Jo Blog

Smart, sometimes funny, musings and other stuff

Surfing lessons for life & business from a newbie surfer

May 1, 2017  

As I look at the date of my last blog post (the horror! shock! gasp!), I realize that I am desperate need of:


A) An update;
B) A blog post calendar; and
C) Another surf vacation (“desperate need” may be pushing it on this one).


I’ll work on all of the above.


After a recent family surf trip to Costa Rica, I’ve been reflecting on all of the business—and life—lessons that surfing offers.


Disclaimer: Being from central Canada where, last I checked, we lacked any significant coastline; bear with me on my latest exuberance for the sport. I do not claim to be a surfer of any prestige and would be thrilled to be in the “advanced beginner” category at some point.


While there are many more lessons to be learned from this sport than listed below, let’s go with the rule of three* to keep it under control for now.


  1. Practise in the small stuff, but don’t stop there.


To preface this word of advice, before actually getting onto the beach or in the water, find yourself a solid surf coach.**


Up until five years ago, I had never surfed. The best thing I did was find a coach who could demystify the sport and help me in the water so I could succeed. Thank you, thank you, thank you to the various surf coaches I’ve had over the past few years that have been fully instrumental in my being able to stand up with some level of confidence.


Where were we. Yes, starting with the small waves allowed me to get my footing (literally). It’s a safe place to practice your moves and get a feel for the water. Smaller waves have a larger margin for error, there are more chances to catch waves, hence, more opportunities to actually get on a wave and feel what everyone’s talking about.


It can be tempting to stop at the small ones. They’re manageable, safe and fun. But pushing into the bigger challenging waves is so much more rewarding.


Yes, the waves are bigger and scarier, but there’s nothing like pushing through the fear to into the bigger waves for a longer ride and [huge] satisfaction. More on this below.


Thought: Gain confidence in the small stuff. But don’t stop there—keep practising and venturing into the bigger challenges for greater rewards.

Find a good coach and practice in the small stuff (or even on the beach).


  1. There’s more than one way to tackle an oncoming wave. 


For me (and probably many others), paddling out into oncoming waves to get to the outside (or the spot beyond the breaking waves where you wait for the waves to roll in) is one of the most difficult, exhausting and disheartening parts of surfing. The “Am I ever going to make it out there?” thought has gone through my head more than once.


So, after being battered about in the soup by mother nature and tossed out in the spin cycle (she doesn’t really care that I’m new to this, or that I’m from the Canadian prairies), I decided I needed to make more strategic decisions about how to handle the paddle out for survival’s sake (and so my kids still had a mother at the end of this).


First of all, look for the best place to paddle out. Why swim against the biggest, baddest waves when there might be a sweet spot to the side that you can paddle around?

Calm before the storm–on our way out.

If that’s not available, wait until the set has taken a breather, then paddle like hell before it catches its breath. For me, there’s nothing more motivating than being on the wrong side of a big wave at the wrong time.


I’ve found though, that as much as you might shoot for the above, you’re more than likely to get caught in a few biggies while trying to get out. I’ve learned a few tricks that help me (disclaimer #2: please note original disclaimer).


One thing in common with all of the tactics below, is to hit the wave head on (oh so many analogies here).


Ok, so depending on the size of the wave, you can either:

  1. Go over; or
  2. Go under.


Brilliant, right? Seems pretty straightforward. Well, that is until you’re actually in it. One of the things I neglected to mention early on is I have to plug my nose going under any water be it in the lake, pool or bathtub. So, I learned after more than a few sinus clearing sessions, to carefully choose my method if option A wasn’t available. The “go under” approach can mean:


  1.  Duck diving by “simply” diving under the turbulence and popping out the other side unscathed. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as it sounds. Plus you need to be on a short board.
  2. Turtle rolling which involves rolling upside down on your board and holding on for dear life while the wave washes over you.
  3. The “take a deep breath-hold your nose-dive under the wave-who cares where your board is-hope for the best” strategy. I’m a master at this one. It might take me a few more waves to get out, but I’ve had a lifetime worth of nasal passages clearing, so I opt for this approach.


I know, all of the above makes this sport sound very glam. But, there’s nothing like getting to the back where you can find relief, take a breather from the pounding and choose the best wave for you to ride back in. To do all over again.


Thought: Persevere. Keep trying different strategies until you find the one that works for you cause there’s nothing like getting to the outside.

Here we go folks


Hanging with the ladies out back
  1. Enjoy the ride.


Wow. We’re at number three already? That’s just wrong. I think I’ll pick this theme up next time.


At the end of the day, we’re here to enjoy the ride. What’s the point of working hard, persevering, getting an occasional pounding from rough waves, then to have some fun and smile on the way back in.


Thought: Hang loose dudes.



More to come after another session in Mexico coming up the spring!




*Rule of three: a writing principle that suggests that things that come in threes are funnier, more satisfying, or more effective than other numbers of things according to our friends at Wikipedia.


**Shout out to awesome surf coaches Risa from Surf It Out in Sayulita, Mexico, and Alonso from Safari Surf in Costa Rica for saving my bacon and pushing me to the outside.