Scared of Surfing? You’re doing it right
Surfing is terrifying.
This is a good thing. It’s facing those fears that keeps us alert (and gives us that hit of adrenaline).
Important note: Fear and panic are two very different things. In surfing, fear is healthy. Panic is lethal.
Everyone is scared of surfing
Whether struggling with white water or paddling out at your first reef break. As surfers, when we beat one challenge, there’s another waiting; bigger and scarier, all the way up to the top. Even the best in the world have demons to face.
This is especially true if, like me, you’re starting your journey into surfing at an older age. Kids are fearless, so unlike us, anyone who started young would have dealt with a lot of the stuff we’re facing now as immortals.
On top of that, there’s a “road rage” mentality to surfing. Some people are so invested in the sport that they’ll try to scare you off. Sadly seen with localism when you’re actually surfing and in shark-infested forums online. Top tip: Ignore these self-righteous herberts.
Hard truths about surfing
If you want to get better at surfing, there are two things you will need to come to terms.
- You are going to face fear.
If it was easy to coast through to surfing bigger, more dangerous conditions, you’d be at death’s door in no time. You need fear to hone your awareness. You need failure to improve your experience.
- If you’re prone to panic, surfing might not be for you.
That sounds harsh, but I believe it’s important. Try the steps below, but if you struggle to keep a handle on panic you should think carefully about continuing. If you can’t rely on yourself, you’re automatically putting other people in danger.
How to cope with fear in surfing
Step by step.
1. Laugh at it
Take a second. Take stock with a system check. If everything’s okay (99% of time it is), have a good laugh. Life doesn’t get better than this.
2. Take it at your own pace
Make it easy for yourself. Your first handful of sessions are crucial for surfing. Don’t overstretch early, and make sure you’re learning from someone who knows what they’re talking about. Learn the basics and don’t rush to get on a smaller board.
3. Don’t back down
Whenever you find yourself paddling out with a lump in your throat, you know you’re progressing. Nervous confidence is different to panic. As long as you’re not completely over-reaching, and you have support (lifeguards, coaches, friends in the water), it’s the best thing you can do.
4. Take the hits
There are no shortcuts. The physical and mental challenges that come with surfing are tried and tested ways to prepare you for worst-case-scenarios. Keep going, keep failing. It’s the only way. The harder it is, the more we gain skill, fitness and confidence.
5. Get educated
Learn how to read a break and spend time looking at it before you jump in. Read up on surf etiquette, rips, proper wipeout technique, how to avoid the impact zone. Nothing beats practice and physical experience, but research is a close second best.
Embrace the fear
The upside of the fear barrier is that it makes damn sure that we’re committed. Everyone in the water around you has been knocked about to one level or another. They’ve all had their training, so to speak.
Start from the beginning, dig in and celebrate the small victories. Look back at your fears and keep scaring yourself with new conditions.
If you practice often, and practice well, soon you’ll be surprised at how far you’ve gone.
A final note
You can always be a ‘fair weather surfer’.
Keep an eye out for smaller conditions, sunnier days and bigger boards. No stress, no fear, just enjoying your time in the sea. Proper job.