On every Women & Waves weekend this year we’ve seen women really push themselves to go for the extra wave, that deeper take off, cruise along that steeper face. We started off every weekend with a surf at Towan beach where the sun came out, the wind eased off and the swell picked up enough so everyone of every ability could really test their mettle on each occasion.
It made us all at Women & Waves so happy to witness the strength, support and stoke everyone held in high regards for themselves and for each other. The vibe in and out the water is always wild with friendships blossoming and surf skills booming! It’s fair to say at the evening meals everyone is completely knackered but downright stoked; with beaming smiles and sun kissed faces all round.
On a few of our weekends we’ve had solid surf with big swells landing on our Cornish shores, sometimes with more force and power than a few of our women and wavers are used to. It’s ideal, because there’s no better place to be when you feel a little out of your depth; surrounded by fully qualified instructors with years of experience to guide you through your lessons.
Newquay boasts some of the best waves Cornwall has to offer and with our weekends coinciding with the off-season, there are fewer people in the water so what’s not to love! We often rotate between Towan Beach and Fistral, swell depending. Whenever we’ve been out in slightly larger surf than people are used to, we are always completely sure there isn't a single soul who we felt wasn’t competent enough to paddle out and catch a few waves. We would never take anyone out who we felt couldn’t handle their own out there. From the very first lesson , we are assessing everyone’s strengths and weaknesses, and of course we understand the conditions out in the water.
We believe in you, you just needed to believe in yourselves. Regardless, there have been a few who felt out of their depth and allowed the panic and fear to settle and override their initial good vibes. These ladies were inspiring as they paddled out into waves they felt were out of their depth and fought the fear again and again. They deserved every wave they caught!
I couldn’t help but recognise those sentiments of fear I’ve felt so many times before. It’s so easy to assess the situation from the outside, but when you’re in the middle of a large breaking set, or holding your breath for what feels like a lifetime then it’s hard to process things slowly.
I thought it would be a good idea to write down and share with you my coping strategies for when I feel out of my depth, or panicky, or fearful, which I so often do! So when we’re next all out there together we can think of these next 4 points.
Positive Breeds Positive
It’s always daunting surfing a new spot, especially when you’ve already overthought it a thousand times beforehand. “Negative breeds negative” that’s what a close friend of mine told me when I was going through a debilitating negative thought cycle in my life a year ago. It hit me hard and started spiralling out of control. Eventually it began to effect my surfing; even before I paddled out I would say to myself “Uh, you’re shit, you’re never going to get any better, this is too big for you” or “Uh it’s too windy, you’ll never catch anything” I was a pleasure to be around, as you can tell!
On hearing my friend utter those words, she snapped me out of it. Thinking a negative thought, just bred more negative thoughts. Yet turn that on its flip side and think “ Positive breeds positive” and you’ll find yourself thinking more positively. It takes a bit of practice, but with some work, you will find it works and most of all, helps!
Now when I feel a little out of my depth, I try and concentrate on thinking positive thoughts and instead, focus on what I want to get out of this surf. “It’s pretty chunky today, well fuck it, I’ll paddle out and practice my duck dives, and if I make it out back, happy days!” Focussing on the positive instead of thinking the conditions are way out of your league makes such a difference in how your surf with play out.
Fear exists in the future. We don’t live in the future, we live in the present. Don’t let something that hasn’t yet happened and likely won’t happen, destroy your present. By focusing on the present and thinking positive thoughts, fear doesn’t stand a chance!
3. Just Don’t Give Too Much of a Shit
I know that sounds easier said than done, but really, channeling the art of not giving a shit is really quite a helpful skill. I met a girl last year who I almost instantaneously formed a love for. She was cool, calm, friendly, relaxed, confident, a sick surfer… and had a dog. Perfect! As an anxious soul, I find it hard not to give a shit about most aspects of life. I overthink things until I make myself sick with nerves and give myself a bad case of anxiety over nothing at all. This girl who I ended up living with over the winter, has slowly but surely taught me the importance of not giving too much of a shit. She’ll paddle out in overhead surf in the middle of winter (without boots on) to just give it a go and see what happens. She never expected anything from her surfs, she just wanted to get in there and have fun, catch some waves and not put any pressure on herself.
I feel we put so much pressure on ourselves to perform and succeed every time, that we overburden ourselves and take the fun out of everything. Paddle out there and just enjoy it. If it’s a little out of your league then at least you tried, at least you’re out there giving it a go instead of sitting in a sandy wet lump on the shoreline, huffing and puffing thinking ‘ahh what if…’
4. Breathe and relax… and breathe… and relax…
If, at some point you find yourself out in the line-up after taking my advice and not giving a shit, but have found yourself in some larger than average surf, or your just feeling slightly panicky, then breeeaaaathe. Inhale for 4 seconds and exhale for 4 seconds. Repeat this 5 times. Or as much as possible until the next set starts to roll in. If, however, you’re in a torrent of white water and struggling to breathe, then catch a wave into shore and have a break on the beach. Sit down, inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale and wait until you feel completely calm before paddling back out.
There was a moment this winter in which I found my body involuntarily shaking after having paddled out back in surf I never would’ve thought I’d be paddling out in. I had paddled out with my friend as 6ft+ sets detonated just a few feet away. I hadn’t been thinking/overthinking it at all, the only thing that was on my mind was surviving and making it out back… “paddle to the right, duck dive that beast, ah ok, paddle to the right a bit more, shit that guy is going straight for my head, oh god that’s chunky, oh what that’s going to break right on top of me, ah deep duck dive, holy shit ok made it out of that one, bah don't look just paddle some more, deep duck dive oosh that wanted to rip my arms off, ah sweet made it out back, just paddle over there it looks safe-ish. Oh what, that thick lip is coming straight for me”
After that beast of a paddle out getting knocked around in a big winter swell, my heart was thumping like a rabbit’s after out-hurdling a fox. I could feel my body tensing, my amygdala channeling that fear ridden fight or flight response, my eyes wide and breath shallow. At this I realised that if another big wave were to come along and plunder me into liquid darkness, I wouldn’t stand a chance. Immediately I started breathing deep and slow in an attempt to sedate my over zealous heart. After a minute or so of breathing in for 4 secs and out for 4, I felt my shoulders relax and the tense frown on my face loosen. Soon after, a chunky little number was coming my way. I continued breathing deeply as I paddled to position, it picked me up and I slid down it’s looming, monstrous face, hurtling at full speed. It was insane. I veered off the back before it closed out and crumpled my body. The endorphins were pumping. I paddled back out with eyes wide and mind in disbelief, now craving another just like it. I remembered my breathing, and began again, trying to calm my racing heart!
At this point I remembered my friend who I had paddled out, now nowhere to be seen. I looked back to the beach to see her back at the shoreline. You win some, you lose some. This day, luck, deep duck dives and deep breaths were on my side! If in doubt, exhale it out!
5. Visualise the process
My final rambling point is to visualise exactly what you want to achieve before it’s even happened. Our women and waves coaches will guide you through what they want you to work on before we set foot in the water. Picturing and feeling yourself completing the task in hand before you’ve even done it is a proven method and sure fire way to get you nailing the process.
Focus on one thing at a time, if that first thing is paddling with commitment then focus on that. As soon as you focus on that one thing, all the other minor factors such as “is it a bit too big for me” or “Ah it’s a bit onshore and messy” will become completely insignificant.
Visualise yourself paddling hard for that wave, popping up and cruising along the face with confidence. Once you've imagined yourself doing it, the physical action of it won’t seem so difficult and otherworldly. This visualisation process has been proven by top Olympic athletes to have a positive effect by building neural pathways. Turns out it’s a legitimate training mechanism for athletes all around the world, so we might as well jump on the bandwagon!
I hope this article is of some help to you guys. I can’t wait for the upcoming September and October Women and Waves weekends. We have an incredible line up of instructors and photographers on board and those Autumnal months always bring with them good waves and good weather.
No fear, no problems. Just stoke, good waves and good vibes all weekend!
“The body moves naturally, automatically, unconsciously, without any personal intervention or awareness. But if we begin to use our faculty of reasoning, our actions become slow and hesitant.” Jaimal Yogis, Saltwater Buddha: A Surfer's Quest to Find Zen on the Sea
See you soon!
All photos were shot by Clare James Photography; specialising in water photography and videography in Cornwall.
If you’d like to pop along on one of our next Women + Waves weekends, check out our upcoming dates for Autumn. Hope to see you then!