I’ve taken surf lessons in Southern California before. Here’s what typically goes down.
Surf Coach Bobby meets you at the beach. He prompts you to fake paddle on your board in the sand. You get totally psyched from his pep talk while you’re still bone-dry. You’re starting to feel the ‘stoke’ at this point, so you walk out into the ocean and paddle out together. Life feels good.
Then an epic wave comes into view.
Bobby paddles off into the abyss, leaving you to learn what “over the falls” means all on your own. You feel like someone threw you inside an oversized washing machine and cranked it up. The experience is so brutal you can’t understand why anyone would enjoy surfing.
You end up back on the beach, breathless, and muttering to yourself “This is why I hired a surf coach?!”
You get what you pay for:
I’ve been meaning to write this article for quite some time (3 years actually) since many of you have inquired. For those of you reading who desire to take your surfing to the next level, I hope the following 5 tips give you a jump start.
First and foremost if you’re looking for a surf coach, I encourage you to start where I started. Ask yourself – “What is the next level for me?”
Finding the right surf coach is no different than finding the right therapist, the right caterer, or even the right mechanic. You need someone who’s going to understand where you’re coming from and what you’re trying to achieve. And since surfing is an intense (and often deeply personal) activity, it’s important to feel a sense of connection.
You need to trust this person. Don’t settle for just anyone. If you don’t feel comfortable, keep looking.
And whatever you do, don’t bargain hunt. You’re looking for the right match, not the best deal.
There’s no question that hiring a surf coach elevated my surfing as a woman. I know what the experience was like before, (intimidating) and I watched myself grow while working with my coach.
Here are 5 things I learned from my time with a professional surf coach.
1. I learned better technique.
Maybe you’ve watched YouTube videos of Coco Ho or Carissa Moore and tried to make note of their technique. Kudos to you. That’s a great place to start. You can learn a lot from YouTube.
But there’s nothing like seeing and actually practicing technique in person with a seasoned mentor.
My first day with a surf coach, no time was wasted. We got straight to the basics of popping up to crouching tiger and then turning and carving on a wave. There were 10 other women in my group, all of us with varying levels of experience.
Many so-called surf coaches lead groups through crouching tiger for all of 20 seconds on the beach. But does brief practice really translate? Instead, we practiced the same motions over and over again, drawing with our arms and shoulders … for 10 days between surf sessions.
Practice makes perfect. And the right surf coach will know how to lead you through the right kind of practice to sharpen your technique to make you a better surfer.
2. I gained confidence.
There’s no doubt surfing is exciting, but it’s also incredibly intimidating. Even more so when you’re surfing abroad in an unfamiliar country.
The 10 days I mentioned in the last section? That was in the Maldives, in the middle of the Indian Ocean. I felt lucky to be there, for sure. Still, living on a boat for 10 days with 10 women brings its own set of challenges.
For example, we drove the boat to a new surf break each morning. That meant we didn’t get to assess the waves from shore before paddling out. Instead, we got a glimpse of the waves from the backside.
It was often hard to tell exactly what we were getting into.
But my coach was amazing. I trusted if he was telling me to paddle into a wave, he was doing so because he believed I could do it. He also knew where to push my boundaries, and could sense when fear was holding me back, which was separate from my actual skill level.
The end result for me was a significant boost in confidence. I learned first to trust my coach, and then to trust myself. Hindsight is 2020. I’d never have grown my confidence so quickly without his trusted guidance and support.
3. I got better at accepting feedback.
How often do our emotions or ego get in our own way?
If you’re investing the time and money to take your surfing to the next level, I highly recommend making a mental commitment to gently set your ego aside before you even start. Otherwise, you’re wasting your money.
They are the coach and mentor for the reason. Trust in the process, and know they want nothing more than to see you succeed and improve, it’s fun and rewarding for them too!
Each evening before bed I would journal about the session.
What did I learn today? How could I improve for the next session? Through my reflections I quickly realized most of my barriers were around fear.
Pen to paper.
This exercise allowed me to improve at accepting feedback, and clear out any mental roadblocks my ego or pride tried to put in the way so I could improve for the next session.
4. I got to see how kick-ass I look.
There’s nothing vain about wanting to look good on waves. In fact, I would argue that photography and video will make you a better surfer. In that sense, your vanity is a tool!
Video analysis is a critical piece of training for football, baseball, soccer and so on. So how is surfing any different?
Most of us committed to sports or athletics have a deep desire to improve.
When you see pictures or watch a video of yourself surfing, don’t just focus on technique. Take advantage of those visuals to see how absolutely amazing you are, too.
You’re riding the waves! You’re doing something most people will never do!
Rather than getting self-critical, focus your energy and attention on how strong, bold and brave you are to paddle out into open water and harness the power of the ocean!
You did that. Be proud!
And don’t even think about critiquing your figure. Women’s surfing has put up with ridiculous sexualized ideals for too long. If you’re on the water, you look exactly like a female surfer should … because you are one.
5. I experienced amazing female camaraderie.
A few days into my surf trip I remember thinking, “This is a military surf camp. How am I going to survive 10 days of this?!”
Surfing three times a day was mentally and physically exhausting, but much of what kept me going was the other women.
Every woman showed up to each session with renewed energy, excitement and anticipation, and surfing with other women is incredibly special. The vibe can be more chill and playful, plus you get to encourage each other and celebrate victories together!
I believe in the benefits of a strong support network of other females, regardless of whether or not you surf. We know surfing to traditionally be a male-dominated sport. This is one time when a supportive community of females can really make a difference.
Should you hire a surf coach?
If you’ve taken the time to read to this point, you’re likely considering a surf coach or mentor for yourself. You need to think about the time, money and effort partnering with a surf coach will take.
So should you hire one? Well that depends on your goals.
I’m serious. What are YOUR goals with surfing?
My goals were focused on overcoming fear, fast-tracking my knowledge, and ensuring safety along the way.
For me, waiting until my 30s to start surfing meant I was playing catch-up. I’m a lot more reserved than I was in my 20’s.
I had to learn to set fear aside (something I’m still working through) and instead use fear as a tool for motivation.
What do you want to get out of surfing?
If you could snap your fingers and be the bad-ass female surfer you want to be right now, what would that look like?
I encourage you to take the time to write out your goals.
This is not something that takes a lot of time. In fact, you could pound out 3-5 goals in the next 5 minutes … and you should.
Once you understand your surfing goals, then you can ask yourself if you need the help of a coach or mentor to meet those goals. I did, and it changed my confidence for life.
As I mentioned above, there are lots of things that can hold you back. Not just fear, but pragmatic things, like money.
Hell, I like to travel the world on surfing adventures. When I started doing that, I had to learn how to budget for it. (Which also helped me grow as a person.)
If you realize that you need a surf coach to finetune your skills, don’t get sucked into the trap of fixating on all the things that will make hiring a coach difficult. Instead of telling yourself you can’t afford it, for example, make note of money as a potential obstacle, and then start developing a plan for overcoming it.
And if you need help designing your own plans, I’m right here to listen and support you.