By Raye Teyssier: If you take a series of surf lessons, you will start to hear some tips more than once… in fact, you may notice times where your instructor sounds a bit like a broken record.
“Look forward,” she’ll say.
You’ll practice popping up on the beach and, just standing there in the sand, you’ll already find yourself being corrected;
“Don’t look down: look up, where you’re going.”
But you’ll get it.
Then out into the surf, you’ll be surprised by it again:
“Eyes on the mountain!”
‘I didn’t even think I was looking down,’ you may think to yourself. But you’ll take the advice on your next round and you’ll feel it; it’s working! Every wave, you’ll build muscle memory and confidence, and your rides will become longer and better. Your board control will develop and, slowly but surely, surfing will become more natural. You’re confidence is up, you’re exhilarated— you’ve got it nailed!
Inevitably, and completely by surprise, you’ll find yourself at some point thrown back into the water. What happened? Sputtering, salty, you look to your instructor. As she smiles, you lean in for some sage-like insight into the flow of the ocean, only to be told for the hundredth time…
“Make sure you’re looking forward, not down”!!
Surfing is humbling like that; a skill you feel you’ve mastered might need to be re-learned on different days, conditions, or even a different wave. So much like the paths we walk in life, the surf doesn’t always measure up to our expectations; waves can be clean or shifty, consistent or not, smooth or downright challenging— and to a beginner, they are anything but predictable. It hurts the ego to spend today working on a skill you mastered yesterday! But a huge part of surfing is consistency. So often, the best advice a developing surfer can get is to go back to basics:
Look forward. Breathe. Stay loose.
When we encounter situations in life where we feel out of control, we instinctively tense up. We fight the forces surrounding us, our adrenaline turns on, and— depending on the personality— we may even feel panic creeping up. When you are in the ocean, the last thing you want to do is fight the energy of the water; going with the flow is crucial for success (and, in big wave surfing, survival). The power of the ocean will always win.
Okay, so on a surf lesson your worst-case scenario will likely be a little salt water up the nose, but still: why waste any excess energy on tension and resistance? One of the biggest skills you will develop in surfing is how to maneuver through breaking waves (be it surfing, paddling, wiping out, or any combination of the three). Understanding how to work with the water is a necessity.
Of course, most of us don’t intentionally fight the surf or stiffen up. But oftentimes, we have so much going on in our head that we’re unable to relax into the present moment. Those who really get stoked on surfing tend to want to progress as fast as possible; they want to know how to rip, right now, just let me at that wave! They’re so focused on doing X,Y,ZABCDE… while they ride, that they don’t notice what’s happening around them, and where the water’s energy is directing them to go. How can you direct the board where you want if you can’t find stability where you are? How can you be present if your head is full with what ‘will’ be? Our mental state certainly affects our surfing.
I love teaching students who share my stoke for surfing. The ones chomping at the bit to do ‘more, faster, now!’ make me smile, as I can relate to that feeling of excitement. But to them, I give the advice to be return to basics; again and again, with every maneuver you master, return to your solid base. Breathe. Flow.
And don’t try too hard, or you may forget to have fun 😉
Raye has been teaching surf lessons since 2013, including Waikiki, Oahu’s fabled North Shore, and here on Maui; she is also an avid cyclist, a Capoeirista, and collegiate pole vault record-holder, and has taught a variety of other sports and fitness programs. Use discount code RAYE10 to save and your lesson, and don’t forget to request Raye as your instructor!