Let’s talk about fear… something that has truly domesticated the human race. Fear is a clever adversary that gathers momentum quickly. It attacks your weakest point, beginning in your head, always. It may express itself as self doubt, anxiety and then it clarifies the situation with reason. Reason is fully equipped and once it takes over your head, it enters your body in the form of weakening muscles and shaking. Already your lungs give shortened breath, the sphincter relaxes and your stomach contents have slithered away like a snake.
There is only one way to face fear – and that is to do exactly that, face it. “You’re never completely confident,” admits Mike Parsons. “You’re shit scared no matter what when a huge wave rolls you. I mean you can train all day every day and when you get nailed by one of those really big waves, you’re totally at the mercy of the waves and vulnerable, so at that point, like anyone else, I try to relax and stay calm, but really hoping for the best.” Since fear begins in the head, this is where we’ll start. Do not concentrate on the consequences. Focus on what you have to do to get that ride of your life. The biggest trick is being able to relax, but this is still an idea until you inspire it with action.
Know the Break. Where are the good ones? Where are the dangerous places to avoid? Is it always breaking in the same spot? Where are the sets breaking? Tick all these boxes and get your line up markers. If the break is too far out to see, watch the way the swells peak up on the reef to help with positioning. Never just jump in and simply follow others – take a bit of time to figure it out yourself. Don’t sit in the lineup too long. Try and get a wave straight away before doubt creeps in.
Know your Equipment. You’re going to go up in size to ride bigger waves. Better to be under-gunned for steep, ledgey waves (like Teahupoo, La Gravier or Shark Island) and over-gunned for big ocean peaks (like Sunset or La Nord).
Lung Capacity: Learning to develop your lung capacity will increase your confidence in pressure situations. Once a day, do this exercise: Hold your breathe for 30 seconds, then breathe normal for 30 seconds. Hold your breathe for 1 minute, then relax for one minute, then hold your breathe for as long as you can. I did it with my (Rip Curl WCT) team before Teahupoo one year and we were all over three minutes after two weeks of doing this.
Don’t Panic: Conserving energy and oxygen when you’re under water is vital. You have to know when to use that energy, and when to relax, you can’t fight the power of the ocean. Only experience will teach you the timing of when to kick to the surface. Mental strength, overcoming an instinct to struggle comes heavily into play here.
Positioning: Look for the biggest part of the wave for big waves over ten feet, as this is your earliest entry point. i.e. the part that breaks first. If it’s a thick reef or beach break, backdoor the thickest section, don’t try to take off on it.
Go! The point comes where you have the decisions to go or not. Practice the former. If you’re actually questioning it, you can surf it. As Mike Parsons says, “A lot of the time you’re doing something wrong you have to wipe out pretty bad to figure out how to do it. But the rewards are there as well – when you challenge yourself a little and then end up getting the ride of your life, there really is no better feeling.”