Feel the fear and do it anyway – Surfing through the nerves

Kolohe caught inside at pipe

Surfing is one of the most natural highs I have ever experienced. It keeps me fit, brings me closer to mother nature and is heaps of fun but, like every surfer, I have bad days which sometimes leave me feeling wary and at times quite fearful. But despite this, I keep going back for more. It’s about applying a bit of common sense, managing my fears and doing it anyway!

Knowing my limits

The number of surfers, swimmers and bodyboarders who get into difficulty in the sea increases every year. I don’t fancy adding to the RNLI’s statistics, so before I head out, I always check the surf report for my favoured break. If its double overhead and blowing a gale (and the lifeguards haven’t red flagged the beach), I won’t get in. Or, if I get in, it gets too big and I’m not feeling comfortable, I head back into the white water, or back onto the beach to practise my pop-ups.

It also makes sense to surf with someone else so that if you get into any difficulty, you have got each other’s backs.

Doing my homework

I have learnt a lot about my favoured surf spots, not only from surfing there, but reading about them and talking to the locals. I have found out where the rip currents are, where there are rocks and other hazards, and learnt which of those spots are best for beginners. I stick to beach breaks and would never dream at this stage of attempting a shallow reef or point break.

Rip currents can be ferocious and I have been knocked off my feet with the force even in ankle deep water. I know how to spot them now and luckily, I have never been swept out but if I did, I know what to do – keep calm and paddle parallel to the beach into calmer water before heading back to shore.

Learning the right way

Before I tried surfing, I had never been in the sea. I was very wary of it and didn’t know a thing about rips, tides or one end of a surfboard from another. Having surf lessons with a qualified instructor was by far the best way to do it. Not only did I learn the correct way to pop-up, but I got a brief on sea safety and felt way less nervous knowing that my first time in the sea was with qualified people who knew the ocean better than I did!

Wiping out

I have heard that most of the bad things that happen whilst surfing do so during a wipeout, which probably explains why I fear it. The first time I wiped out, I surfaced coughing and spluttering and feeling like I couldn’t breathe. I felt disoriented under water and didn’t know what had hit me – luckily in that instance, it wasn’t my surfboard!

Believe it or not there is a correct way to wipeout which will reduce the chances of injuring yourself, other people and your surfboard! The fear is often worse than the reality and unless you are surfing big wave breaks like Mavericks, its unlikely you will be held down for more than a few seconds. Just remember to stay calm and dont panic!

Fit to surf

Surfing is physically demanding and something I really underestimated when I first started. After just 30 minutes in the sea I was exhausted, my arms were like spaghetti and my muscles ached the next day!

I now work out regularly. Swimming is the best form of exercise for building paddle power, increasing stamina and building confidence of being in the water. It’s something I’m working hard on at the moment and I’m combining this with spinning classes and a core routine which helps with balance.

Yoga is also another great form of exercise for surfers. It helps increase flexibility and promotes relaxation through learning breathing techniques; this will also help with any moments in the sea if you need to keep calm.

Looking like a kook

If you are self-conscious and worried about looking daft, remember that even Kelly Slater had to start somewhere. Having regular surf lessons really helps me with this – I can make sure that I have the correct technique, keep a check on my progress and when I get positive feedback, it really helps with my confidence.

Remembering the surf etiquette is also key. If you drop in on people and steal their waves, its going to annoy them and could land you in trouble. Observe the rules, respect the locals and its one less concern to tick off the list.

So what are you waiting for? Book that lesson, get out there and have some fun! 


You can follow Kirsty’s progression on her blog Tales of a Landlocked Surfgirl

Image ©Jimmicane/SurfingMagazine.com via Redbull Surfing

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