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How to deal with fear in surfing

Updated: Apr 24, 2021

I guess, when it comes to extreme sports, every human being may eventually overthink a bit. Second guessing and doubts are natural behaviors to be a bit more cautious in trickier circumstances. Everyone feels fear in conditions that are a bit unfamiliar. Every good surfer knows this feeling in his tummy when he’s putting himself into slightly more challenging surf.

However, for some people (well … people like me) second guessing becomes a 24/7 aspect of their life, every doubt a fear and the “what if” question, an attachment to every action. Despite how passionate we are about surfing, our head is drawing all those scenarios: what might happen and go wrong, instead of just going with the flow. Well, that’s because we are so called "overthinkers".

Surfing Santa Catalina Panama
At Santa Catalina Beach

Interestingly though,  I’m usually a very positive kind of person, very optimistic and happy, but somehow my head is always giving me a hard time in surfing. I’m often scared that I won’t make it and fall, hit the reef, hit my board, hit another board or just drown (yap had already all the scenarios in my head). Most people I surfed with just said “ don’t think too much”.

And voilà this is where my main problem (and from many other people especially who didn’t grow up with the ocean or surfing) lies: If we were able to think less… well, then we would.

I know, that surfing will always be a passion of mine and fear will never hold me back from it. I will always try and try and try again. But I wish to be able to push myself in slightly more challenging waves and deal better with my fear. So, I was thinking about ways how to work against my own head and, step by step, overcome the overthinking. Some techniques helped me already a lot and I want to share them here.

Understand your skill level

Before even heading out into the water, you have to be aware of your own skills. It doesn't make sense to jump into 10-feet waves when you’ve actually just mastered the takeoff. Putting yourself into too challenging conditions will of course just increase your fear and doubts. And the last thing you want is to get injured. Rather slow down and practice in slightly easier waves to fine-tune your technique. After a while, you might even want to go somewhere else as you’re looking for new challenges. However, be also true to yourself when the surf becomes just slightly more challenging. Maybe you’d be still able to cope with it, but are just scared because you are overthinking? Push yourself into conditions that are a bit above your skill level to improve, but know your limits!

Analyze the root of your fears and overthinking

There must be a reason why you developed such fear or at least something in your head, why you are that scared. There can be many different fears in surfing: hitting the reef, getting drowned, hit the board, knock out, break something etc. Try to understand what exactly you are scared of and try to work against it. For example, if you’re scared to hit the reef, then practice at beach breaks or at deep reefs at high tide. When your skill level increases and you’re able to generate more control in surfing, you will become more confident with different spots. In my case, I’m somehow very scared of being hold too long underwater. (yap this being said by a former competitive swimmer haha). I underestimated the power of the waves once and got scared of how heavy it pushed me down. I wasn't prepared for it mentally.  Since that day, I'm scared of bigger surf. Therefore I try to work on it, doing breath-holding and relaxation techniques.


Reverse your thinking

This is what you might have heard a lot already but it is indeed true as your body basically performs what your brain tells your body to do. If you think about how you won't be able to get up and  fall on the wave, well then this is exactly what’s gonna happen. Try to think about what you actually want to achieve, how you want to rip on the face of the wave and then hit the lip and smash your manoeuvres (haha I wish). But it will not only give you a nice goal to reach, but helps to program your brain towards a successful performance rather than all those negative thoughts.

Focus on the surroundings  

When you catch yourself being stuck in overthinking, try to “tune out”. Try to actively focus on what’s around you, all the noises and people. Listen to wave rumors, people screaming and laughing and any noise you can discover. This will help you forget the negative thoughts, second-guessing and doubting.

 Always have fun

The basis for everything in surfing is fun (well or for everything in life ;)). Go out with people you enjoy spending time with (you will also feel more comfortable with friends in the water anyway). And take the good old foamie every now and then or a log to catch more waves and bring the idea back to your mind why you actually love surfing. Sometimes we push ourselves too much, want to shred the best performance shortboard instead of just having fun. But having fun will increase your self-confidence in the water. In the end, surfing is all about fun.

And of course NEVER GIVE UP!! Surfing is a tricky sport and you will always have days where it just ain’t going right and you eat it all instead of standing on the board. But don’t be discouraged! There will be other days too, on which you will shred every possible wave, feel the breeze and get the feeling only surfers know! Always live for those days and remember the very first wave you stood up and how it changed your life!

Hang Loose! 🤙

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