Lately, I’ve received a few emails from potential clients who mention that they experience a lingering fear from a past injury. That situation seems to be really common and brought to mind the story of an Amiga that I met back in October in Morocco.
I was in Morocco on day 1 of a Surf With Amigas Holistic Surf Coaching Retreat, just getting to know the guests and starting to form a mental image of each participant, her goals, and how I could be most helpful. The vast majority of our guests use boards from our quiver to avoid having to travel with a board bag but one of the participants, we’ll call her “Sarah”, had brought her own – a Takayama mid-length. I could tell by our chit-chat about the conditions even before we paddled out that she knew how to surf. She presented as strong and confident, walking down the hill to the waist-high peeling rights.
In the water, she paddled assertively, positioning herself well, taking off with perfect timing, and maneuvering down the line. “She knows how to surf!” I thought, and then told her so as she paddled back out to me. “Ya, I’m fine when the waves are small and easy,” she replied.
A few days later, the swell was small enough that the point break was slow and boring. We made our way around to the more exposed beach break on the other side. The waves still weren’t what I’d call “big”, but they were closer to head high. The peaks popped up and broke more quickly. The wave was soft, breaking over sand, but there was a quickness to it, particularly in comparison to the slow, easy point break waves we had been surfing. I noticed a different energy in Sarah. If she was closer to the peak, she’d pull back and not take off. If she was anything close to being a little late, she’d let the wave go. Having surfed with her for a few days already, I believed she had the skill to take off late and deep and make it, but she was avoiding those situations.
She didn’t want to let the injury stop her. She didn’t want to appear weak. She tried to forget about it and just keep surfing. That worked…. sort of.
As we drifted outside the surf zone, I quietly listened to her story. It all made sense to me. Her body had suffered a painful trauma. If the injury had happened in CA and she’d received help immediately, including good medical care, and the whole experience hadn’t ruined a long anticipated adventure, it may not have become as heavy of an emotional weight. In her case, the physical memory of painful injury combined with the fear and anxiety of the remoteness of the location and large serving of disappointment due to the altered trip, all combined to serve as a significant trauma.
The coping mechanism often suggested by our society : to “just get over it and get back out there,” worked, in the sense that it didn’t stop her from continuing to surf. However, it didn’t help her process the trauma. Therefore, even 20 years later, she still felt the effects.
Sarah initially told her story without much emotion. It was very matter of fact, as if telling a story that had happened to someone else. I listened, asked a few questions to be clear on the details, and then started by validating how scary that must have been at the time. I gave her space and encouragement to sit with the feelings of fear. When given an opportunity to connect to the feelings of the story, instead of just the details, the tears started flowing. She apologized, but I encouraged her to let the feelings happen. It’s ok to not be ok right now.
After the moment passed, I explained that it’s totally normal and understandable that she feels fear when faced with a situation (a steep drop) that triggers her body to remember a time it was injured. By ignoring it or avoiding those situations, she isn’t allowing herself the chance to move past it. We talked about the importance of accepting the fear.
Rather than trying to avoid the fear or feeling shame that it exists, the healing process begins with allowing oneself to feel it.
Her body is trying to keep her safe. That’s a good thing. We took a minute to listen to that message, accept it, and actually thank it for its efforts, allowing whatever emotions arise to flow. I suggested to talk to that fearful part, telling it, “I’m sorry you were hurt so badly. That was a very scary time and your reaction was perfectly justified. Thank you for trying to keep me safe. I appreciate you.”
Once that fearful part has had its chance to fully express whatever needs to be expressed, and those feelings are accepted and appreciated, there’s space for the next step, which is to notice what has changed since then. Since that time, Sarah has been surfing for 20 years. She is a much better surfer than she was back then. She has the skills to make steep drops. If there’s any doubt about that, surf coaching and working on popup technique can help.
Then, start small. On a small wave that’s only a little bit scary, try to pop up late. Notice the feelings that come up. If there’s fear, thank it for what it’s trying to do (keep you safe), but assure that part that you are capable. Come up with a positive mantra that works not to argue with that voice, but to change the script. Little by little, work up to bigger waves and steeper drops, not ignoring fearful feelings, but embracing and accepting them.
Celebrate successes, lean into falls, and smile at the simple pleasures and teachings of the ocean.
In preparing to post this story, I checked in with Sarah to see if she would be ok with me sharing and also to see if the she’d noticed any positive changes in the four months since our sessions. She said,
Yes it did help…. I repeat “all is well” to myself pretty much every time I turn for a wave now. It reminds me I’m ok, that I’m in control, and that it’s supposed to be fun. I think I never gave myself permission to talk about my injury because it maybe seemed trivial and I had no one who would understand it in a more complex way. So yes, it definitely helped. And it’s a process. Even just the permission to address those things in my surfing that hold me back helped so much. I feel like every session since Morocco is accompanied by a memory or conversation from the retreat that empowers me. I’m really glad I went and I look forward to going on another next year. It was an incredible experience and I really appreciate you listening and noticing and being there.
Holly recently completed a Master’s in Counseling and has been incorporating mental and emotional awareness into coaching to create Holistic Surf Coaching retreats. For more info on these specific retreats, click here.
In this video tutorial Surf With Amigas Founder Holly Beck takes a holistic approach on how to develop an at-home popup practice.
In addition to learning all about different popup techniques + modifications, Holly will teach you an effective “reverse popup” technique that will help you target and ease physical limitations that you may feel in YOUR BODY while popping up.
The cross step. Both graceful and functional, it’s how us long boarders really use the entire surfboard, from front to back & back to front. It’s how the most talented surfers dance and trim their way to the nose.
Ready to transform your longboard shuffle into a graceful cross step? Keep reading.
Start here: Practice on land!
Repetition of the cross step (or any technical surf skill) on solid ground will implant the physical movements into your muscle memory. If you can master the cross step on land, you’ll have a better chance of accessing the fancy footwork once on your surf board.
Cross step as you walk through the kitchen, while checking the waves, or while playing on your yoga mat. Practice it everywhere! Once the movement feels completely fluid and natural you can take it to the water.
The cross step setup goes like this- First, drop into your wave and get going down the line. Think about placing your feet closer to the inside rail of your surfboard, the rail that’s tucked into the wall of the wave. Then, it’s all about the stall. Shift your weight onto your back foot in order to slow down and steer the board up towards the top third of the wave. The stall often resembles a bottom turn, depending on the size and shape of the wave.
Taking the Step:
After the stall, it’s time to take the step(s). Shift your hips forward then let the feet follow. The back foot crosses over the front. To start, just cross your feet, hold, then right step back into your normal stance. Step lightly. Once this movement feels more comfortable, try and take a few more steps. The end goal is to take as many steps as needed (usually 2 or 3) in order to get your toes all the way to the nose.
Check out this video of SWA Co-Owner Jackie styling through a stall-to-cross-step combo during a Surf With Amigas Morocco retreat.
*As always, remember to take it slow, laugh through the wipeouts (there will likely be a lot of them), and surf with other ladies who inspire you to surf more + have fun!
The bottom turn. It’s the setup for most maneuvers in surfing. Want to get barreled? Do a cutback? A snap off the top?
A good bottom turn will set you up for success
We know its not as simple as it sounds, so here we are. We encourage you to play around with these techniques. Consider how your board feels different under your feet each time you try something new, and practice, practice, practice.
Below are 4 simple steps to improve your bottom turn:
Keep your back foot on the tail pad
The tail (back end) of the surfboard is the point where the board pivots and turns. If your stance is in the middle of your board and your back foot isn’t placed on the tail pad, you may notice that the board feels stiff and difficult to turn. If you don’t usually get your foot all the way back there, just start here! Practice this. Notice how the board starts to respond differently. Just get used to placing your foot back there, then move on to step 2.
Position yourself at the bottom of the wave
Mid-wave bottom turns just aren’t as good. Why? If you’re already halfway up the wave, there’s not much space to really set up for a good turn! The best a mid-wave bottom turn will ever produce is an average horizontal cutback. Try to get speed and pump yourself down to the bottom of the wave to set up for the bottom turn. This will ultimately give you more space on the wave to work with and result in a bigger, better maneuver.
Touch the wave with your inside hand/fingertips
Once you’re positioned at the bottom of the wave, try to reach your inside hand or fingertips down to touch the wave. This will automatically pull your chest down closer to the wave and get you in a lower stance. It also creates a pivot point on the wave. Creating this pivot point will not only give you more control, but will help direct the nose of your board more vertically up the wave. Getting the hang of this is seriously a game-changer! When you try it out you’ll know what I mean. It may be a technique that you’ve never even noticed before, but after reading this I encourage you to go watch a few surf videos (of short boarders) and you’ll notice that talented surfers do it on almost every single wave.
Look up (or ahead) at the section on the wave that you want to go to
The momentum from your bottom turn needs to take you somewhere! As you reach your inside hand into the water you should already be looking up (or ahead) at the part of the wave you’d like to go to. The purpose of a bottom turn is ultimately to set up for a barrel, snap, or cutback. Keep this in mind and keep your eyes on the prize as you set it all up.
We hope this 4 step guide to improve your bottom turn is helpful and encouraging. If you try out these techniques and they work for you, please share with us! If you’d like for us to break down another surf maneuver, contact us here.
Standing on the beach and watching the waves with butterflies going crazy in your stomach. Paddling halfway to the outside only to turn back around out of fear or anxiety. Or making it to the outside but then feeling too far out of your comfort zone to catch any waves.
Here are three tools that may help you overcome anxiety in the ocean so you can tap into the joy of surfing and catch more waves.
Surf with friends (aka, surf with amigas!)
So much pressure is taken off when there’s a familiar face in the water. Surfing with friends means that someone can keep an eye on you, while you keep an eye on them. It also means that you can encourage each other to catch waves, cheer each other on, and laugh at the wipeouts together. Wiping out without a friend close by just isn’t the same. If you can’t line up a surf session with a friend, the next best thing you can do is chat with another surfer in the water. This will immediately take the edge off. Not to mention your new buddy will also be more likely to share a few waves with you!
Spend time swimming and playing in the ocean
Surfing comes with many challenges. Surfers have to learn how to read waves, build up paddle and core strength, be able to steer clear of other surfers in the water, and overcome big wipeouts, to name a few. We can all agree that it’s hard. Swimming and playing in the waves (close to shore) is a great way to open up a more playful mindset while you’re in the ocean. Laughing loud, jumping over and swimming under waves, body surfing in the shore pound, laughing loud all over again. These are just a few things that will not only teach you how to tap into a more relaxed and playful approach to surfing, but will also build your confidence in reading waves and being underwater.
Although this one’s a no brainer, it’s hard to remember to just breathe when you’re amidst the chaos! Deep, slow breaths will calm your nerves and get you re-centered. Try taking a few deep breaths every time you reach the outside and have a chance to sit up on your board. This will help to get rid of any panicky feelings you have and put you back in the zone. Try to make this a consistent practice.
We hope these simple tools help you calm your nerves and tap into the joy of surfing and ocean-play. If you try one of these tools and it works, we’d love to hear your story! If you have other practices that have worked for you, we’d love to hear about those too.