Fear in Surfing and How To Tackle It

Magicseaweed

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Updated 1254d ago

Mental blocks can rip apart your surfing. That pre-surf pump can dissipate pretty sharpish when you're running out of air under water. But what if you could harness negative energy, turning those feelings of nervousness into full-scale delectation?

Jussi Tarvainen, pro-snowboarder turned mental coach for athletes, developed methods claiming to overcome incapacitating mental blocks. The techniques may help you in a variety of high-stress situations; tackling fear in big waves, feeling nervous before contests, the fear of drowning or wearing that wipe-out on your head, or, generally, when in the drink and it's all going south fast. The pros recently gave their insight into how they accept and handle fear - but here's a different perspective from an industry professional.

Words by Jussi
Do you ever get nervous when you’re headed out surfing and you can see the waves bigger and thicker than you're used to?

Yet since you are reading this, I’m guessing you've experienced that and you want to push yourself to the next level and see what you are truly capable of and here's techniques to help overcome mental blocks that hold back your surfing.

Reverse your thought process

When ever you start second guessing yourself, hesitate, freeze or get paralysed it’s likely because you are focused on the exact thing you don’t want to happen. If your head is filled with thoughts of failing, wiping out or drowning it is very hard to perform at your best. Fear was developed to protect you from injuries and from death. It’s a survival mechanism. It’s always on the look out for things that might threaten your survival. That’s why it’s easy to get sucked into the “What if…” stories we tell ourselves that talk us out of going after our goals.

Fear can be a healthy response, but if it's getting in the way of you pulling the trigger then take some time out to learn to harness it.

Fear can be a healthy response, but if it's getting in the way of you pulling the trigger then take some time out to learn to harness it.

© 2019 - Jason Corroto.

If you are focused on failure and it’s the only thing you think of, your ability to surf bigger waves at your peak level gets destroyed. It’s important to be aware of the different ways you can safely bail out but not be focused on them. Your focus needs to be on the perfect performance. Asking ''how'' will force your mind to focus on solutions, not on problems. On success.

What you need to do is reverse your focus. Do this by flipping all the “What if I fail…” thoughts on their head. What if you make the drop in? Instead of thinking of failure you want to think of all the ways HOW you can be successful. Start asking yourself “How will I stay calm and relaxed in the impact zone? How will I make the drop in? How will I go through the different sections of the wave?'' The power of the question ''how'' is in the direction it turns your thoughts toward. It’s like a compass pointing north. Asking ''how'' will force your mind to focus on solutions, not on problems. On success.

How to overcome fear of big waves

MG180X is a complete mental game performance system that I’ve developed and put together in the past 15 years as a pro snowboarder and performance architect for world-class athletes. If you don’t know the bottle neck that’s holding back your progress it makes improving a slow and grueling process.

Yeah, we're not Aaron Gold levels of fearlessness either.

Yeah, we're not Aaron Gold levels of fearlessness either.

I want to give you these fundamental MG (Mental game) 180 (reversing your thinking) X (fear of the unknown) mental techniques and strategies that will help you progressively overcome fear of big waves.

When you know exactly the problem you need to solve, it gives you a lot better chances of solving it.

Step 1; Goal
Know your goal, first of all. What are you working towards? Is there a certain type or size of wave you want to be able to surf? Or do you want to learn a specific trick, aerial or manoeuvre for example? Having a clear goal will dramatically increase your speed of reaching it.

Step 2; Technical
What do you need to learn technique wise in your surfing to build up to your goal? What are the “in between” steps you need to take to progressively reach that goal?

If you don’t know and want to progress faster, ask a friend, watch yourself in a video or get surf coaches advice.

Step 3; Physical
Do you have the physique required to pull off your goal? Or do you need to be stronger, more flexible or explosive?

Training is key. Just ask Newquay's Tom Butler who spent last winter prepping for mega swells.

Training is key. Just ask Newquay's Tom Butler who spent last winter prepping for mega swells.

© 2019 - Estrelinha Photography

If your goal is to surf bigger waves you might need to develop a better lung capacity. You can highly benefit from interval training and conditioning to get to the line up and still have the energy to actually perform at your peak level when it counts the most. A personal trainer or surf coach specialized in surf specific physical training can help you reach this goal faster.

Step 4; Mental
Do you have the confidence? Are you able to stay calm underwater instead of panicking? Are you able to reset and perform at your 100 per cent after a big wipeout, scare or failing embarrassingly in front of people? Learning mental techniques is as crucial as learning any other skills that are holding back your progress.
Just like you have different techniques and exercises to develop your technical surfing skills, maneuver library and physical strength, the same goes to your mental game. You can use mental techniques to gain more confidence, overcome nervousness, brush off messing it up in front of people who you want to impress and erase mental scars caused by a near drowning experiences for example. Learning mental techniques is as crucial as learning any other skills that are holding back your progress.

Plan for the best, prepare for the worst

Once you’re ready to start surfing bigger waves it’s always important that you minimize the risks. Here’s a simple method I teach the athletes I work with and use myself.

When shit hits the fan, have a bail out plan
Unexpected things happen. If things don’t go as planned, how are you going to safely bail out? What’s your “fire exit” strategy?

If you get held under water for three waves are you able to stay calm without panicking? If not you better do some exercises to improve your lung capacity and learn mental relaxation and focus techniques.

Niccolo will tell you that getting spin-dried at Chopes ain't fun. Not sure there's any techniques in the world to prepare you for a wipeout of this magnitude, but knowing at least the basics could help.

Have a mental plan for any situation so you know how to act if they come about. If you have not thought of the possible ways things might go wrong and how to successfully bail out, your chances of escaping are slim. But when you prepare yourself to act, by running through such scenarios in your imagination, you prime your body to be ready if they do come about.

I routinely run myself through the potential risk scenarios and how I will escape unharmed. The key here, and this is crucial, is to be aware of the different ways you can bail out safely. But do not get focused on it or it can backfire on you. Just be aware.

Once you’ve done that you want to power focus your mind for perfect performance by repeatedly imagining exactly how you want the performance to go. Always have a bail out plan. Know what to do when shit hits the fan. 

Disclaimer; after reading, it's not likely you'll be ready to face colossal Waimea unless you're John John levels of freakishness (in which case, step right up, send us a postcard) This is advice that might help plug the feeling of impending doom when coppin' a floggin' at your maxing out local.