Words: Nat Fox | Photo: Pete Chamberlain at DTL photography
Progressing in surfing is no easy feat, and once you’ve felt the thrill of riding the whitewater you soon realise that there’s a whole ‘green waved’ world out there that can seem completely out of reach. It can be a daunting task paddling out – or even just thinking about it – but it’s important to think in terms of it being a challenge and embrace the huge leap up the learning curve that getting ‘out back’ will bring to your surfing journey.
Always assess the situation before heading into the water and attempting to paddle out back. How big are the waves? Is it overly crowded? Do you know the spot and any rocks, rips or currents? There are many factors to take into consideration, so gather as much information beforehand as possible – check on the internet to see if the swell’s building and talk to the lifeguards or other surfers. Once you get out there, you have to make sure you can get back in safely – so that’s your measurement. If you don’t think you can – then don’t risk it.
It’s always a good idea to get as much practice in the white water in all conditions, but with your first time paddling out back it’s best to wait for when the conditions are suitable – it’s never going to be perfect, but attempting to get out for the first time when it’s six-foot and howling onshore is not going to work in your favour. It will also probably put you off for a while so listen to the ocean and schedule your big move forward around her. Choose your day when there’s small, clean waves, not too many surfers, and when the swell period means the waves are not too close together – this will make the experience much more manageable AND enjoyable. If you have confidence issues begin by going out when it’s flat; you can appreciate the change in perspective and get used to paddling the distance without the added pressure of other surfers and breaking waves.
Why are you going out back? If you’re not sure of the answer to this then it’s best to spend more time honing your skills and confidence in the whitewater, until you’re confident on the white stuff and definitely ready to step up.
When you’re ready to make the move and join the big boys and girls out there you’ve made the right call – here’s why: the big, green waves behind the break point are a million times better!
Once you’re out back you’re well on your way to experiencing the smooth, flowing, faster rides that happen when the board connects with the perfect surface of an unbroken wave. It’s true when they say, “You never forget your first green wave.”
Surfing is as much mental as it is physical so make sure your head is in the right place and concentrating on the task in hand. As well as being physically fit and mentally focussed you need to be emotionally grounded in the task – excited and happy. Getting a balance of these three personal elements is key to your progression. Put yourself into a positive space by going surfing with motivational people, by warming up properly, and by giving yourself lots of encouragement and support.
OK, I’m ready – what next?!
Watch the waves and get used to the set up. Work out where you’re going to paddle out and visualise yourself making it out there. Don’t connect with any thoughts of negativity or anxiety – plan your route and stick to it.
Warm up stretches and exercises are going to help you perform better and eliminate the risk of injury. And make sure your wetsuit is done up tightly, your board is waxed, and your leash is on and tight.
Set yourself goals and be realistic
If you’ve not been out back before then set the goal of paddling out, sitting on your board, relaxing and catching one wave in. Don’t imagine yourself surfing 10 waves and getting your first barrel as it will be rather disheartening if you don’t even make it out there!
We always recommend surfing with a buddy, so find someone who’s willing and able to help you get out there. Just their presence in front of you to concentrate on can make all the difference, and their extra encouragement will add incentive and security to what you’re doing (and they might even give you a shove if you’re struggling!).
Photo: Pete Chamberlain at DTL photography
Read up on and practice your turtle/eskimo roll and duck diving skills in the white water, because this is your main tool for getting through the impact zone. Wait for a lull between sets or find a rip (watch where other surfers paddle out) as this should limit the number of breaking waves you’ll be battling against. Keep one eye on the destination and one on what’s happening right in front of you – remember to deal with waves by holding your breath and turtle rolling/duck diving a few seconds before the wave reaches you. Never let go of your board.
Chances are this will be your first big paddle so try to keep your position central on the board, legs together (if you drag your feet you’ll slow yourself down), chest open and slightly arched, and always keep your head up. Use your core muscles to balance in the prone position (connect them into your spine), as if tucking into the midline of the surfboard. Then reach forward into your paddle strokes without swinging your upper torso. Make sure your hands enter the water with your thumb first, then sweep your arm underneath the board and flick your hand straight out behind you. Long, fluid, rhythmic strokes will help you maintain your stamina and mean you cover ground efficiently.
Don’t give up! It takes practice and dedication to be a true surfer, so keep plugging away. You might need to improve your paddling, practice your turtle rolls or go when the waves are smaller, but once you make it out there I guarantee that you’ll be rewarded for your efforts!
Achievement flows from clear intent and focussed efforts over time. In order to achieve we have to start where we are, find out what we need, have a plan and follow it through, persisting through difficulties and problems until we reach our goal.
If you feel you need an extra burst of confidence then look at booking a private, intermediate lesson at a BSA qualified surf school. You will get professional hands-on tuition, motivation and advice that will really accelerate you into those green waves.
Follow Nat Fox a @yogarama_uk and hosts Drift Retreats. Check out her website here.