To surf well, you must be brave. It requires you to find a way to push past your fears. It is the only way that you will progress regardless of your level of surfing. This facing of fear, looking the thing that scares you straight in the eye, is what makes surfing unique. It is what makes surfing so much more than a sport. The act of tapping into the brave part of your soul is what makes surfing so exhilarating.

Words by Katie Davey Dalsgaard

It is extremely healthy for us to attempt to shift our comfort zones. It is brave to do something that scares you. To conquer something that initially is uncomfortable. We don’t do that enough as adults. Let’s be honest once you get past 30 most of us work in a job that we are good at, are friends with people we have known for a long time, and we have generally sorted out a routine for our lives that allows us to lean smugly back into the known boundaries of our comfort zone.
Surfing blows all that to smithereens. The sea ragdolls us as she likes. She introduces fear, excitement, rage, joy and anger back into our lives in undiluted form. The sea keeps us honest, and surfing brings us back to basics. When that unbroken set wave approaches with an intent to break on top of your head, you scratch like you have never scratched before, paddle with an energy that is not there, and scream in frustration as you see others in front of you slip below the wave with an elegant duck dive just before it explodes you into a frothing blue room.
And each time we leave the sea bruised, egos battered, saltwater sloshing deep in our sinuses, we resolve to improve our surfing. To become better surfers.

What is it about surfing that makes us constantly strive for more, better, bigger? Competitive surfing is after all a very small segment of the surf world with most of us destined to be happy amateurs. And yet we all desperately want to be better than we are. Beginners dream of catching waves, of standing on that board without falling off. But those humble beginnings don’t last for very long, soon they dream of being able to paddle out the back, of going down the line, of mastering duck diving.
And it doesn’t stop there. Even if you achieve all the goals that you swore to your previous self would satisfy you, and were your only humble goals for surfing, the inner greediness for a little bit more spurs you on. The intermediate surfer dreams of being able to do a solid bottom turn, of finding the courage to make steeper drops, to paddle for the biggest waves in the set. And once you reach that pinnacle, the once unattainable holy grail of your surfing ambitions, your eyes immediately set themselves on the next peak. You yearn to be able to hit the lip, to throw some spray, to land that floater, to do an air. You desperately wish to be better. Braver. To bring it to the next level.
And so it goes. Once you are hooked on surfing, it never stops. The quest for improving, the hunger for progression is there in your life whatever your level of surfing. It is the great motivator. It gets you out of bed, it keeps you healthy and it brings you back to the sea time and time again.
You spend a significant part of your waking hours thinking about how you can improve your surfing. There are ways, there are means.
Surf with people who are better than you. Watch, learn, copy and try, try again. Surfing with people better than you of course comes with its own health warning. It is frustrating as hell. It is impossible for someone who does not share your fear to explain what the trick is to make a drop on a steep wave that you are terrified off and they are not. ‘Just take off’ is generally the advice, and they are of course not wrong, but that doesn’t make you less scared.
Surf more. Surf in all conditions; grovel when then waves are small, put your big-girl/boy pants on when the surf is big, surf when it is busy, get your ass out of bed when it is dark, cold and minging outside, surf all the way through winter, surf wave pools, get someone to coach you, watch videos of other people surfing, go on a surf trip to the Maldives. Do whatever it takes, just surf more.
And if all else fails buy a new surf board, because let’s be honest, it must be the equipment that there is something wrong with.
And you do all that and you improve at a painfully slow pace, perhaps so slowly that you forget to give yourself credit for it. You push and push and then one day while you are out in the surf, in a massive grump over not being able to do this or that, it suddenly feels like surfing is ruining your life. Surfing, instead of bringing you joy, is shattering your happiness, and you feel embarred and depressed:

‘How can surfing mean so much to me when I am utter shit at it?’
But it does. Regardless of whether you are any good at it, surfing seeps in and becomes a part of your identify. And when you fail in achieving your surfing goals, it can sometimes feel as if you are a failure. There are tantrums in damp car parks, there are surf session where a thundercloud hangs over you the entire time, days spent in the beautiful sea where all your energy is channeled into hating the world because everybody else is catching waves and having fun, while you keep being in the wrong place, while you keep messing it up. The quest for progression can be a great motivator, learning to push past your own fears can be liberating, but it can also completely ruin your surfs. It can be a constant mind-fuck that makes surfing feel like a chore.
So rather than focus on how we progress, on how we improve our surfing, perhaps a better question is why we constantly feel the need to improve. Why so many of us feel that we need to be better than we are. Perhaps in that question lies a more important lesson that the sea is trying to teach us when we get too wrapped up in our progression journey. Sometimes when we strive to improve, to progress, we forget to appreciate right now, we forget to have fun and to enjoy surfing. If we let it, surfing, our connection with the sea, can teach us a valuable lesson. Just like the tides of the ocean that flow and ebb, sometimes we need to push past fear and sometimes we to stop trying. Sometimes we need to just be and appreciate exactly where we are.