Maya Gabeira at Nazaré, Photo by Hugo Silva

The definition of fear is to be afraid of someone or something likely to be dangerous, painful or harmful. Although surfing can be dangerous at times, it shouldn’t be something you fear. Having spent seven years as a surf coach and 14 years as a surfer, I’m going to share a few of the ways I’ve overcome my own fear in the waves. 

The most important thing you can do when tackling your fears is it to acknowledge what they are. Sometimes fear isn’t as black and white as you think. What you initially thought your fear was, may turn out to be a number of things moulded into one; and until you tackle your fears one at a time you won’t ever truly deal with them.

1. So, start off by making a list of the things you are scared of in the surf. Is it the crowds, big waves, the cold water, the fear of drowning? Write it down, see it in black and white and really analyse what it is that you’re afraid of.

2. Then figure out when your fears first became apparent. Was it after a specific surf, one particular wave, or is there a moment that you can pin point? Most times there will have been a pinnacle moment that got you to this stage in your surfing.

3. Now you’ve realised exactly what it is you’re scared of and the moment these fears became present, you can begin the process of dealing with these fears and moving forward. This won’t happen overnight and you need to be patient with yourself. If you’ve had a fear for a long time it’s going to take a lot of focus, courage and determination to lay those fears to rest. But you can do it.

4. Identifying that your fear is in the past and has been developed from a past experience and amplified through the fear of it happening again, or the fear of failure, is the next step to learning how to deal with your fears. So, when you’re on the beach, in your car watching the surf or out in the ocean, when you feel fear washing over you, draw your attention back to the present. Feel the water around you, the sand underneath your feet, listen to your breath or grab your board. Draw your mind back to the present moment and away from past fears. Allow your mind to diminish those fears. They are fears you once had, they do not define you now and they certainly can be stopped.

5. The act of becoming present in the moment is something you can practice anywhere and doesn’t only have to practiced when in the water or before you’re about to surf; it can be applied to any situation in your life. If you find yourself loosing control and letting fear get the better of you, stop and bring your mind back to the present and take control again. The more you practice it the better you will become at taking back the control and becoming present in your life. 

Remember that you’re not alone in your fears and by no means should you feel weak for having them. Acknowledging you have areas you need to work on is the first step to dealing with them. So don’t give up surfing because you feel the fear. Conquer those fears and enjoy the waves!

For more surfing tips, get the SurfGirl handbook here.