As you experience more time in the barrel, you develop confidence, an innate feel for the barrel – and what most of us call, tube-sense. This means being comfortable in what is the most critical positioning in surfing. While what we are pulling in to now may be quite advanced, it should not be daunting. Think of it as a lot of simple things done well. As always, if you try and fifigure all the components of this skill, it’s too much to think about and you’ll probably fall. I’m going to break it up into fifive key points to simplify the skill into what’s most important. From there, we need to turn it into a feel. A good way to do this is to pick a word you can associate all these thoughts to. The word I would recommend is commitment.
photos: Alex Laurel
1. Wave selection
First priority is selecting the right wave. Priority in wave selection is simple: it has to barrel. You don’t want to commit to an under the lip take off and have a white water mow you down. And this is where that word commitment comes into it. There is no half-measures here in wave selection, it has to be thick and obviously going to barrel. There can be no doubt. Remember what you probably already know: The scarier the wave looks, the more likely it will barrel – and the best barrels you’ve ever had were the ones you probably thought you weren’t going to make. So there is a certain amount of risktaking here. You have to trust yourself; you know what the wave looks like, pick it early and move into the right spot.
If you have picked the right wave, you know it will barrel, so this should give you the faith in committing to what you are about to do. It usually takes a lot of barrel-time to develop this, but what we are looking for here, is the commitment to take off behind the peak and backdoor it. There is no point in enduring an incredibly difficult takeoff, and then not even get in the tube. Remember, when you position yourself in this part of the wave you move a lot faster than normal, so go even deeper than you’re used to and trust it. Go beyond your comfort zone here. If you go too deep and fall, you will learn more about the feel of the barrel and get it right next time. Look closely at the wave and you’ll notice that if you take off behind the thickest part of the wave, not only are you setting yourself up for a good backdoor barrel, but you are also making the takeoff easier on yourself.
It starts with paddling. You’ve picked the wave and positioned yourself behind the peak. Again… commit! Paddle your arse off and this will give you the luxury of getting into it earlier. If you’re really confident some people, very few, i.e. Bruce Irons, Jamie O’Brien, Kelly and Andy Irons like to take off very late. But it doesn’t stop the paddle speed. Paddle hard and it gives you the luxury of standing up when you want. After that, get up as quick as you can and stay connected to your board. There is an element of free-falling here, so stay as low as you can to stay in control of your board. You don’t want to do too much with your arms as it can pull you away from your centre of gravity, bring your front shoulder around, but keep your arms close to your body. Another good trick, which you can see has been done here, is grabbing the wave with your back arm. This helps you grip to the wave in that free-falling moment when there is not much rail in the water. Stay close to your board and stay close to the wall of the wave… and commit!
See yourself doing all the above before the attempt. Mental rehearsal is a very useful tool. Think it, feel it, do it. You can do this on flat days, even between waves. Visualise and stay connected to the feel so when you practise it, it doesn’t feel so foreign.
People in sports science talk a lot about building blocks and pyramids. Consider the above points the building blocks for what you have to do. The last block on top of the pyramid is faith. Trust yourself, have a go and enjoy the experience.