I’ve been surfing now for about fifteen or so years. Only the past ten years has been full on. These days it’s like my coffee. If I go a day without it I’m completely disjointed and a little angry, which seems to intensify as the hours go on. I need my fix. It’s quite frustrating sometimes.
Someone once told me that surfing is a ten year sport. It takes ten solid years of surfing constantly to get to that level of being a good all-round surfer. I found that heart breaking! Ten years? Are you kidding? Sure I wanted to rip the bag, get barreled, do a massive hack… But did I really need to put in ten solid years before that was possible? Now, in my fifteen years of surfing I can say in my own experience, yes… it’s taken me a while to even get to where I am in surfing. And for the record, I’m no pro.
For those who are thinking of taking on surfing, or have been at it for a few years and are struggling to do a cutback, here are a few simple things that I’ve learned in my time.
1. Get surf coaching. Bite the bullet and just book some lessons. Private lessons if you must. Give your coach a decent amount of time to see you surfing in different conditions and see you working on the things that need improving. Don’t just book one lesson thinking you’re going to come out with a cutback like Carissa Moore. Do you remember when you were little and someone taught you to kick a soccer ball, throw a tennis ball, hit a ball with a bat, read, write, do a cartwheel and so on? Some of us learned so early on in life we probably don’t even remember it. A lot of those common skills we learn in our youths are taught to us and we get the chance to practice, practice, practice. Do you remember how many times you had to practice drawing the letter 'A' with a pencil before you got your pen license? For some reason a lot of surfers are yet to act on coaching services. A lot of us don’t get any coaching at all and we still expect to be Steph Gilmore after 3 years in the water. It seems there are a lot of learners out there getting ' learn to surf' lessons. Then there are the pro-surfers that have their elite coaches. But the intermediates and adults seem to undervalue coaching. Is it a too cool factor? I don't really know the answer to that one. But I do know that if you want to improve and save time, get yourself a coach. There are a heap of coaches available these days. Find an accredited, reputable coach nearby and try it out.
2. News Flash! The ocean moves... with or without you. Waves are not stationary like a skate bowl. Every wave is different. They come in different sizes and speeds. They have different sections, volumes of water and so on. If every wave was exactly the same, broke in the same spot, did exactly the same thing every single time, learning to surf would be a lot easier. Learning to hit the lip, bottom turn and get barreled would be a lot easier. There are a lot of other elements to consider with surfing. The wind, the current, other people, darkness, paddle speed, board types, fin types, technology... Imagine if you could have a coach on the beach taking to you in a waterproof receiver in your ear while you surf. Learning to surf is a lot harder than learning a skill like writing, where the paper and the pencil doesn't change and the feedback is immediate.
3. Work on your water skills. Your paddle strength is a big one. When I moved out of the rat-race from a city beach to an area with about five surfers in the water during the week, I realised how much my paddle strength came into play. I had a lot more room to paddle around a get waves if I could catch them. I started to take notice of how fast I could get across to a wave if I really wanted it. If I saw a set on the horizon over on the next bank, my paddle strength and endurance definitely came in handy. More strength, power, endurance and water confidence got me more waves. It also got me into position easier so I wasn’t taking off in the wrong spot. You can't always just expect that waves will magically come to you. A lot of the time you need to hunt them down like a demon.
4. Watch other people surfing. The more I watched surf films and studied pictures, comparing them to my own, the more I realised what I needed to be doing. There are some awesome surf films out there for our entertainment and educational use. Sure our standard beach breaks might not be as beautiful and perfect as those in the big dollar tropical paradise films, but they are still highly useful learning tools. Still photos are great too, just keep in mind the things they did prior to that massive hack with that huge spray. You can’t hit the lip like that without a bottom turn for one thing.
5. Watch yourself surfing. Hopefully a friend can film/photograph you for a few sessions so you can see yourself. Maybe that super massive wave you caught wasn’t so big after all. Maybe that huge bottom turn you thought you did wasn’t that good. The big thing for me was bending my legs. I was a lazy surfer for many years. Seeing footage of my single-fin legs was a big learning curve. Even when I thought I was bending them, I still looked like a flamingo. Working off footage helped a lot.
6. Learn how to read the charts. If you’re not sure, check out this article on the basics… How to Pick the Best Beach. Understanding the winds, the period, the swell direction, your own beaches etc will help you choose the beaches best suited to your skill level and confidence. Knowing how to read the forecasts will help you plan your surf sessions better, hopefully fitting a few extra ones in when you can.
7. Surf with people that help you, make you feel confident and like you are having fun. It sounds really basic, but when I surf with friends that laugh with me (and at lot of the time laugh at me), I have a lot more fun and am a lot more confident. Yes this can be hard in the sport of surfing where we generally surf alone, but there are lots of avenues. Local boardrider clubs, girls boardriding fraternities, say hi to your local girls in the water etc… It might take a while to find someone with the same froth level and abilities, but it’s worth it when you do. ☺
8. Always keep in mind that even the pro's stack it sometimes. EVERYONE was a learner at some stage in their lives. People loose their shorts, their bikinis, do kart-wheels inside barrels, get thrown over with the lip, slam into the flat water, face-plant, get sucked over the falls and so on. Surfing can be super embarrassing and highly entertaining at times. It can be painful and frustrating as well. You need the bad to appreciate the good. You need to make mistakes to learn from them. If you think you know everything there is about surfing and you cease to learn, try and practice, you'll never be any better than you are right now.
9. Finally, don't let that 'ten year' thing bother you. The best surfer is the one having the most fun. We can't all be pro.
Well I’m off for a wave. It’s 2ft, onshore and raining. But I need my coffee ☺
Kim (Eulo) Eulenstein
Saltlocker / Elite Salt Academy / Surf Coach / Swim Coach / Diver / Former SLS Athlete / Swimmer and sports marketing specialist. Kim runs surf, swim, dive and a range of dry-land work shops for complete beginners through to WSL World Tour surfers. Want to book a session with Kim? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org