One Thing That Separates Great Surfers (From Everyone Else)
What is one thing that really good surfers can do that novice and intermediate surfers cannot?
Read waves well.
How do you get better at reading waves?
Same way you get good at anything... practice.
As surfers, we are pretty good at standing on the beach and pointing at incoming waves, while humming and hawing about where to paddle out.
Whether we are aware of it or not, we are watching to see whether the other surfers in the water are getting decently long rides. We are looking to see where the best looking peak is. We're making judgements about the wind direction and what the tide is doing.
But then after we surf, we tend to put our head down and just head straight back to the car.
How many times have you taken one in—only to look back from the sand and watch a really fun looking set come through.
Or how many times have you looked back at the same waves you just finished surfing and thought "it looks better from the beach than it did from the water".
Instead of hurrying off to start the rest of your day, spend 5-10 minutes on the sand and ask yourself these questions:
- Where are the best waves breaking?
- Was I sitting in the best spot?
- If I were to go back out for one more, where would I paddle out?
- Where would I sit if I were looking to get a whole bunch of little waves?
- Where would I sit if I were willing to wait for the wave of the morning?
- Where would I sit if I were just going to be stuck in no man's land, not really in position to catch either a bunch of little waves or the set of the day? (And how can I avoid doing that again)
- Who is getting the best waves out there today? What are they doing that I'm not doing?
- Did I bring the right board for today?
The reason its important to ask these questions after you've just gotten out of the water is because you just experienced the lineup first-hand. Before you paddle out, you can ask yourself a similar set of questions, but it's all theoretical. After you've been in the water this mental check-list takes on a whole new meaning.
I can confidently tell you that 90% of other surfers are not running through these questions after they surf. They might brag about the good one they got, or make excuses about how there were too many surfers in the water this morning. Or complain about the one wave when someone burned them. But ultimately those are just excuses.
If you want to truly improve as a surfer, you must improve your ability to read what the waves are doing and react accordingly.
As you get better at doing this, and as you truly learn your home break, you can start to pick up on patterns and actually anticipate what the waves are going to do—but only if you are paying attention.
Do the work that the 90% aren't even aware that they're not doing, become a student of the waves, and watch your progression as a well-rounded surfer take off.