There’s a saying in surfing that the best surfer in the water is the one having the most fun. That’s true, but I’d also argue that the surfer having the most fun is the best surfer.
This morning over breakfast Jason and I were having the progression vs. fun discussion. I’ve blogged about it before, but the gist is that on a week trip you need to decide how to spend your time in the water. The options are:
- Focusing on wave count and maximizing surfing time (Fun)
- Purposefully drilling on specific skills, surfing outside your comfort zone, and working to get better (Progression)
In the first journal about the progression vs. fun decision I didn’t give adequate motivation to focus on progression. While you can have fun at any level in the sport, surfing at a higher level is much more fun.
Would you rather drive a minivan or a Formula 1?
Here are a few moments you don’t get at the beginning of the learning curve. I hope they provide motivation to work hard and improve.
- Late drops – Taking off late on a steep wave gets heart pumping. Looking over the ledge, not sure if you’ll make it, but knowing you’ve got a shot, then making it.
- Fast, high lines – Once you’ve mastered trim and pumping there’s nothing more fun that high-lining a walled up section. Stuck in no man’s land with the lip pitching out in front of you and not enough time to get to the bottom – then making it.
- Huge bottom turns – Making the drop on a good sized wave and putting everything on rail, paddle bending but holding, fins holding and slingshotting at the lip.
- Lip-line floaters – Flying down the wave, coming off of a high-line section and riding the breaking lip line down, it feels like jumping down a set of stairs, but with a foaming monster chasing you.
- Barrels – I probably could have just listed barrels. If you’ve listened to Keahi’s podcast, you heard him say it’s his favorite moment on anything he rides. It’s mine too. Words can’t describe it, so I won’t try. But it’s worth all the work and time and expense. And it’s more fun than almost anything else on the planet.
I won’t say that beginning the learning curve in a surfing sport isn’t fun. Catching your first waves, making your first lines – it’s all magic. I’m having a blast watching my kids go through the experience. And it’s good that you have to go though all the steps to get there, because if you just went out and pulled into a big barrel on your first day, unprepared mentally by years of practice , your mind explode.
So, value to process, and know the best awaits.
Yesterday’s post on the Advantages of SUP Surfing in Bigger Surf sparked a few email questions regarding leashes. And I didn’t touch on it in that journal but definitely think it should be included, so here you go.
Breaking a leash is no fun. Especially when it’s bigger and you know you’re dealing with a long swim in heavier conditions. I use the terms big and heavy loosely because that barometer is different for each one of us. If you grew up on Maui your scale is going to be a bit different than if you grew up on the West Coast of Florida. Either way, the chemical cocktail of being out of your comfort zone in the ocean makes everything more difficult.
Here’s some tips to help you avoid that situation –
Let’s start with the actual leash. I have found that Ocean and Earth Premium leashes are the strongest. While on Tavarua a few years ago, and after breaking 2 leashes at cloudbreak, an Aussie who worked with Ocean and Earth gave me the premium leash. He said they had been testing it and it was a few times stronger than anything else. I had that leash for over a year. It is a molded construction, so there’s no joined plastic. They stretch, I’ll use a six foot leash until it’s nine feet, but I’ve only broken them on fins. Sometimes you’ll jump off and the leash will wrap a fin and cut. Nothing you can do there. Oh, and they come with a leash string to attach to the board, sewn in to the leash, so it takes away the leash string fail point.
Now that you’re suited up with a strong leash and paddling out in some big surf, what can you do when a big set is coming your way.
Depending on where the wave is breaking, the best option is to get to the shoulder and over the wave. If you can’t get to the shoulder try to paddle towards where the waves will be weakest. You should try to avoid the impact zone, where the brunt of force will be.
If you can get to a spot where the wave has dissipated enough to have less than 3 feet of foam, your best option will be shooting your board over the foam. I’ve blogged about this before, it’s a simple technique of stepping back to your tail, leaning back as you stroke hard and shooting your board up and over the lip. If it all goes well you’ll pop up with your board in front of you, hop up and continue paddling. (if the white water is small enough you can use the white water climb that I broke down here)
Those are best options – Now let’s talk worst cases.
If you’re in the worst spot and the wave is going to detonate right in front of you then your first priority is your safety and those around you. You need to make sure nobody is behind you. If someone is behind you, it’s your responsibility to get your board away from them. If I see a set coming I’ll direct traffic – telling surfers near me which way to go so I can get them to a clearing before I shoot my board in the opposite direction. Don’t worry, they’ll be happy your looking out for them.
If you’re all clear then getting deep is the best option. I find that diving off the board allows me to get deep quickly and cover more forward ground to get under the wave. I will paddle hard directly at the section I want to dive under and right before the wave gets to me, maybe 2 or 3 meters I dive towards the wave and deep. I try to ping my leash which is normally 8 feet (I buy 6 ft leashes, but they stretch). My goal is to get under the wave on the back side before I feel the pull. You can tell because if you keep your eyes open you’ll see the whitewater pass over you.
To avoid breaking leashes I’ve developed a technique. I’m sure other folks use the same thing or have a better option, but I haven’t talked to many folks about it. I swim until my leash is tight and then right when I feel the wave start to pull I pencil my legs and stroke backwards towards the beach underwater. You almost bodysurf behind the wave. If you were able to cover enough ground on your dive you shouldn’t get caught in the wave unless it’s really big. But I used this technique yesterday in 10-12 foot face waves and never got thrown back over. I also didn’t break a leash.
Once the initial pull is over you can start swimming forward again. It’s that sudden yank that will break the leash, and most folks swim against the pull of the board which increases chances of a break.
The one caveat here is that diving off your board increases your chances of the leash getting caught on a fin. It’s not a bad idea to check to see where your leash is and then diving off on that side so it doesn’t wrap on the tail. Easier said than done in bigger surf.
Some side notes:
Never surf in conditions you wouldn’t feel comfortable swimming in. I like to swim on big days just to feel the ocean that way. With the kids surfing now, I’m spending a lot of time swimming out the back and it raises your comfort level being in the ocean that way.
Smaller SUPs have much less pull in bigger surf. If you’re tied to a 10 ft. 150L board you’ll be going for a ride underwater.
Paddles float. If you break a leash and you’re getting pushed down and spun around you can tell which direction is up by using your paddle.
You can bodysurf with your paddle. I use the blade as a hand plane to body surf.
I’d love to hear your techniques in the comments below.
If you’re interested in coming down to Costa Rica to surf and train with me contact me using the form below. All the best! Erik
What’s up paddle freaks! We had one of those glorious mornings here in Costa Rica today. The arrival of a significant SW swell, 4ft. at 18secs and a mid-morning high tide made for some fun conditions on the reef. I used the session to work on the ColinBack. Working on being patient and holding the rail as long as I could in the turn. Amazing how a good board will grab and come around for you.
I said a new series was coming, and here it is… We’re going to break down the phases of turning. I’m going to start in the middle as it will be relevant to the majority of folks reading, then we’re going to go back to the beginning and then sum it all up. You can check out this journal for an advanced wrap-around or subscribe to the newsletter to get the guide to Man Hacks right away. Both of those are advanced turns.
We’re going to start this journal by apologizing to Oscar for throwing him under the bus. I’m using an old video of him to demonstrate the intermediate turn and now he’s an advanced paddle surfer. He’s been training hard for the last year and this turn no longer reflects his level of surfing, but it’s a perfect example of not committing the rail and wrong paddle/rail sequence.
Here we go –
In the first frame the surfer is driving down the line and preparing to turn. The bottom turn was high on the face and shallow. It’s difficult to drive a bottom turn off the face because the geometry doesn’t allow for a lot of buried rail, and the chances of slipping out of the turn, sliding the tail and losing speed are higher. So, if you’re doing a bottom turn high on the face it will normally be shallow.
Weight is transitioning back to the tail instead of over the rail. As we broke down yesterday the difference in Intermediate and Advanced turns is the sequence of rail and paddle being set in the wave. In this turn the paddle is set and the rail won’t fully engage.
Notice how much of the board is out of the water. To wrap a turn around with power you need to have the rail engaged for something to push on. Only about the back 18 inches of the tail are buried. Drive should come from the front foot, but the rail under the front foot is out of the water.
The paddle has also begun to pull, further setting the tail in the water, without burying the rail.
The pull on the paddle is almost complete and the rail never set. The board is accelerating, but without the rail to push on the fins are going to break lose. Direction won’t change back into the pocket and the result will be a fin slide instead of a cutback.
The board has flattened out. The rail never engaged. Spray is shooting out sideways, low in the water.
I’m being very critical of this turn to help us learn, but it isn’t a bad turn. It’s done in the correct spot, completed smoothly and looks great. We’re comparing good and great surfing, and if we’re not being critical, we won’t learn. So please don’t think I’m hating here. Oscar is a much better surfer now because he’s hard on himself.
Nice slide. Trajectory is still down the line. Balance is perfect, over the board and supported by the paddle.
Weight back over the board and direction is coming around to continue down the line. A great example of an intermediate turn.
Check back tomorrow to see how an advanced turn differs.
If you like this breakdown you’ll love coming down to surf with Oscar and I in Costa Rica at Blue Zone SUP. Email us here for details.
The difference between intermediate and advanced turns in paddle surfing can be understood by the sequence of rail and paddle usage in the turn.
Intermediate paddle surfers use the paddle to set the rail.
Advanced paddle surfers use the paddle to accelerate a set rail.
In the next few days I’ll be breaking down this idea with frame grabs of both types of turns.
A way you can check to see what type of surfer you are is whether your spray goes up or out. If your spray is going out, it means your sliding your board into and through the turn. It will be weak and comprised of drops and you’re pulling on the paddle first. If your spray is going up and instead of drops it’s a slab of water, your using your rail first.
A few notes – A lot of great surfers are intermediate paddle surfers because they don’t understand the paddle advantage and don’t learn the skill.
A majority of folks learning to surf for the first time on a paddle board rely on the paddle and don’t learn to set the rail.
To hold you over until the series starts, here’s a breakdown of Colin McPhillp’s cutback. Notice his rail is set before he uses his paddle to pull the board into the water and accelerate the turn.
What’s up folks! Been a crazy couple days. The Kai Lenny episode of the podcast dropped yesterday and I’m finalizing a couple magazine articles that will be coming out in the next few months. The Progression Project movie should be out here in late June if everything goes to plan…
On to the journal… surf was good this morning, whereas yesterday was 4ft. at 15, today was 3.5 at 14… That difference was enough to take the umf out of the waves. And where the starboard was excelling in the steeper, faster conditions, today I got to see its downside a few times. Slow and sluggish in flat sections and digging rails on drawn out cutbacks. I contend that it’s not a surfboard. Not in the traditional sense. Starboard gets 95% of it right… construction is top level, float for size is the best around, and performance off the tail is as good as it gets… but, when you have to engage that front section of the board on a lazy wave it just doesn’t come around.
After being frustrated on a few cutbacks today, I came home and broke down some footage of Colin McPhillips. He does that cutback better than anyone and I wanted to see if I was missing something. It will make a good journal, so here you go… (more…)