Everyday we all face decisions about risk and face fear.  It’s important to understand that fear is not always associated with real risk and risk doesn’t always illicit fear.  My role as shepherd to surfers, both clients and kids, is to understand the difference and make accurate decisions.

In November of last year, I made the wrong decision and put four friends at risk.

I won’t mention names, but it’s a group of guys who I look up to, learn from, and that first trip, just felt honored to be coaching.  That feeling, that feeling stoked just to be a part of the group gave uneducated (from a surfing perspective) opinions more weight then they should have carried.  And when someone who wrote one of your favorite books says, “dude, we’ve got it!”  You don’t want to be the dream killer.

The surf was building but we hadn’t seen any big sets from the beach.  We just didn’t wait long enough, and a few minutes after we paddled out we got pounded.  Broken leashes, multiple people swimming in heavy conditions.

We lived.  They hugged.  I learned.

Just because no one’s afraid, doesn’t mean there isn’t risk.

The opposite, fear without real risk, is more common and detrimental to progression.  Fear isn’t rational, but can be killed with rational process.

After a heavy encounter when I was 15 in big surf I had a hard time wanting to surf waves over 8 feet.  I solved this by doing the work to know I would be fine.  I worked on breath holds, underwater swimming, and created a mental routine to deal with hold downs.  It worked.

To alleviate any of the fears you may have in paddle surfing let’s look at some of the real risks.

Getting held down and drowning.  How many people do you know that have drowned while surfing?  I’ve been surfing since I was 13 and I don’t personally know anyone.  There was a surfer who drowned here in Nosara about 5 years ago.  He broke his leash on a big day at dusk.  That’s 10 years at a crowded beach.

Look at the big wave world tour and Jaws, Pipe, Fiji, Chopes.  It’s incredibly rare.

Did you see this wipeout?  Even this guy lived…

I’m not sure what training you can do to prepare for that, but, I think we all probably overestimate the danger of surfing.

Hitting your board/fin cuts.  For me this is the biggest risk.  I’ve done it many times, actually nursing a deep muscle bruise on my left quad right now from smashing a shortboard yesterday.  Pretty good crushed rail on the board so I knew I bashed it.

I accept the risk of hitting the board from time to time, but I work hard to avoid hitting my head.  I default to a head covered position whenever I’m falling in proximity to the board.  You just don’t want to get knocked out.  One technique is to cover your head with your paddle.  It’s a decent shield.

Long swims.  If you paddle surf, you’re going to break leashes.  If you break leashes, you’re going to swim.  So train for it.  A few years ago, right before starting the paddle surfing journey I did an iron man swim.  To train, I swam 30 minute open ocean swims 3 times a week.  That few months of training changed my comfort in the water.  You don’t have to get to the beach right away.  If it takes 30 minutes, that fine.  Just don’t freak out.

And if you’re comfortable in these situations, then your rational mind should be able to adequately override the irrational when you feel fear.  Then, after making a few, the irrational will have to let go.

Just make sure you’re accurately interpreting fear and risk.

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