With all extreme sports comes danger and ultimately fear. So how do you deal with fear and are there particular things you can do to help handle it? Georgina van Dijk investigates.
How to deal with fear
Surfing changed me for the better but is has also brought many challenges to my life. For instance, being held underwater for the first time after a bad wipe out is not something you soon forget, it is one thing that will continue in your memory for years. That is when I truly felt fear for the first time.
Richard Bennet, a well-known surf psychologist from Australia, explains that we feel fear and the associated physiological responses when we interpret a situation to be dangerous. While surfing big waves does have an element of danger, we can exaggerate our perception of the danger with negative thoughts.
So, how to change these negative thoughts into positive and create less fear in the water? A couple of examples Bennet gives are focussed around building confidence and mental preparation.
1. You can start building up your confidence by developing your water knowledge, getting to know the break well, trusting your equipment, maintaining good physical fitness and learning from the surfers out there in the water who rip. Is your paddle power your biggest struggle? Get a membership at the gym and start working those arm muscles.
2. Mental preparation is a skill to use to get rid of those negative thoughts in the water. Learn to focus your concentration. There are different ways of doing this, like listening to your favourite music right before you go in. Or learning how to empty your mind of the thoughts that are holding you back.
There’s also a theory that fear is non-existent and is just a human translation of excitement. I like this theory because that’s how I often feel in the water, I feel this immense excitement in bigger waves so much that sometimes my body trembles and shakes. I translate this into fear. But is that the right? What if I can recognize this feeling as excitement and translate it into joy instead?
Global big wave XXL nominee, Easkey Britton, explains that for her fearlessness is not an absence of fear but of letting go – presence, acceptance, surrender. The understanding that something else is more important than fear. This girl really knows what she is talking about. She is the first Irish person to surf Teahupoo, at age 16. Talk about guts!
So, there are different ways of dealing with fear in the water. Just get up off that sofa and start surfing those bigger waves! You can do it. You just have to surrender to fear as a beautiful tool life has given us to truly be in the moment.
Enjoy the Butterflies
So not long ago I felt I had to put the word out on fear. I was hoping I wasn’t the only girl in the water dealing with this issue so I put the question up on social media and I never expected so many responses from women all over the world. It turns out, I am not alone.
Jennifer Maddox from Denver pointed out to me that overcoming fear is part of the exquisite nature of surfing. That perhaps fear isn’t my issue. Perhaps it is my relationship to fear on a larger scale that could be the issue. Jennifer struck a chord with this comment. I have noticed that I have a problem letting go of control, whenever I feel like I am losing control I feel fearful. The ocean is uncontrollable and that is the beauty of surfing. So if I can learn to let go of this longing for control, my relationship with fear might change as well.
For Jen Gregory from Santa Monica it was yoga and meditation that completely changed her attitude to surfing with regard to fear. She is more focused in the water, and able to take off on bigger waves with greater confidence.
I love the way Tammy Neal describes fear: Fear is a great gift from nature that gives you butterflies.
When I am in the water now, I think of all these tips. I have noticed that breathing exercises in and out the water have helped me be more calm and confident. It has helped me let go of that control. I also started using a new rule in the water on the advice of a fellow surfer I met in Sayulita, Mexico. The three waves rule. Whenever I go in the water, I cannot go out before I have taken off on at least three waves.
My tip to you? Now that we all know we are not alone when it comes to fear. Get together with the surf girls from you area and talk about it! Surf together and motivate each other in the water. Let’s all enjoy those butterflies together.
This article appeared previously on the website.