditions. Size is a different situation.

Bringing it back to the original statement of good waves and bad waves, the harsh reality is...

You are only as good as you how well you surf bad conditions.

If you surf bad conditions and say, "The surf's crap, if the waves were perfect then I’d rip”... You are just making excuses.

And here's the thing about excuses.

They are only justified to you...and potentially others who make the same excuse.

Those excuses will sound off to someone else who goes out and says the waist-high messy surf looks fun.

This isn't about making you feel bad about your surfing or attitude, so far this has been about establishing the harsh reality. There's a plus side to this.

We can use this to improve our surfing but also how often we surf and how much fun we get every session. 

Isn't that something we all want?

Learning from other surfers experiences

To better understand this, we can look at a student I was surf coaching.

It was 1ft swell, an empty line up, onshore, doubling up, rainy and cold. Miserable conditions. They turned and looked at me in utter frustration and said this sucks, the waves suck, if the waves were clean then I could practice things.

I expressed to them, "you're only as good as how well you can surf bad conditions". They slowly changed the way they saw the surf and thought I can't keep making excuses. After another 15 minutes, they paddled over and said this sucks because I don't know where to sit, I can't read the waves.

This became a massive lightbulb moment for them. To instantly realise what one of the major things holding their surfing back was.

Why you should surf bad conditions

The benefit of surfing in bad conditions and struggling is not that it can suck and not be fun, it's that it will highlight issues in your surfing.

It's telling you loud and clear what you probably work on the most.

If you can't catch waves in bad conditions, you most likely need to work on positioning and reading the ocean. More so than actually catching them. If you can't predict where it will stand up and where you need to be, then you can never attempt to catch it.

If you have no issue catching waves, then how about finding sections and speed? This then connects to your bottom turn.

How to use this to improve your surfing

Your complaints and your frustrations are symptoms of the issues in your surfing. They are highlighting the lack of ability or imperfections in technique or the stress you are bringing into your surfing.

The challenge is for you to take a step back, identify what the struggle is and what part of your surfing solves that.

The student I mentioned before, after being confronted with this and forced to stay in the surf with me then spent the rest of the session observing the treasure map, reading the waves and they found by simply slowing down, watching more they could place themselves in the pocket more often and find waves.

Figuring out the solutions

Sometimes, that experience of knowing the fix may take time or talking to other surfers. Consider what your excuses are. Ask another surfer and see if they feel the same, if not, find out why. Ask a more experienced surfer and same thing again. 

Start trying to understand if your complaints are justified or just excuses.

You can always take part in our training programs which are designed to teach the solutions to problems average surfers face and introduce solutions to them. 

Finding bad surf to work on technique

If you've already become aware of some of the issues in your surfing, technique or style and you see conditions at the beach that may help work on that, then I want you to motivate yourself to go and work on that one thing right then and there.

Use those conditions knowing success is limited and not guaranteed.

Do it because it's a great opportunity to get instant feedback on how you are going with those issues in your surfing.

Good Conditions can stagnate your surfing

Good conditions are like bandaid solutions. They make everything easier, but don't solve the problem.

If your bottom turn sucks or your cutback sucks, you can get away with crappy versions in good conditions without it being obvious that there is a problem, you feel something so therefore it must be good.

If you know the fix, good conditions are amazing to work on things in your surfing. If you don't know the fix, surfing only in good conditions is going to contribute to you stagnating in your surfing. 

If you can't do it well in good conditions then you won't be doing it good anytime.

If you go and surf bad conditions, get frustrated and try to identify the problem, you can now work on it in both conditions. 

Bonus: The complaints I made to OMBE Head Coach Clay

I'll add this in as I think it's valid and explains how your excuses are not valid.

Before I became a surf coach, about 10 years ago, I was working with our head coach Clayton Neinaber to improve my surfing.

We went and surfed a not so crowded local Gold Coast beach break. It was crap, messy and small with me struggling on a shortboard for speed. 

Clay sat on the beach filming me and coaching me. 

After I came in we spoke, he grilled me and I responded back with a smart comment saying the waves were terrible, what's the point.

Clay deadpan looked me in the eye's and said, "you're only as good as your surf bad conditions". Gut punch, I knew it straight away. I was making excuses and had to trudge up the beach in silence for being smart.

Bringing the fun back to bad surf

This experience has stuck with me ever since and it's why I love teaching it, it's a game-changer and instead of running from negatives, we could be looking for positives in bad surf. 

Finding small wins, working on things we want to improve but ensure we set no expectations. Anything in that session that includes trying to do the one thing we want to try is a win and that's exciting.


If the surf sucks and is unmotivating, observe it at least and try to watch what other surfers do it.

If you get in and it's frustrating and a struggle, use this as a pattern interrupter and tell yourself:

  1.  You're only as good as you surf bad conditions
  2. What is this highlighting in my surfing? 
  3. What is the fix or solution to that issue?
  4. What are more advanced surfers doing?
  5. Try it, lower the expectations and remember any small win is then exciting

If you already have the solution to the problem, then bad conditions will inflate that issue and make it bigger. That frustration may be the lightbulb moment you need to understand and work on the solution. 

After you've identified an issue, go feel the difference between good and bad surf, trying to be aware of how it feels different or what you are noticing more or less etc. 

Written by
Luke Hardacre
surf coaching