Taking the Fear Out of Surfing

by Christine Yu on March 9, 2016

If there’s one thing I’ve noticed over the years, it’s that the biggest barrier to surfing success for Las Olas guests isn’t always lack of physical strength or knowledge. It’s often fear and self-doubt.

Whether you’re an anxious never-ever or a seasoned charger, cultivating a quiet mind along with a healthy dose of encouragement not only helps overcome obstacles, but also allows us to focus, advance, and surf with more confidence.

It’s Your Wave is a Las Olas surf-centric workshop focusing on positive mental reinforcement and personal development.

Christine Yu of Love, Life, Surf is a self proclaimed “Nervous Nellie”, but she joined It’s Your Wave recently and shares her lessons learned below.

See you in the waves,


Taking the Fear Out of Surfing

My head breaks above the surface of the water. I look around and see another wave break and whitewater rushing towards me. I take a deep breath and dive under the wave, my head popping up on the other side and the water rolls past me.

Just a few moments prior, I paddled into a wave and fell. My body tumbled under the turbulence of the wave. I let my body go slack, relaxing into the movement around me, trying not to panic and trusting that the weight tugging on my ankle would lead me to my surfboard at the ocean’s surface. But as soon as I found a sense of reassurance, the tension on my leg went slack. My leash broke. The realization that I lost my safety net sent a pit of fear deep in my belly.

Fear and Surfing

This fear is something that I’ve wrestled with from the first time I stepped onto the beach with a surfboard under my arm. I wasn’t afraid of sharks or other critters underwater. I wasn’t afraid of hurting myself. But I was afraid of the ocean itself — the wide expanse of water with no containment like a swimming pool, nothing to hold on to. The waves didn’t wait for you to catch your breath on your paddle out.

In surfing, fear can creep up in so many different areas of the sport — from paddling through the whitewater to launching into a wave, to being a woman in a line-up full of men. Technical skills and tools can help you feel safer in the water. For example, when my leash broke, I knew to dive under the waves and slowly swim my way back to shore. Or, when I take off on a wave too late, I know to pull back and scoot all the way back on my board to prevent myself from going over the falls.

There are also confidence-building mental tools that can help during these moments of fear. I recently had the chance to experience Las Olas’ new class It’s Your Wave, a workshop designed to develop positive mental techniques to quiet the mind during moments of self-doubt — both in the water and in life — in order to focus, advance, and act with more confidence.

It’s one of the first holistic approaches to addressing confidence and fear in the water that I’ve seen.

It’s Your Wave

Two of Las Olas’ instructors walked us through methods that we could use in the water to stay calm and confident. We often think of professional athletes using these techniques in a big game or race. But surfers? Why would we need that?

The instructors asked us to stand with our right arm extended, twisting clockwise at the waist, seeing how far we could bring our arm behind us without moving our feet. They asked us to visualize doing the movement AND imagine that we could move our arm even further. Finally, we repeated the movement again, this time with our eyes closed. When we opened our eyes, every single person in the room had increased their range of motion, just from a simple visualization exercise!

Through visualization, you’re creating new pathways in your brain, and that’s something that our body remembers. You can apply this to surfing, from pop-ups to turtle rolls, improving your technique and confidence so you’ll know what to do when the situation arises.

The Las Olas crew shared other simple techniques, like changing the voices in our head to change from a negative to positive soundtrack. My favorite part came at the end of the session. The instructors read several passages comparing surfing to life. For example, how there are glassy waves after a storm. Or whether you wipe out in the water or in life, the wave always passes and you paddle back out.

These compelling metaphors emphasized how the lessons and tools learned in the water can translate into life — whether at work, home or our relationships with others. Yes, addressing my fear in the water allows me to catch more waves (literally). But knowing I have the tools within me to quiet my mind and overcome mental obstacles that may be holding me back, I am able to stand more confidently on my own two feet on dry land.

Christine Yu, Love, Life, Surf

Christine is a freelance writer, yoga teacher, and surfer who lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two sons. She started her blog Love, Life, Surf after learning to surf and falling immediately in love with the sport. You can visit her at http://www.lovelifesurf.com

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