Now, let’s be real. The thought of surfing bigger waves can be as intimidating as it is exciting. There’s that little voice in your head questioning,
“Am I ready for this?” or “What if I wipe out?”
We’ve all been there, standing at the shoreline, watching the giant waves, feeling a mix of awe and apprehension. But here’s the thing – every surfer, from the pros to the weekend warriors, has felt that same pulse of adrenaline mixed with a twinge of fear. It’s all part of the journey.
In this guide, I’ll run you through exactly how to start surfing bigger waves.
Maybe you’re looking to step up from those two-footers to something that really gets your blood pumping, or you’re dreaming of carving up waves that tower overhead.
I’m talking about real, practical advice for everyday surfers – not just the extremists and the thrill-seekers, but for people like you and me who want to push their limits.
How to Surf Bigger Waves – Quick Overview
|Expand Comfort Zone
|Gradually surf slightly larger waves to build confidence and skill.
|Practice deep breathing exercises regularly for stress management and underwater endurance.
|Regularly visualize riding big waves and handling challenging situations.
|Focus on surf-specific strength, cardio, and swimming exercises.
|Observe and understand wave patterns for better wave selection and timing.
|Invest in a suitable big wave board and a sturdy leash for larger waves.
|Practice maneuvers like bottom turns and cutbacks on smaller waves.
|Learn from Experts
|Seek advice from experienced surfers and consider professional coaching.
|Regularly check and maintain your surfboard and gear.
|Keep up with the latest in surf techniques, safety, and equipment, and engage with the surfing community.
Managing Surfing Anxiety: Overcoming Fear of Bigger Waves
Pic of Winkipop, next to Bells Beach, Victoria, Australia. Such a fast, fun wave, one spot that forced me to face my fear of bigger waves.
Expanding Your Comfort Zone Gradually:
The comfort zone theory in surfing suggests that you should gradually push your boundaries. Start by surfing waves slightly larger than what you’re used to and incrementally increase the size as your confidence grows.
This gradual approach helps your mind and body adapt to new challenges without overwhelming fear.
Creating a Positive Feedback Loop:
Fear in surfing is often a result of a negative feedback loop between your mind, body, and breath. To break this cycle, focus on creating a positive loop.
For instance, when you visualise successfully navigating a big wave or handling a wipeout calmly, you send reassuring signals to your brain. This visualisation helps reduce panic and maintain a clear head while surfing.
Thanks to Apnea Survival Australia for the image.
Breath Control Techniques:
Your breath is a powerful tool to regulate your body’s response to stress. Practice deep, controlled breathing exercises regularly on land and while waiting for waves in the water.
Deep breathing helps activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which calms the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response. This practice can be beneficial when paddling out and preparing to face larger waves.
Visualisation and Mental Rehearsal:
Spend time visualising different scenarios you might encounter in big-wave surfing. Imagine yourself getting caught inside on a big set, and picture yourself staying calm and composed when getting held underwater.
This mental rehearsal can prepare you mentally and emotionally for real-life situations, reducing panic and fear when they actually occur.
Physical Preparedness and Training:
Being physically prepared can significantly reduce fear. Engage in regular fitness and conditioning exercises that are specific to surfing. Strong swimming skills, for instance, can boost your confidence in handling big waves and potential wipeouts.
Mindfulness and Present Moment Focus:
Practice mindfulness to stay present and focused. Mindfulness can be achieved through meditation, yoga, or quiet time in nature. Being in the present moment helps reduce anxiety about future waves or past wipeouts.
Learning from Each Experience:
Every time you have surfed, take time to reflect on your experiences. What did you learn? How did you handle fear? This reflection turns each surfing session into a learning experience, gradually building your confidence and reducing fear.
Enroll in Surf Apnea Courses for Big Wave Surfing
As a surf apnea instructor, I’ve experienced the transformative power of these courses in overcoming the fear of big surf. Through teaching and practising surf apnea, I’ve developed a deeper understanding of breath control and its impact on mental and emotional states while surfing.
This journey has enhanced my physical capabilities and significantly bolstered my own ability, confidence and composure in the face of towering waves.
Sharing this knowledge with others, I’ve seen firsthand how surfers using apnea training can turn apprehension into empowerment, making it essential for surfers and anyone looking to conquer their fears and thrive in big-wave surfing.
If you’re looking for apnea courses I have reviewed the best in my article on surf apnea training – great to read if you’re starting at the beginning of your breath-hold journey.
Transitioning to Big Wave Surfing
Leaping big wave surfing requires more than just physical readiness; it also involves a mental shift. It’s about building a foundation of respect for the ocean’s might and understanding the unique dynamics of larger waves.
This transition is a gradual process, where you incrementally increase the size of the waves you tackle, allowing your skills, confidence, and understanding of huge wave and surfing dynamics to grow in tandem with bigger surf too.
Equipment and Technique for Big Wave Surfers
Image courtesy of ZigZag
Choosing the Right Gear for Bigger Waves
When it comes to big wave surfing, having the right equipment is essential. Your regular shortboard won’t cut it here, you will need to increase your board size.
Big wave boards, often called “guns” or “rhino chasers,” are designed to be longer, more robust, and with just the right buoyancy to handle large waves’ power.
These surfboards provide the speed and stability needed to paddle into bigger, heavier waves and maintain control at high speeds.
Also, consider investing in a quality wetsuit for thermal protection and a specially designed big wave leash to withstand the force of larger waves.
Mastering Big Wave Techniques
Paddling into Big Waves: To effectively paddle into big waves, you need to build your upper body strength and endurance. Incorporate exercises like swimming, rowing, or specific gym workouts focusing on your arms, shoulders, and back.
Practice paddling in a variety of conditions to adapt to different wave behaviours. Timing is crucial; watch for the wave’s peak and start paddling early with strong, deep strokes to match the speed of the biggest wave around.
If you are looking to improve your paddling power I have a great article on that here.
Perfecting Your Positioning: Positioning is critical in big wave surfing. Spend time observing the waves before entering the water. Look for patterns in how the waves break and identify the ideal take-off spot.
Stay aware of your surroundings and other surfers to maintain a safe and strategic position. Remember, the right place is often a moving target, so stay flexible, prepared, and ready to adjust. A great way to get your timing right is to try body surfing. It’s fun and easy, and you’ll learn a lot about which waves to catch. I have an article on how to get started with hand planes here.
Executing the Takeoff: The takeoff on a big wave is more vertical and faster than on smaller waves. Practice quick pop-ups to get to your feet swiftly. Lower your centre of gravity as soon as you stand up to maintain balance.
Keep an eye on the wave’s line and your intended path, not on your feet. Confidence, speed and commitment in your takeoff are key when riding waves – hesitation can lead to a wipeout.
Navigating the Drop and the Ride
- Handling the Drop: The drop on a big wave is the most adrenaline-pumping part. Practice on smaller waves, gradually increasing the size as you become more comfortable.Focus on your stance – your feet should be firmly planted, and your knees should be slightly bent for better shock absorption. Keep your weight forward to prevent the tail from catching and throwing you off balance.
- Riding the Wave: Once you’ve successfully navigated the drop, it’s time to ride the wave. Use subtle weight shifts to steer your board. Look in the direction you want to go – your body tends to follow your gaze. Practice carving on smaller waves; these skills translate to big-wave surfing. Stay alert and responsive to the wave’s changes; big waves can shift and change shape quickly.
Remember, big wave surfing is as much about mental preparation as it is about physical skills.
Advanced Preparation for Big Waves
Mark Mathews riding Ours. Image by Sean Doherty Dec 9, 2017
Enhancing Physical Fitness and Endurance
- Targeted Strength Training: Focus on exercises that build core strength, leg power, and upper body endurance.Activities like squats, deadlifts, and planks are crucial for maintaining stability and balance on big waves. Incorporate paddle-specific exercises to improve your paddling power and endurance.
- Cardiovascular Conditioning: High-intensity interval training (HIIT) can be particularly effective for surfers.It mimics the high-energy bursts needed for paddling into big waves and allows for quick recovery. Activities like sprinting, cycling, or swimming can significantly boost your cardiovascular health.
Advanced Surfing Skills Development
- Wave Reading and Timing: Spend time studying wave patterns and behaviours. Understanding how different swells, tides, and winds affect wave formation will enhance your ability to choose the right wave and the right moment to paddle into it.
- Maneuvering Techniques: Practice advanced maneuvers on smaller waves. Techniques like bottom turns, cutbacks, and snaps are foundational skills that you’ll need to navigate and ride big waves effectively.
Mental Toughness and Resilience
- Stress Tolerance Training: Engage in activities that challenge your stress tolerance in a controlled environment.This could include cold water immersion, breath-hold exercises, or mental challenges like solving complex problems under time pressure.
- Emotional Regulation: Develop techniques to manage emotions, especially in high-pressure situations.Journaling, meditation, or engaging in a hobby can help maintain a balanced emotional state.
Safety and Risk Management
- Understanding Ocean Conditions: Educate yourself about local oceanography, including rip currents, reefs, and marine life. Knowledge of these elements is crucial for safety in big-wave surfing.
- Emergency Response Skills: Learn basic first aid, CPR, and rescue techniques. Knowing how to respond in an emergency, whether for yourself or others, is invaluable.
- Equipment Check and Maintenance: Regularly inspect your surfboard, leash, and other gear for any signs of wear or damage. Make sure that your equipment is always in top condition to handle the demands of big-wave surfing.
Stress Management in Big Wave Surfing: Specialized Training Techniques
Surf Apnea Training:
Surf apnea training focuses on improving your breath-hold ability, a crucial skill for big wave surfing where long hold-downs under the water can occur.
This training involves exercises both in and out of the water, teaching you to manage your breath efficiently, increase lung capacity, and stay calm under pressure.
Regular practice can significantly enhance your ability to handle intense situations where oxygen is scarce.
- CO2 Tolerance Training: Increasing your body’s tolerance to carbon dioxide is vital in big wave surfing. High CO2 levels in the blood trigger the urge to breathe. Training to tolerate higher levels of CO2 can extend your breath-hold time and reduce panic during hold-downs. Simple exercises like controlled breath-holding and specific breathing patterns can gradually increase your CO2 tolerance. I have a great training program for CO2 tolerance training in this article here.
- High Altitude Training: While not directly related to surfing, high altitude training can benefit big wave surfers. Training at high altitudes, with lower oxygen levels, forces your body to adapt by enhancing lung efficiency and increasing red blood cell count. This adaptation can improve overall endurance and stamina, which is essential for paddling into and surfing big waves.
Incorporating these specialised training techniques into your routine can significantly improve your stress management skills in big-wave surfing. They enhance your physical capabilities and boost your mental resilience, preparing you to face the challenges of surfing large and powerful waves with confidence.
Please remember that these techniques should be practised gradually and, ideally, under the guidance of a trained professional to ensure safety and effectiveness.
Focusing on these areas’ll equip you with the necessary skills, knowledge, and mindset to tackle big wave surfing more effectively and safely.
Learning and Progression in Big Wave Surfing
How Long Does It Take to Learn to Surf Bigger Waves?
- Individual Learning Curve: The time it takes to learn to surf bigger waves varies greatly among individuals. Factors like previous surfing experience, physical fitness, mental resilience, and frequency of practice play significant roles.For some, it might take a few months of dedicated practice, while for others, it could be a year or more.
- Consistent Practice and Exposure: Regularly surfing in varying conditions is crucial. The more time you spend in the water, the quicker you adapt to bigger waves.Consistency is key – even if it means starting with small waves and gradually increasing their size.
- Quality Coaching and Feedback: Working with a surf coach or an experienced big wave surfer can accelerate your learning. They can provide personalised feedback, correct your technique, and offer valuable insights you might overlook.
Continuous Improvement: Tips and Strategies for Progress
- Setting Realistic Goals: Set achievable, incremental goals for yourself. This could be as simple as catching a slightly bigger wave than last time or improving a specific aspect of your technique. Achieving these small goals will boost your confidence and motivate you to push your limits.
- Video Analysis: Record your surfing sessions and analyse them. Watching yourself can reveal much about your technique, positioning, and timing. Identify areas for improvement and work on them during your next sessions.
- Cross-Training for Surfing: Engage in activities that complement your surfing. Yoga can improve your flexibility and balance, skateboarding can enhance your board skills, and swimming can boost your paddling strength and endurance.
- Mental Conditioning: Incorporate mental training into your routine. Visualisation techniques, where you imagine yourself successfully surfing bigger waves, can be particularly effective. This mental rehearsal can help build confidence and reduce anxiety.
- Learning from Mistakes: Embrace mistakes as learning opportunities. Analyse what went wrong in a wipeout or a missed wave and use that knowledge to improve. Remember, every mistake is a step towards becoming a better surfer.
- Staying Informed and Updated: Keep up with the latest in surf equipment, techniques, and safety. The surfing world constantly evolves, and staying informed can give you an edge in your progression.
- Community Engagement: Become part of the surfing community. Interacting with other surfers can provide support, motivation, and valuable tips. Sharing experiences and challenges with like-minded individuals can be incredibly rewarding.
In conclusion, learning to surf bigger waves is a journey unique to each individual, filled with personal challenges and triumphs.
By maintaining a consistent practice schedule, seeking continuous improvement, and embracing successes and failures, you’ll steadily progress in the exhilarating world of big wave surfing.
Remember, the surf journey is as important as the destination, so enjoy every moment in the water.
And if you’re ever in doubt, just remember the words of legendary surfer Laird Hamilton: “The biggest sin in the world would be if I lost my love for the ocean.”
So, what’s your next wave going to be? Are you ready to paddle out and meet it? The ocean awaits, and so does your next big adventure in surfing.
FAQs on Big Wave Surfing
- How do surfers get on big waves?
- Surfers paddle into big waves using strong, deep strokes, matching the wave’s speed. For exceptionally large waves, they may use a jet ski tow-in to catch the wave at the right moment.
- How do you train for big wave surfing?
- Training involves physical conditioning (strength, endurance, flexibility), surfer breath training for improved breath-hold, and mental preparation to manage surf anxiety. Regular practice in varying wave conditions and learning from experienced surfers are also key.
- How do I get more waves surfing?
- Improve your paddling strength and technique, understand wave patterns for better positioning, and develop a strategy for wave selection. Being physically fit and mentally alert helps in catching more waves.
- What creates bigger waves?
- Larger waves are typically created by strong winds at sea, especially over long distances (fetch). Storms and seismic activities can also generate significant swells that result in bigger waves.
- Where can I surf the largest waves?
- Notable spots include Nazaré in Portugal, Jaws in Maui, Hawaii, Mavericks in California, and Teahupo’o in Tahiti. These locations are known for consistently producing some of the largest surfable waves.
- Where is the big surfing in Hawaii?
- In Hawaii, the most famous big wave surfing spot is Jaws (Peahi) on the north shore of Maui. Other notable spots include Waimea Bay and Pipeline on the North Shore of Oahu.