By Mike Jennings
Right now, we continue our series talking to big wave legend, Mark Visser about the mental preparation needed for surfing bigger waves than those in your comfort zone. Here, we asked Mark to tell us 5 quick things to think about when it comes to doing just that.
Mark is of course the big wave surfer and waterman behind the Ocean Warrior training program – a digital and in-person course designed to help surfers of all abilities, from kooks to Kelly Slater (read about Mark’s work preparing Kelly for the Pipe Masters here), maximise their breath holds in practical, real surf situations.
You can read our chat to him about his elite mindset program too here, but here's some easy tips from Mark to add to your knowledge of how to handle surf situations that might be a little on the stressful side.
Want to surf heavier waves or no what to do in a wipeout to avoid injury? Sign up to The Ocean Warrior course HERE.
Know the Set Up
Do some risk assessment before you paddle out. This sounds simple, but how many times have you paddled out to a surf spot that you haven’t surfed much, only to realise you didn’t really know all the ins and outs about the place?
For example, when the tide changes the entry and exit points may not be the same. Hazards such as rock shelves, ledges or kelp could come into play. There are so many variables that can often change throughout a session and it’s a good idea to know what they are. Knowing this information takes the edge off, helps you feel more relaxed when you paddle out and gives you the confidence to know that if anything does go south, you’re going to be all over it.
Before Paddling Out, Drop Your Heart Rate With Some Breathing Exercises
Once you know the line-up and everything else about what’s going on that day, it’s a good idea to get yourself physically and mentally ready too.
We all want to surf our best each time and one way to really help with that is to drop your heart rate and brain wave activity down to really open up your awareness levels before you paddle out. This helps with being able to read the waves, the sections and to be in tune with the right positioning throughout the session. One of the go-to exercises for this is a few minutes of calm nose breathing.
Remember, Don’t Kick
When you’re underwater: Minimise the legs! These are the largest muscle group in your body and they hold the most blood, which carries the most oxygen, and therefore burns oxygen at the highest rate when used inefficiently! Forget standing up and jumping off your board on the next set that's about to land on your head now that you know this one.
I can tell you this all day long, but it really is an exercise that you’re going to want to experience first hand. I said the same thing to Kelly and he really took it on once he had done a lot of the land-based exercises from the course, it will make you think twice next time you're trying to get up to the surface fast for that desperate breath of air.
Bail Facing The Wrong Way
When you have no choice and you need to bail: There are a few tests I’ve done on this and one thing is for sure, you don’t want to go down face first looking towards an oncoming white water. And you definitely don’t want to stand on your board and pin drop or dive off into it either (which you will understand in full from the leg and water section of the course).
The reason for this is, the jump off will spike your heart rate rapidly, and going down facing what’s coming front-on will immediately cause you to get pushed backwards, blasting water up your nose and causing you to use your arms and legs in a counterbalance motion to spin yourself the correct way around as you get hurtled in the opposite direction.
That not only feels terrible but, once again, uses oxygen in a way that you could easily conserve. If you use the correct breaths before you go under to clear out the carbon dioxide and oxygenate your body in the calm and correct way – hold onto your board while doing this, minimise any leg kick – take your last breath, turn and face the beach (or wherever the waves are pushing you towards) and then allow the energy to hit you in the back which will project you forward in a comfortable spin away for the heaviest and most intense sections of water. This is really useful especially if there is more than one wave coming through.
Learn the Skills to Be Efficient
Efficiency is everything, whether it’s in sports, business or any area of life. Being smart and educated on what to do when it counts most and only applying what is needed to be done in high stress situations is what gives an individual the upper hand.
You could be totally out of shape, a full lazy bugger, but know these skills and be able to remain calm, in control and maybe even have a smile on your face in situations that the fittest human could be fully shitting themselves wishing they knew what you did. There are no silver bullets in this part of life, simply take the time to know your stuff and it will be a skill set that you’ll have forever.
For a break down of the above tips and heaps more when it comes to breath holds and underwater training, see Mark's course, the Ocean Warrior 2.0 with the new Elite Mindset Program (available for 60% off for a limited time), HERE