Confidence has always been my downfall, and by confidence I mean that I had none. The same has gone for my surfing. I’d get a little confident, try unbroken waves, wipe out and then lose my confidence again. It’s been a bitter cycle for months and months.
Yesterday I had a surf lesson with Mal Gregson. I expected him to tell me that my surf was suffering because my pop-up was too slow, my paddling was weak and my balance was shot. I expected to be working on mostly these three things, away from the fun part of the waves. The first thing Mal did was reassure me that I had nothing to be nervous about. He’d just got home from travelling in Indo and he understands that sometimes you can look at a wave and admit you have your limits, and it doesn’t have to be twelve foot sledges off a shallow reef for you to have that limit. It is OKAY to be nervous. Often the best learning comes from the waves you let go rather than the ones you try for.
All right. So onto the matter of what was wrong with my surfing. My pop-up was good. My balance was fine. My paddling was great. Mal had me learning to do bottom turns straight off the bat. The hard work and practice I’ve laboured at has paid off. The best tip he gave me was to notice that once I’m riding the wave, I tend to lower my leading arm. He told me to get it up and my turns improved immediately.
Out the back, the water was dark and cold. Gloomy and black. A (what looked to be huge) set came through. A wall of water. We leaned forward on our boards to get a look at it.
‘Will you go for that?’
‘Nope!’ I replied honestly.
‘That’s all right, but I reckon you could do it.’
In the end, Mal had me doing waves just like that. They may look daunting when they start to lump up, but as long as I make sure I’m in the right position, it will give me an awesome ride.
Which brings me to the right position. I’ve had issues on unbroken waves because:
Let’s do a play by play.
I am out the back. I see a wave forming. I turn my board and I paddle hard. Everything I’ve read tells me I have to have enough momentum up to catch that unbroken wave. The wave arrives at my position at its critical point. It picks me up. I’ve got nowhere to go but vertically down. Wave pounds me into the sand, wave rolls on in a flurry of white water.
I almost did this same ignorant error yesterday. But Mal grabbed the tail of my board and said, ‘Slow, slow, slow!’ Sure enough, I didn’t wipe out. You have to read the wave first. See where it’s going to break. Judge when it’s going to wall up at its critical moment (NOT the best time to catch it). See a wave coming, spin your board, arch your back, paddle slowly as you check around you (for other surfers too) then if it’s not at its critical point, head down, DIG IN and paddle hard then pop up. Voilà. It’s almost ridiculously simple. I can’t believe I’ve been languishing this long!
Mal Gregson, the crème of surf coaching. He’s given me the techniques as well as the confidence to surf better. He just rebooted my surf journey and got me skimming along even faster.