Fear in the surf and how to deal with it

Let’s be honest with ourselves: Every surfer is afraid sometimes. It’s the naked truth. And it is absolutely not something to be ashamed of. What matters is not that you have no fear – that would be simply dangerous and it’s plain impossible. As humans, our instincts work to remind us to stay out of mortal danger. And that’s a good thing!

As surfer girls, we have different fears than male surfers, of course. But they have their own fears, too. We need to admit that to ourselves – and it is also our responsibility to make it understood by fellow surfers (male and female). They cannot know how you feel, so be courageous and say honestly if you are afraid or struggling. Asking for help or support can make all the difference!  You might go from being afraid to having the best session of your life! Fear can hold us back from doing what we really want. So the goal is to embrace the fear – and beat it!

My first lesson of Fear & Courage: Balangan Beach 2013

This one day I was surfing 6 foot Balangan with my boyfriend, almost five years ago. It was during my first stay in Bali and we had just been together for a few weeks. We met at the surfcamp where I was staying for four weeks. He happens to be an Indonesian pro surfer and instructor, so his abilities are wayyy beyond mine. Nevertheless, he decided to take ‘kook-me’ out at low-tide, 6 foot Balangan that day. Not because he is crazy, but because he believed in me. He knew that I could make it. Unfortunately, I did not believe it.

At that time, I didn’t realize that I was ready. I thought he had lost his mind for taking me out in those conditions. What was I doing out there? An intermediate beginner on a fat 6’1 DHD, my first ever short board, which I was just learning to ride. I was scared out of my mind and angry with him – because of my own fear. I was sitting on the shoulder of those huge- and scary-looking sets rolling through. All I could think was: “How the fuck am I gonna get back to the beach!?”

However, I decided to trust my boyfriend and the years of experience in teaching and competitions under his belt. He called me into one of the first waves of yet another huge set that came rolling into the bay. I ignored my internal critic for just that moment and paddled as hard as I could –without really knowing what I was doing, but the trust that he knew exactly what was good for me. I took off and rode down the face of that big wave for a few, blissful milliseconds…and then I fell. It was quite a long hold-down and I went in after that.

But when we checked our photos with the surf photographer at the beach, I was filled with pride! I had taken off on a wave that I would never have imagined to be able to ride! This experience flicked a switch for me: I learnt that I could do much more than I allowed myself to believe. This has helped me in every surf since. I learnt that my physical limits lie way beyond my mental limits. It’s all in the head! If you believe you can do it, you will succeed. Now, every time I catch myself paddling for a wave with so much as a hint of doubt, I say to myself: “YOU CAN DO IT.” And I will. I hope this article can help you to conquer your fears, too!

Here are some steps you can take to conquer your fears:

  1. Get to know yourself better. Be honest with yourself. Admit your fears.
  2. Know your limits, but don’t let them hold you back. Push them consciously and wisely.
  3. Set yourself goals. Challenge yourself and conquer your fear by addressing it.
  4. Be self-critical but confident at the same time. “Is it true that I can’t make that wave or am I being a chicken? – Is that wave ok or beyond my abilities? – Of course I can make that!”
  5. Always have fun. Admit to yourself if something is beyond your abilities, or simply not worth it. Surfing is all about having FUN! If that’s not the case in one particular session, paddle in – it’s not worth it if it’s not fun. Forcing yourself might even crack your hard-earned confidence.
  6. Watch female idols. There are some incredibly brave women out there, pushing the boundaries of female surfing. Watch them and be inspired to reach for the stars. If they can do it, you can, too!

Inspiring films to watch

Bethany Hamilton: “Soul Surfer” The film that describes her story from a promising grommet, through losing her arm in a horrific shark attack, months of pain and training, to rising as one of the brightest shining stars on the surfer girls’ sky! Super inspiring!

Paige Alms: “The Wave I Ride” Sit and watch in awe – this epic movie about big wave surfer Paige Alms and others will make you hold your breath. These women are pushing the boundaries. They are such inspiring legends of our sport – watch and learn!

Laura Enever: “I am Laura” Watch how Laura Enever has faced and dealt with some serious challenges in her career. See how she deals with pressure, fear and other problems that go along with surfing. Laura, you rock!

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