You’re having a good session. Maybe you shouldn’t have paddled out – it’s a little large, but you’re feeling fit and up for the challenge.
Then, as you crest a wave, the horizon turns black. A wave stands up in front of you, taller and taller. Much larger than anything else that has been coming through. Adrenaline sends an electric surge of energy to your muscles, but it’s no use, you’re gonna get hit. The people ahead of you will make it over, but you won’t. Your heart sinks. Prepare for submission.
Fear is natural. It stops us from making stupid mistakes and keeps us alive. The ocean kills people every day and we are right to be afraid of it. As our experience grows, our fears manifest themselves in bigger or heavier waves. We put ourselves in ever more dangerous situations and start to crave the fear that hits like a jolt right through the center of our being – it is the fuel that makes surfing exciting.
What we don’t want, is for our fears to turn to panic. Panic is our last line of defense and is especially useless underwater. The human body, in the throws of a frenzied state, sends a huge amount of energy to its survival systems in an attempt to quickly power itself out of what it perceives as a deadly situation. This is very expensive on oxygen, oxygen that is not available to us underwater. An experience like this is traumatic and can hold your surfing back for years.
4 Tips for keeping calm while getting your ass kicked underwater:
1. Close your eyes and count to 5. Counting calibrates your sense of time that is lost when you’re in the washing machine. This is probably the easiest and most effective way to calm yourself when the whole ocean is on top of you. You begin to learn that it is never as long as it seems. Count as you wait for the wave’s energy to flow past you before gently coming up for air. If you come up and start taking short, erratic breaths, force yourself to breathe through your nose. It will help you relax and you will catch your breath back faster.
2. Have fun. Easier than it sounds. Pretend you’re on an underwater rollercoaster, or pull karate kick poses as you fly through the water. A happy state of mind is a calm one and you’ll come to the surface with air to spare.
3. Practice on small waves. When you fall on small waves, extend your time underwater on purpose. You’ll be better prepared for the real thing.
4. Practice in other situations. Job interviews, public speaking, and approaching beautiful women/men evoke the same feelings and sensations. Apply tips 1 & 2 where applicable.
We can practice managing our fears, even in small waves and out of the water. Most of us encounter feelings of fear almost daily – it isn’t going away. But we can learn to control and soften our reactions so panic doesn’t take over. Next time you are getting held down and visiting the dark room, repeat this maxim:
“Hello mother ocean, I give myself to your power. Take me on your magical mystery tour of the bubbling murky water. When the time comes and you are done with me, I will make my way to the surface to breathe deep and replenish my lungs. For now, I am yours”.