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Letter to the ‘Kooks’

A ‘kook’ is a beginner surfer that thinks he or she knows what they are doing, but in fact, has no idea. Surfing has a lot of non-written rules that can be hard to follow when you don’t know about them. It’s a hard sport to learn by yourself and can be dangerous. Let me give you a few pointers that will ensure that you are not a kook, but that you also stay safe out there.

1. Wax

The purpose of the wax is to not slip off your surfboard. Use the wax that corresponds to the water’s temperatures, as they get softer for cold water and very hard for tropical water.

2. Leash

Your leash wraps around your rear ankle and is attached to the tail of your surfboard. It will keep your surfboard attached to you when you wipeout. It should be put on right before you enter the water (not in the parking lot!), taken off when you get out of the water, and then wrapped around the surfboard and the fin so it doesn’t drag in the sand (the Velcro will get sandy and lose its stickiness).

3. Leash (yes, again!)

Another important fact about your leash is that it can be very dangerous. The only time you should be holding on to your leash is to bring your surfboard closer to you to jump back on it. Or hold on to the tail of your surfboard if you are still in the whitewater. If a wave pulls your board and you are holding on to your leash, it might chop your fingers off. Seriously, I’ve seen it happen and it’s not pretty.

4. Wetsuit

There are plenty of wetsuit brands, but most of them, unless they have a hood, are back-zipped. It’s important that you put it on the right way because you are going to be laying down on your belly so it would be very uncomfortable to have the zipper at the front.

5. Foam is your friend

At the beginning of your surfing career, you need to catch waves, tons of them. The biggest surfboard you have, the easier it will be to get into waves and to keep balanced when you stand up. Divide the number of waves you are going to catch on a shortboard by 30. Stick with bigger boards until you can catch every single wave, then you can go shorter, if you want. It will make your progression more fun.

6. Do Not Ditch Your Board

Very important point … if you don’t know what to do when a big wave comes towards you, you shouldn’t be out there. Ditching your surfboard is not an option. As well as being dangerous for you, it’s also dangerous for people around you that could be hit in the head by your surfboard. What if the leash snaps? Your surfboard is your best friend. You want to keep it with you at all times. So hold onto it!

7. Cover your head

It might sound silly, but no matter what level of surfing you’re at, you must cover your head with your arms when you resurface after a wipeout, until you see where your surfboard is. (I learned the hard way, having my surfboard whack my nose. It made me look like a raccoon for a week.) Don’t rush back to the surface; it will allow extra time for your board to settle down in the whitewater.

8. Look before you go

I know that when you start surfing, just catching the wave requires all your concentration. But try to remember to do a shoulder check before you go. If there’s someone on the way, or already surfing the wave, don’t go! The rule is: one person at a time on a wave. The person closest to the peak has priority. There are plenty of waves, so wait for the next one. You don’t want to injure anyone, or madden the locals. Also, if you’re on a wave and there’s someone in your way, make sure you look away from them. Where you look is where you go. Looking at them will lead you straight into them!

9. Know your limits

Before you go out in the water, observe. If you don’t think you can swim back, don’t go. Look at the hazards. Are there rocks? Currents? Ask locals what the hazards are in the area. Be aware that Mother Nature is very powerful!

10. Ask

Don’t be afraid to ask for help or tips. No need to be shy. We all started somewhere. We were all beginners at some point, and we all made mistakes. It’s better to be safe than sorry!

The One Thing You Don’t Know

If you just started surfing and are looking to improve, you probably did the same as me and watched all the surf movies/videos/tutorials on the Internet to try and gather every bit of advice possible. How to pop up? How to do a cutback? How to do a noseride? There’s so much information available online that you can become a pro surfer from the comfort of your living room.

Applying these tips when you’re surfing is much harder. When you’re on a wave, you forget everything you learned because it all goes too fast. You start over and over again without being able to focus on the one thing you want to focus on.

I used to blackout on all my waves, never remembering what just happened. It all went too fast. Until one day, when I was teaching a surf lesson, I realized that I’m not the only one. Most of my students want to rush and get to their feet so quickly that they forget to paddle, or start doing all sorts of things that don’t even make sense. They panic. I tell them they need to slow down. But how?

I ask them to take a deep breath before they even try to stand up. “Really?”

I was amazed and surprised by the results.

When you take a breath, it brings oxygen to your brain and your surroundings become clearer. You don’t feel the urge to do everything at once. Everything slows down.

After I realized what it did to my students, I started to apply it to my own surfing, and oh my god, what a difference. It literally feels like you’re moving in slow motion and I can now remember my waves. Now, when I get too excited, scared, or simply when I feel that I rush things, I take a few deep breaths.

My last piece of advice: be patient.

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