That’s quite often the first question people ask me when they hear that I surf. Scared of what? Water? Waves? Sharks? Well sometimes I guess but generally not.
Especially when learning and pushing myself into bigger waves and different, new challenging breaks, there were definitely (and still are!) moments when I find myself in scary situations. Like with anything though, the more often you do it you get more confident and less scared. Surfing in particular is such a mind-game. It’s all in your head and you would be surprised about the things you can do if you just stop freaking out. Here are some ideas that may help overcome some fears you may come face to face with as a surfer:
Big wave fear
Big waves are relative to everyone’s ability. It does not make a difference if you are a beginner gidget and think 3ft are big or a more advanced gidget and consider 6ft big or maybe even a big waves surfer gidget who only stays on the beach when it’s past the 10ft mark (don’t know anyone…but sure there are some crazy ones out there).
How to not get scared of big waves? Well just don’t go out if it’s too big for you. Trust your judgement. Generally, I’ve got this rule of thumb. If it’s big and I still feel comfortable with the average size waves coming through then it’s ok. If I’m scared with every set, I leave it. If it’s big already, there is always the chance of bigger sets coming through. I give you an example:
In G-land, I went out once and it was borderline for me… like every wave coming through was decent and I was anticipating each set with nervous excitement but it was not scared or anything then the occasional bomb set came through and I was just like f…f…f… please please don’t explode on top of my head…Next day, the average set was as big as the bomb sets from the day before which meant it was likely there was the odd bigger than the bomb set wave coming through which would have put me far out of my comfort zone and so I sat that one out.
Now it might happen that you misjudge the situation and find yourself sitting in a line up and you just think a) how did I get out here and b) how do I make it back safe to shore? Most important rule, don’t panic. Make yourself familiar with the situation, look around, watch the others catch waves, see where they catch them. Check out how much time there is between the sets so you can plan your exit strategy. Now you’ve got two options:
1) Paddle in between sets and let the whitewash pick you up and carry you safely back to shore.
2) Be a brave gidget and just try to catch one wave. It only has to be one and you won’t regret it. If you stack it, remember, it’s just water. You always come back up one way or the other. You’ll be so stoked for that one wave you catch…I promise. And next time you’ll be ready for an even bigger wave.
I usually try to go for option 2 and when I do that 8 out of 10 times I’m so excited about catching that big one wave that I paddle back out and try for another one.
You’ll see over time you’ll get used to bigger and bigger waves, but also don’t be scared to say no if bigger waves are not for you. I know heaps of surfers who happily never go beyond three foot. Do what’s right for you.
Big drop fear
With the big wave fear, also comes the big drop fear. It really annoys the hell out of me when I paddle for a wave, look over the falls and chicken out at the last second. This is actually the worst you can do because you either go over the falls anyway but rather ungraciously or you are just angry at yourself about the missed opportunity. So the only way forward is to go for it. Full commitment I say. I’ve never regretted the waves I’ve caught even though they ended up in a stack but many times regretted the ones I did not take.
Ok, there are just situations where it’s closing out and the conditions are simply not great but another good rule of thumb. If other guys around you catch waves, you can catch them too. A little competitiveness does not hurt.
Oh another thing to beat the inner wuss. Watch big wave surf movies. Again, if they can take off on 20ft waves, you’ll survive 4ft. Works every time.
Bad wipe-outs fear
If you surf, you inevitably experience wipe-outs. You can’t avoid it. It comes with surfing. Some wipe-outs are worse than others. I generally quite enjoy my wipe-outs. Most of the time it’s fun when you fly through the air or get tumbled around like in a washing machine. It’s all part of it and as I said earlier… really it’s just water.
I have to admit wipe-outs are not so much fun if you hurt yourself. If you hurt yourself, I recommend though to getting straight back onto the horse aeh board. I always tell myself chances that it happen again straight away are fairly small and did you know you can surf with stitches in your head. So no excuses or procrastinating. If you dwell on it, likelihood you’ll be in the water soon again is fairly small.
If you simply had too many big wipe-outs and you are really scared of getting back on the board, I would say get into the water anyway. But don’t take the board for a bit. Just body surf and have fun again playing in the waves. That’s what it’s all about being in the water and having a good time. Sometimes you forget that when you surf and are all too focused about catching waves. You’ll see once you’ll have fun again, you’ll want to get back onto the board anyway.
A common question for every surfer ‘Aren’t you scared of sharks?’ I think no surfer is truly scared of sharks otherwise they would not be out there. Well, ok that’s probably not true, most surfers are probably shit scared if they come face to face with a shark but that rarely happens. So most surfers accept the fact that our playground is the sharks’ home and that means that a certain risk comes with surfing. A small risk…I’m not going to bore you with stats and comparisons to having a car accident and getting struck by thunder, etc…
I actually think the chances that you get a heart attack due to a shark alarm are actually higher than actually being attacked by a shark. How so? Well, have you ever seen a fin in the water and thought it was a shark but then it turns out to be a dolphin? I did and it scared me lots and lots.
When I first started surfing, there was an actual shark in the water once. My heart dropped into my boardies. I’ve never been so scared in my life. Like real scared. Panic set in. Luckily, nothing happened and I was shaking for hours afterwards.
Funny enough, that never kept me from going back into the water either and from then on when there was a shark alarm I was much calmer and relaxed about it and stopped panicking. I figured there is no point in spoiling my favourite past time by worrying about things that may or may not happen. Like in real life…
Having said that, trust your instinct on that one. If it feels sharky, get out of the water.
In general, I find that’s true for dealing with any fear in the water. First and foremost, trust your gut feel. There is usually a reason why you are scared and a healthy sense of fear is ok because it helps you set your boundaries.
Ok , it’s a challenge in itself to find the right balance between pushing yourself that little bit more or giving way to your fear. And some days you might be braver than on others. So don’t be too hard on yourself. Maybe start with asking yourself why you are scared. What makes it scary? Once you unravel your fear, you probably realise it’s irrational and you’ll be a braver gidget straight away J