This article has been updated so feel free to visit 5 ways to improve your surfing forever.
Everyone would like to become a better surfer, from world champions like Mick Fanning to frothed-up groms, from legrope-dragging backpackers at surf school to the old mal-rider who lives down the street.
Being a better surfer is not necessarily about high performance manoeuvres: it’s more about being in optimal shape both mentally and physically so that you can enhance your surfing experience and get the most from the time you spend in the water.
This article lists five simple things you can integrate into your life and lifestyle that will undoubtedly help improve your surfing and, most likely, a whole lot more.
1) Go forth and alkalise.
In modern society more and more of us have an acidic pH balance in our bodies. This is a result of our pre-packaged, sugary, preserved and refined food supply. Acidification causes our organs to store a layer of protective fat tissue around them, draining energy and leaving us feeling generally flat. In short, it’s not natural and it’s not good. What we need to do is return to a more natural pH-neutral state or become slightly alkaline, because being alkaline has innumerable benefits including weight loss, increased stamina and better immunity.
How do you do it?
Easy – it’s all about your diet. Cut out or reduce foods such as alcohol, coffee, fast foods (pretty much anything you know is bad anyway) and increase consumption of foods such as avocado, asparagus, olives (most green veggies and raw foods). Check out Mind Body Green’s Alkaline Food Chart for a useful colour-coded guide.
You can also buy some Diagnostic Ph Test Strips (wee on bits of paper which change colour – fun!) from Amazon or your pharmacy.
If you want to take being alkaline to the next level try supplementing your diet with wheat or barley grass. They are ‘superfoods’ that have an instantly alkalising effect on your body and can provide an awesome starting point towards a new, healthier you. Personally I’ve been on the alkaline diet for three months and, besides still thinking barley grass tastes like pond scum, have never felt better. Exercising is easier, there’s a definite increase in energy and a lot of niggling ailments have disappeared (sans imaginary friends). By the way I do still go on semi-regular benders, drink coffee and eat Swedish meatballs. It’s all about moderation.
2) Get your Swiss balls out.
Mmmm Swiss balls, Swedish meatballs, Scandinavian girls… I digress. See how easy it is to lose focus? The beauty of working out with a Swiss (a.k.a. fitness) ball is that you’re constantly activating your core, which is the base of your body’s strength. A strong core = a strong body. You’re also simultaneously practising your balance and tuning all those tiny secondary muscles and ligaments that are so important when performing the twisting, turning, weight-shifting motions we use to direct our boards across a wave. Also, ball workouts feel a whole lot less like you’re bodybuilding, which I think is a good thing (I’m not into strip lighting and small rooms filled with large men).
How do you do it?
Start off with some kneeling – slowly roll yourself onto the ball and get yourself into an upright kneeling position. If you’ve not done this before focus on one object or area of the carpet – it will help you establish your balance. Then hold the position for as long as you can. Repeat. Do it all day if you like. Follow up with some dips (sit in front of the ball and push yourself upwards using your triceps), pump out some push-ups with your feet up on the ball, do some back flexing. It’s all good. One day you might even be like Mick and stand on your ball before your next heat. Check out this funky Red… I mean Youtube video for some quick exercise demonstrations.
Tip: If you’re going to buy a ball go for a good quality one. The cheap ones, like most cheap things in life, tend to provide a deflatory experience.
3) Mind over matter.
This point has two distinct sections. Firstly you need to decide on what you want – i.e. set goals – and, secondly, you need to sharpen your focus.
a) Set yourself some goals.
So many of us drift through life with little or no focus, often wondering how less talented people achieve so much. The thing is, we all have the same number of hours in a day – some people just choose to set themselves goals and then break them into bite-sized chunks which they tick off the list relentlessly until the goal is reached. Don’t get me wrong, I’m as relaxed as the next guy but I do think that having some focus is a good thing. An example: You dream about spending December on the north shore of Hawaii so much that you would give your best mate’s left testicle to get there. It’s probably more achievable (with a whole lot less sadism) than you think. Let’s calculate the cost of the trip then divide that by the number of weeks remaining in the year. For example $3000 / 30 weeks = $100 per week. Much easier to save a hundred bucks a week than it is to stumble across three grand or guillotine your bestie’s mini-me.
Alternatively you may want to do an air reverse by August. What will enable you to get there? Practise, obviously, but also access to good, consistent waves. So maybe a trip to Snapper or D-bah for two weeks is a good idea (not that you will necessarily get more waves – God knows I didn’t), or schedule some training sessions with an instructor. But formulate a plan, then break it down, then get started. By having an objective you can only improve and progress – and if you don’t at least you’ve tried. The only things in life worth regretting are those that you never tried.
b) Sharpen your focus.
Now if the idea of meditation makes you want to click straight off this article and read about the footy or Slater’s new shoes then maybe skip to the next point. But I reckon have an open mind… literally. Meditation can mean anything from setting aside five minutes in the morning or evening for quiet time by yourself (not “special-time”, thanks) to full-blown hour-long zen sessions in the Lotus position. It’s really up to you. But the consensus among people who regularly meditate is that it frees your mind to focus on what is important. It’s totally non-religious, it’s free and there’s not a whole lot to lose by trying.
4) Limber up, because flexi = sexy.
Stretching is so obvious, so boring and yet so incredibly beneficial to us surfers. You don’t have to re-enact Yoga for Surfers 6 on the beach before every session (in fact we’d prefer it if you didn’t) but lengthening your muscles and working towards greater flexibility is a no-brainer.
5) Constant improvement
Life is not static and surfing, by nature, is about as fluid as you can get. We’re always moving towards the shore, immersed in the moment, drawing lines on the ocean’s surface that come from a combination of our imaginations, our perceived limitations and moment-to-moment reactions. But you can improve your surfing no matter what your skill or desire level may be. Who wouldn’t want to iron out their turns to be more stylish, or shift more water through a hack, or put ten on the nose instead of five? I’m pretty sure we all aspire to something, which is part of the magic that hooks us into surfing and makes it a lifelong pursuit.
What is your dream move? What would you like to do better? Get a piece of paper and write it down. Maybe page through a surf mag and tear out a picture of someone doing it. Now, the key over the next three weeks (and beyond) is to get out there and practise. Immerse yourself in the idea of it, visualise the sensations involved in completing it and then practise, practise and practise some more. Make it a goal and then break it down into baby-steps. No matter how far away it seems, if you constantly try you will get there. And if you don’t you’ll have a damn lot of fun trying. I don’t think many people get to the end of their lives and wish they spent less time surfing.
I’ll never forget trying to master a 360. That thing eluded me for way too long but I tried and tried, sometimes messing up perfectly good waves and growling like a disgraced merman beneath the water in frustration. But one fine day I pressed lightly on the toe-side rail, began spinning, turned to face the shore and sure enough it happened, baby. I nearly high-fived the German swimmer who popped up and gave me a big, toothy grin. “Cool!” he said. Das vas verrry cool, indeed.
Two things before you go and become a grass munching, ball balancing, ravenous goal-setter. Firstly, life is all about moderation and being too extreme in anything, as far as I’m concerned, can be bad news. It can also lead to moments of elation and extreme bliss… It’s about finding a comfortable balance for you – and remembering everyone is different so judge yourself kindly. Secondly – I am not a doctor, personal trainer or yogi who lives atop a hill (I do live on a cliff but I am certainly not yet enlightened). So if you are going to undertake a massive dietary change, exercise routine or whatever – as boring as it sounds – maybe go and have a chat with someone who cares ;). But most of all listen to your body – it knows what is best for you. This article is just a guide based on my limited and often misguided experiences on our little blue planet and if it helps someone out there then I’ll be very happy. Good luck.
If you enjoyed this article you may like my book, Surfing Life Waves. It made it very briefly to number 3 on the Amazon bestseller list for Philosophy and features loads of pretty pictures.