Home Courses Myth Busting :: I’m scared of bigger waves so I won’t be able to ride a shortboard

Myth Busting :: I’m scared of bigger waves so I won’t be able to ride a shortboard

by Allannah

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a wall of death that I can’t get over and I’m going to drown!

That might sound a bit far fetched, but let’s be honest, as surfers, no matter your ability, we have all been in a situation where we have genuinely thought that we are going to drown, even Kelly Slater.

Unfortunately, that comes with the territory of being a surfer or partaking in any other extreme water sport. 

When we are learning  to surf, we usually start off in the white water, where we can touch the sand in waist deep water. Then we get comfortable there and it gets a bit boring, and that’s when we toy with the idea of paddling out to the backline, where we can see all of the ‘pro’ surfers bobbing around. 

Paddling out in a Surf Sistas coaching
session at Fistral Beach in Newquay, Cornwall

This is the hardest part of learning to surf, transitioning from the white water to paddling out to catch green waves, it’s a whole different ball game, it can almost feel like you are having to learn to surf again.

Not only are you faced with waves breaking on you with more power, there are surfers riding towards you, rip currents and so many emotions to deal with, such as anxiety, fear, nervousness & excitement.

The adrenalin of paddling out to the green waves can be overwhelming and exhausting, even for a seasoned surfer.  Yet the reward is so worth it! I still remember my first green waves, taking bigger drops, the speed, how smooth the rides were and learning my first manoeuvres, honestly, these are some of my best surfing memories.

The inimitable Leah Dawson dropping into a bomb on a self-shaped 6’7 board at the 2015 Deus Single fin comp in Bali


Even so, after surfing for 15 years, I still find myself in situations out in the water where I can feel panic setting in, but I have learnt a few tricks to remain calm so that i can keep surfing or exit the water safely: 

  • Find a happy song: whenever I’m in a high adrenalin situation, i think of my happy song, for me it’s ‘Anaconda’- by Niki Minaj, it’s a ridiculously bad song and it instantly makes me laugh in the line up no matter what situation I am in. 
  • Count : If you are underwater in the washing machine, remain calm and count numbers in your head. In 15 years I’ve only ever reached 8 seconds, which really isn’t that long, it just feels like an eternity sometimes.
  •  If in doubt, dont paddle out:  If you start to paddle out and you feel like its out of your comfort zone, turn around and come in, there’s no shame, even if you have to sit on the beach and wait for friends, it’s better than getting into a situation where you panic and lose confidence.  

REMINDER: fear is healthy, panic is deadly – it’s good to push ourselves, we welcome the butterflies once in a while, but we never want to be in a situation that leads to panic. 

  • Breath hold course: I highly recommend these courses as you will be so surprised at how long you are actually capable of holding your breath for, you can even do them online now. I joined a 3hr introduction to freediving course, and at the start I could hold my breath for 45 seconds, by the end I could hold it for almost 3 minutes. Now whenever I’m getting a beating or I’m nervous, I always remind myself how long I can actually hold my breath for and I start to believe in myself again. 

Now, let’s talk about surfboards… 

Shortboards are harder to paddle than longboards because they have less buoyancy, but on the flip side this makes them easier to duck dive through waves. Don’t get me wrong, as a shortboarder myself, you can still get rattled, but generally I feel like I have more control in bigger waves because the board is more manoeuvrable.

You also don’t need to ride big ,steep, powerful waves in order to ride a smaller board, there are so many great designs out there today, small boards with lots of buoyancy, so you can shortboard in all conditions, even in 2ft waist high baby waves. You don’t need to be an ultimate shredder or love big waves in order to surf a small board.

If you’re unsure, it helps to talk with a surfboard shaper to see what’s right for you, to make sure that you have a big or small enough board for the waves that you feel comfortable in, and your ability. Talking to a shaper might seem a bit intimidating at first, but just remember surfboards are their favourite subject and in our experience they are always friendly and keen to help you progress.

Surfing has possibly the slowest learning curve of any sport, so go easy on yourself, don’t put too much pressure on yourself, set yourself small, achievable goals and have fun! 

In 2021 Surf Sistas are running 2 day Shortboard Clinics, perfect for you if you are wanting to transition to a shorter board or already ride a shortboard and want to work on different techniques.

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