Overcome Your Fears: Perfect your Surfing

June 17th, 2010 by Luc

Warning: Missing argument 2 for wpdb::prepare(), called in /var/www/wordpress/blog.degree33surfboards.com/wp-content/plugins/sharebar/sharebar.php on line 112 and defined in /var/www/wordpress/blog.degree33surfboards.com/wp-includes/wp-db.php on line 992

Warning: Missing argument 2 for wpdb::prepare(), called in /var/www/wordpress/blog.degree33surfboards.com/wp-content/plugins/sharebar/sharebar.php on line 124 and defined in /var/www/wordpress/blog.degree33surfboards.com/wp-includes/wp-db.php on line 992

surfer charging wavesYour biggest obstacle in becoming a better surfer is you. If you’ve ever found yourself sitting out primo waves because they were a little too daunting and making excuses for yourself afterward, you know exactly what we mean.

There are many fears surrounding surfing but there is one universal truth… action cures fear. Here’s a couple of pointers when it comes to fear and surfing.

As a surfer, your fears can come from a variety of sources: big waves, sharks, reefs, etc. so it should come as no surprise that people are often reluctant to start or push themselves to improve.

Here’s what you didn’t know. Surfing has one of the lowest rates of significant injuries out of any American sport. Surfing weighs in at 6.6 significant injuries per 1,000 hours of COMPETITION LEVEL engagement. Now let’s compare this to other sports:

  • Men’s football: 35.9
  • Men’s wrestling: 26.4
  • Men’s soccer: 18.8
  • Women’s soccer: 16.4
  • Men’s ice hockey: 16.3
  • Women’s gymnastics: 15.2
  • Women’s ice hockey: 12.6
  • Men’s lacrosse: 12.6
  • Men’s basketball: 9.9
  • Women’s basketball: 7.7

If the wave you’re going for is a little bigger than you’re used to, give it a shot anyway. At the very worst, you’ll fall face first into the ocean—not a big deal after you’ve spent hours steeped in your own wetsuit pee.

Granted, wiping out can be a scary experience: burn out on a bigger wave and you’re spinning out of control, and it feels like it’s never safe to stop holding your breath. The nice part about fears is that they’re completely reversible, and it could take as little as a single surf session to banish them entirely.

There are only 3 things you need to remember:

  1. Stay safe. Use the right surfboard for the right wave and never go out into the water without backup.
  2. Never run. Even if you’re getting destroyed set after set, you won’t get over your fears if you give in, give up, and flee from the water.
  3. Terror is bad, fear is good. As long as you’re always surfing just outside your comfort zone, your surfing will improve faster than you could have ever dreamed.

Here’s the things about fear. It doesn’t just leave. The ONLY way to get rid of the fears that come rushing over you when you’re staring down the face of a solid 10 footer is to charge it. Action cures fear! What you will find out is, even if you wipe out, it wasn’t as bad as you thought it was going to be.

For me, the biggest thing I could do was make sure my conditioning was up to par. I was never afraid of the wipe out, it was always everything that followed. The waves that trailed, could I paddle back out, what if my wetsuit got ripped off… just kidding. :) But I think you know what I mean. When you’re exhausted the element of fear can rise because your not sure you have the energy to make it through.

Surfing in waves over head high isn’t a passive sport. If you’re going to be charging bigger waves make sure you’re conditioned for it. If you would like some exercise recommendations leave me a comment below and I’ll put something together.

Now get out there and show the world what you can do.

Give us a little feedback. Whacha think?

42 responses to “Overcome Your Fears: Perfect your Surfing”

  1. Mike Kurtz writes:

    It may be hard to just tell yourself to simply not be afraid . What I do when the waves get big and steep , is narow my focus . Once you start paddleing don’t look back . You will know when your at the top , then look at the spot your front foot is going to be on the board and it will all come together like it does on smaller waves . Stay stoked ,Mike


  2. Sevans writes:

    Any techinques or words for a beginner with a long board…Couple of girls just starting out!


    Luc Stokes Reply:


    Start in the white wash and ride there til your comfortable. Ride in on your stomach a few times and then on your knees a few times (do this as many times as you need). Your goal is to learn how shifting your weight from side to side changes the boards direction. As you feel comfortable move out to where the waves are breaking and then you can repeat the process on the “face” of the waves.

    You will be able to increase the size of the waves you surf as you become familiar with how your board will respond and how the waves change it.




  3. Tom Hibbert writes:

    I,m 57 years old,live in the land of smalL surf,Peter Pan and vicious rip in storm surf (always the best) and I still just keep doing it. Always been a better swimmer than surfer still afraid somtimes, but still always go! My 4 year old daughter is showing some interest so i guess I’ll just keep on going! Thanks for sound words of encouragement to all – great advice – and Have Fun!


  4. Andy writes:

    I’m not afaid of surfing, I’m afaid of drowning.
    I never go into surf that I can’t handle.
    I’m 52 years young and use alot of wisdom.
    Been surfing since I was 16 yrs.
    God has been good to me, and hope to surf another 50yrs.
    Good article!
    God Bless


  5. jason van slyke writes:

    there are many good points that everyone can relate to and i think one of the most important is to be conditioned for surfing.if you are in good shape it definately makes it more fun, and when you are having fun i think your fears go away.life’s to short to not have fun. jason


  6. Ryan kunkel writes:

    I think fear has a little to do with it, but so does repetition and using common sense with wave conditions and size. You can’t paddle out into overhead swells and push yourself if you can’t ride a knee high wave. I say when in doubt take a lesson. I was self taught and recently tool a trip to Hawaii and took a lesson with my fiancé. After surfing for atleast 10 years I still learned something that helped me improve.


  7. Neil writes:

    Very true what you say, just back from mentawais and taking off in clear water seeing coral
    rushing up through the wave was a heavy mental thing. If you don’t think
    about what could happen but focus on where your going to go on the wave and
    how much you’ll enjoy it worked for me


  8. Brian K writes:

    Good advice. The most important part, I think, is to get back up and not accept defeat. Also, challenge yourself every chance you get but know your limitations. Gotta learn to crawl before you can walk! It’s all about PMA! When I’m not in ocean, I am usually in the gym or running with the dog. Always trying to get stronger and increase my endurance. I’d appreciate some workouts or moves to help me further my progress. Peace.


  9. Gerry McMillan writes:

    With regard to fear in surfing: Having surfed for many years (I used to take the stagecoach to the beach!) and in a lot of different places, the one thing that has always concerned me is the surfer with an attitude. Sometimes they’re locals, sometimes not. A new surfer would do well to find a spot where there are, friendly riders, other beginners and, as others have suggested, a place where one can ride the inside without worrying about being cut off or run over (we’ve all seen both). Surfing is a wonderful, enjoyable sport; hopefully, you’ll find a place where others will help you to learn and enjoy.Aloha


  10. Pat Hart writes:

    I think one of the best things after a bad wipeout, hold down, make out session with a reef, etc. is just to immediately get back out there. The more you think about a heavy experience such as the aforementioned the more the fear builds. If you can get back into the line up, cool, if you can catch a wave, great, if not, oh well. At times we all have to walk away from an epic failure of a surf session. It happens, make peace with it and move on. Get back out after a good nights sleep and redeem yourself, you will feel better for it.

    As great as board choice may be since money doesn’t grow on tree’s, boards get damaged/broken, your kids like food and shelter sometimes you have to make a less than ideal board work. In the end you will be a better surfer for it. But use common sense with that one since riding that super cool retro fish, although stylish, is just not a good idea at mavericks.

    Keep charging and remember how lucky we are to surf, the gulf proved how easily it can be taken away.


  11. dave writes:

    A conditioning primer would be nice.


  12. Surfer Steve writes:

    I am always looking for conditioning secrets when it comes to surfing. I am 48 and just started surfing about 7yrs ago. i workout alot and but i don’t really know alot of things about surfing training. i have been working out my whole life. so if you can help that would b great. thanks surfer steve


  13. Laura writes:

    Not in spite of, but BECAUSE I have always had a fear of the ocean, I learned to surf last year… It has been one of the best and most empowering experiences of my life.

    Being able to experience joy and pleasure in an environment that always intimidated me in the past taught me that I am stronger and braver than I thought, and also that sometimes scary things aren’t quite as scary as I feared.

    I have fallen completely in love with surfing, and with the ocean… But I wouldn’t be able to sustain this feeling if I weren’t respectful of my current beginners ability and especially of the water’s power. I never go out in conditions I don’t feel safe in, and I never go out alone.

    For now, riding the whitewater or just going out in baby-sized waves gives me just what I need. I know that eventually I’ll be ready for more, but I’m not in any rush to get there.

    I turned 32 today (!) and next weekend, I’m tackling the next thing on my list: horseback riding. Horses have always intimidated me too!

    Can’t wait to see what this new experience shows me– Good luck to all you newbies out there :)


  14. Les Brownlee writes:

    Just getting back into shape and back on the board. Besides running to get my cardio up, what workout tips do you recommend?


  15. Sean Mahoney writes:

    I’m a fifty year old (the new 30) back into surfing after a serious scare in CA on big waves when I was 19. My wife and I and our three teenage girls are heading to the beach next weekend for family surf lessons and are all very excited. So, I heartily agree with your advice: Action cures fear. A great slogan I live by in business and life is “GOYA”. Translation: Get Off Your Ass.

    Thanks, I love my new long board and can’t wait to try it out next weekend in Rye Beach, NH.

    Sean Mahoney, DC


  16. Mark Klemperer writes:

    I agree with Dave, some conditioning tips would be great. My problem on a heavier day seems to be getting caught in the impact zone on my way out back. After a few turtle rolls I can feel the strength start to fade and that is when the fear comes in, paddle technique spirals downward into a flail followed by another wave on the head, and you know how it can go….


  17. Matt writes:

    Luc, you are right about the fear. As a fairly new surfer (3rd summer), that is 53 years and counting, I have crashed on waves that weren’t all that big, and it does sometimes make you hesitate to catch the next bigger one. I have been going out surfing more lately and getting pointers from my friends about catching the waves at the proper time and doing the correct weight shifts to ride down the waves on my 8′ longboard that I got from you, and I now am finally more comfortable about going after the bigger waves when they get here (DE). I am getting in better shape by surfing more and that is also helping with being able to paddle into a better position to catch the waves. Any conditioning tips that you can give would be helpful. And, let us pray for those affected in the Gulf, that they will be able to get out there surfing again without being covered in oil – Now that’s scary!


  18. Regina lermann writes:

    Great article on fear. First one one is older, in their 40′s
    one worries a bit about how it looks to others that sne older
    chick wants to learning surfing
    W/surfboard or SUP (luckily the popularity and easy acces of SUP boards is making it easier
    to get either back into the sport,)and the mindset of being
    in your 40s or higher, is one does not care enough
    about what others think anymore., life is short and on
    my death bed I don’t want regrets of how
    I was to other people, and not important to me to try something
    I always have out own bucket list… Why not fill
    it. Yeah the body is not able to have recooperation
    of a 20 year old, so it is extra important to do so
    for flexability, increase bone and muscle mass. In our later year
    matabolism slows down. Thus one really has to watch Valorie I’m
    vs calorie out, that simple.
    Now I had a terrible kiteboard instructor that was
    a supposed x/ sEAL from Maui.
    He was attpting to teach students kite boarding
    but it took him 7onths yo finally pass group to level
    one ! Crazy that should be a 3-6 hour, but
    he did not know what he was doing any many
    classes were like mini SEAL water rescue classes.
    Not what I paid and signed up for, I,m a medic and
    x life guard. This guy is a beach predator and “screwed” for lack of better
    word many people. The guy who will within 6 hours or less is giving me reduced lesson
    rate cause he knows the hawaiin? Local kiters hate him.
    The purpose of this long background is he was supposed
    to teach ne how to catchbeave pm my 12 ft heavy oxford
    sup. The air and water freezing, sloppybwaves
    of 3feet. Onshore winds. Has anyone tried to get a
    large bd out there in these conditions,plenty of easier
    1/1.5 wave days, perfect for Sup and surf
    training. That day kicked my ass, I swollowed buckets
    of water.and did not give up although freezing, exhausted
    and scared. He finally let me stop after 3houtd of getting
    hammers. I never gave up, and taught musel through
    videos, books and went out on easier days to start with.
    Fear can be used positively, it makes is more aware of
    our suroundings and it Is a natural high to overcome
    them. And don’t think your to old, condition ones self
    and educate yoursel about what was done wrong
    and how to fix it.
    I come from a strong ski background,
    water angd snow. But my balance and board work initiallly were
    non exhistant. So more weights, swimming and other
    cardio. Paddle bd is so great for balance, steering, foot placement,
    and cord work out Indo bd as well. And yrs at 40 something
    I now lanbd w/kite, and practice around my street w/my regular skate bd
    and will be getting a lonbd to use w/trainer kite in
    empty parking lots where there Is no one there.
    Fear can be used as a teaching tool, make one
    more aware, as long as we don’t run from it
    but use it as a learning experience. Consider fear
    healthy and fight it, the rewards are beyond belief
    when we learn from it and overcome it. It mKes
    life better taisting and rmpowers us. So next
    time identify it, learn how to make that fear
    reduced a bit. Also remembe what we agine on
    our own minds is far more scary tham anything that
    happens in actual reality. Embrace fear learn to
    overcome it….. Nothing feels better than overc
    it . It is a rush? A natural high.
    Thank you
    for your pacience im reading my mini novel
    your dedication to your clients.



  19. Robert writes:

    Now that you brought this all to the surface I am scared Sh___tless. I am almost 50 so charging big waves is not in the cards but I have a 15 and 14 year old boys and their sense of fear is not at all developed. What I try to tell them is look out at the water and assume the conditions are twice as bad as they look. If you are still comfortable going then do it. If not stay out. The ocean is not a computer and it can hold some nasty surprises if you are not ready for them.




  20. Thomas M writes:

    I’m a 55 year old guy who just started surfing three years ago and can ony surf a couple weeks per year;which means I only have about thirty hours of surfing experience.
    My fears are (seamingly) long hold downs that really rock you. Plus, I’m a big guy, about 230lbs but in ok aerobic shape. I find that the frantic paddle to catch the wave sometimes leaves me winded which makes the hold downs harder to endure. A) are there anaerobic excercises that can help? B) does being nervious exacerbate my tension? and C) will I ever be more relaxed out there? Thanks so much. TM


  21. joejoe writes:




  22. Tony Carlson writes:

    I will never forget the first day I stood up and rode whitewater..so amazing, the ride. Repeat this over and over, going to a small broken wave, and paddle for it..ride it to shore..as time goes by, move further out to bigger waves. My first year in Hawaii, after surfing good for 3 years I paddled out in 20-30′ Waimea Bay surf..I was so scared I puked in the channel..I sat there for a half hour before paddling into the lineup which was crowded..and an hour went by before I figured out what to do..I shoulder rode waves with 3-4 others doing the same thing..then a 40′ closeout wave broke all the way across the bay..no escape! I will never forget the 25′ of whitewater charging down on me..of course I lost my board[no leash-thank God!] and swam in for another half hour battling the very swift rip current trying to send me to the rocks on the other side of the bay..I got in finally. winter of 1963-64, with long, heavy boards..I did better at pipeline and rode it successfully all winter long..just be very sure you can handle big surf before you paddle out.and hold your breath for at least 2 minutes while getting knocked around underwater..must swim good too!.sometimes it’s just fun to watch on a big day!


  23. Kristen writes:

    You said to make sure you use the right size board…now I’m a 21 year old girl who is 5’0 tall and only 85 pounds…what size board should I ride?
    And I’m terrified, this article has helped me a lot, I’m more stoked now than ever! By reading this, I feel determined :)


    Luc Stokes Reply:


    What is your skill level?



  24. Blair writes:

    My fear has never been charging waves. I get rolled in the soup and keep paddling out there. My fear is that which lurks under the water. Sometimes I get paralyzed by the thought that a shark is lurking near by. This is generally an irrational thought. I live 100 miles from viable surf so getting to paddle out is an opportunity I never want to turn down. I found that education is the only way to address this fear. I follow statistics, have studied the behavioral research about sharks’ feeding habits. I don’t go out alone. This works to a point but I am always cautious and I think it detracts from the connection I feel with the ocean. Does anybody have any advice? I will not give up surfing but I would love to be free of this restrictive thought pattern. Thanks


  25. Greeley writes:

    Blair, FWIW, my homebreak is Bolinas–well inside the ‘red triangle’ of NoCal (ruled by Great White Sharks) and known for having ‘live’ water (lots of critters besides sharks.)

    I don’t know if it helps put things into perspective but you should see this place on weekends–lots of people in the water on longboards, shorties, SUP, etc., inside and outside, even surf camps for kids. One of the safest beaches in NoCal–no joke.

    Some of the long-time locals have spotted a fin outside every now and then, and others talk story about getting ‘bumped’ (there’s universal agreement that the bump stories involve seals.) Others like the bragging rights of surfing in a place known for being sharky, and third-hand stories get out there that don’t have much to do with reality.

    Despite all that, it’s seems pretty clear (out here at least) that sharks are actually kinda smart–they want seals, not surfers, and they can tell the difference. If anything, you want to stay away from groups of seals, since they are the snack the shark is looking for.

    I know what you mean about sitting there wondering about whats cruising underneath you while you sit out there dangling your legs, but it only lasts until you see an outside coming in–once you start paddling, the idle thoughts go poof! and the only thing is catching the wave (or getting out of the way.)

    Keep at it, good luck, and try to remember that you’re more likely to get hurt at home changing a lightbulb or getting into the bathtub than getting bitten by a shark. :)


  26. Sunni D writes:

    Could you hook me up with some conditioning exercises? Thanks. :)


  27. Ghaleb writes:

    Fear is only there to help you pay attention to safety and advance yourself gradually rather than abruptly such that you try yourself to comfort and skill at every level before you advance to the next. No short cuts – unless you have a way of going in without having to paddle endlessly.
    I agree that surfing is one of the safest sports out there, and that’s why the beach is my GYM.
    By the way, Luc and Holly, thank you for the board as it is so great!


  28. nico writes:

    Mental and physical preparation are key when taking on challenging surf. Visualize what you want, be conditioned and always show respect to the surf.


  29. Chuck Davis writes:

    I don’t think i ever approached surfing for any reason but the pleasure. It’s at least mildly addictive; when its time to move up, you’ll know. He’s right, after about two waves get by that ya really wanted, you will know that its time to “go for it”. But, I recommend a little caution. I think its okay to stay in a comfort zone. Thats why I like to surf, and I dont care about the competitive aspect of it. Find some people who are at the same skill level, rip it up, and enjoy!
    I am 47, and I surfed about 4 years ago for the first time.
    I just think its excellent to see others enjoying the rush, regardless of skill level.


  30. Steve R writes:

    Could you please seng some conditioning exercises I am 53 and starting adult surfcamp in a couple of weeks.



  31. Lamont Bolinger writes:

    well done.


  32. tim writes:

    im trying to increase my condition level. This is what Ive been doing lately i will run from time to time. and every over or sometime every night i do a set or two of push-ups and use my stretch workout bands for a upper body workout. i also try and use my indo board as often as possible to increase my core.

    Do u have any suggestions on other workout routines. and what else i can do to increase my surfing condition?

    or is there a better routine out there that im un-aware of?


    Luc Stokes Reply:

    @tim – Your best cross trainer that I have seen is swimming. It uses similar muscles, and conditions your lungs appropriately too.


  33. justen writes:

    great one :) i started surfing two weeks ago..but im still scared shitless of the big waves where i stay…theyre about as high as my shoulder and im 5 ft 8
    as a fifteen year old im always on the web in the sea or on my skateboard but how do i get mentally pumped in order to take that fear away….
    on a skateboard i have no pproblem coming up on a ten set of stairs and popping the hell out of them but when it comes to a five foot face i shit myself….


  34. jim c writes:

    Just came back from a vacation in Oahu,HI. My physically fit wife wanted to try surfing so I took her out – I’m not the best instructor I guess. Got her a pro local the next day and this improved her experience a lot. We surfed 7 of 10 days – she was killing me (I -not so physically fit!).

    At 50 and 5 years of not surfing I realized how out of shape I was. Fitness is very improtant for sure. My grandaughter (7) has shown an interest so I have her paddling one of my small gun boards in the pool with a bungee cord tied to it – she tries to keep the bungee tight – excellent training tool if you have a board and a pool. Also sitting, turning the board sitting for a set up, and practicing the pop up on an old board will get you more waves. I have always had an old skateboard deck we set on a pipe and balance on (be prepared to fall a few times)- maybe that will help some of you too.

    For me concering fear is a function of knowing my limits – how tired I am and that the ocean is a realively safe place if you respect it. If you fear the creatures living in it go diving or snorkeling and get familiar with the environment under the surface – it will give you peace of mind. RELAX! If you are uptight you burn more oxygen, you fall more and paddling wears you out faster.

    Don’t go out to be cool, go out to have fun. If you get into crowds and bigger waves – move off to the shoulders and try catching a few or work the whitewater until you get comfortable. The more experienced surfers will appreciate it – you will have more fun and a better overall experience. My wife was getting 10ft waves by the time we left and said she never was scared. The locals even let us line up on some peaks as they watched her progress – contrary to the rumors – HI was one of the cooler places to surf- CA has more territory jerks for sure.

    You guys have a REAL website and I plan on getting the wife a board and maybe a new one for myself. If any of you get to do this with your wife or kids you will never regret it. Take it slow and enjoy the process of getting better – little things matter – mostly how good you will feel at the end of your session.

    Like to plug for some new friends in Waikiki if any of you are going there: Best surf shop – Quality boards QBHawii.com – great rental $$ and access – Jason 808-947-7307. Super cool local instructor – Ivan 808-371-9504 beginner to pro lessons – he provides board and transport from hotel – super cool guy!. Best breakfast – Eggs and Things. Best local bar – Arnold’s – right next to Eggs and things – convenient ya!

    Look forward to meeting you guys in person.



  35. Jake writes:

    I think my biggest fear is looking like an idiot haha


    Luc Stokes Reply:

    Jake- Only one way to not look like an idiot… time in the water. :) Everyone looks like an idiot in the beginning. Ask the locals questions, try to be as courteous as possible, and follow basic etiquette rules, and people will help you out.


  36. Keliani Vasco writes:

    Yea I know the feeling when you keep on getting pounded on and you want to turn back and run, but its better to keep on going at it until you overcome your fear or whatever just believe in yourself and pray to god that you will be safe :D


  37. T.J. writes:

    I know the feeling of being scared. Many years ago, while surfing Point Arena before it became trashed, I dropped down on a huge wave that ate me up. My leash cut the rail all the way to the stringer from the sheer power, and I was tossed up onto a reef. I pulled a shoulder muscle and was pounded back to shore where I sat and gathered my wits. I was ready to high tail it back, but I sat and stared at the empty sets rolling in. Finally, I simply decided I was not going to run, and paddled back out. I waited for a clean wave, started paddling, and found myself dropping into a huge wall. The board headed down, and I came up, dug back into the face and set into one of the most perfect tubes I could imagine. The reef passed by below me, a seal was in the wave next to me, and the bullwhip kelp streamed under me. I blasted out and made a few cutbacks and rode it to shore. It was the best wave I had surfed in the short time I was surfing, and it allowed me to move forward.

    Now, over thirty years since, I find myself a little scared as I return to surfing. I think, though, what really scares me is not having someone to surf with. Living inland, I have to drive ten hours to the Oregon and California coasts and find myself again. We’ll see how it all goes … new Ultimate arrives here next Tuesday, and I am preparing to head to that cold coast for a week to try and find my way back.


  38. The More Waves You Go For The More You’ll Catch | Riding the Waves of Personal Development writes:

    [...] I was hoping for.  I even found a blog post that Luc stokes at degree 33 surfboards wrote  about overcoming fear and perfecting your surfing (maybe they’ll read this and do a sponsored series on the Skool of Life).  With my new found [...]

Leave a reply