Im a much better surfer today than ever before. This should give hope to young and old alike. I am almost sixty but I get lots of waves, no problem competing for them. I want to share how this is possible when most people think surfing is for the young- it aint. Or, it is if you are old and have given up already. No matter how old you are there are a few things to keep in mind...
I talk to people about mittens vs. gloves and almost everyone cries: " its too hard to paddle with mittens!" I know why (from swimming). Mittens are like swimming hand paddles, they are big paddles that take muscles to push through the water. No muscles? Its gonna hurt. But each and every time you use mittens in winter surf, they build muscles ( triceps, deltoids, pecs). So eventually you will be able to paddle with strength- doesn't happen overnight. Find exercise at home that mimics the paddle stroke and you will be upper body strong enough to compete for waves eventually.
I see lots of surfers with lame strokes- short hand placement and early removal. In swimming, we stretch forward as far as possible, tuck the hand under the chest about a foot away, and push all the way to the hips. The last 18" is where you get the most power. I've wanted to mention this to people but I never do, dont want to be one of those dudes, you know what I mean. I also see some double arming the water to catch waves initially but I believe that is a poor strategy because inbetween strokes you slow down way too much (plus it makes you look like a beginner).
Getting sore and hurt while surfing is what I crave. I am not getting out until I can't paddle any more. The more I hurt, the happier I am, bring it on. This is what I mean about getting "wrecked" and "hurt." I'm wrecked and hurt from yesterday- it was only four hours but I got worked, and I put out my all the whole time. It's ok because as those muscles heal, they add new stronger muscles on top of what was already there- all good. If you get out and you feel nice and strong, you are not working hard enough in the water, that's all there is to it.
Your board makes all the difference in the world. If you go into the surf shop and buy a board and you don't know much about design, you might not be doing yourself justice (unless you bought a longboard).
Longboards are small boats, you cant go wrong on them but if a short board is wrong for you for some reason, you're going to be frustrated and you won't know why- you will think it's something you did. Older and heavier people need a little more thickness in the front as well as a little more width in the front. Those two things help a lot for catching waves. The board that was just made for me is now a little thinner in the front, just a little to accommodate the skills that I have gained in the ten years since I bought that last board. We will see how that works.
I heard a lot of people complain yesterday about not catching any waves yet but I didn't have any issues. If I were having problems catching waves, I would go to a board place online or in person and order one custom made just for you. The cost is the same as store bought boards but it can be customized to suit your height/weight/abilities/goals as well as the kind of waves you surf on the most.
My greatest fear is dropping down big steep waves, especially on late takeoffs. Here is my usual thought process.
I paddle for the big wave and catch it and start to slide down the steep drop:
"Oh shit, I'm going to fall!" (not realizing that I am NOT about to fall)
"I better fall this way!" (and intentionally start to fall in that direction on purpose)
Just like in advanced skiing and in life in general, when you are afraid of something, you want to shy away from it and with those two sports, that means leaning backwards. When you do that in skiing, all control is lost, and when you do that in surfing, you fall immediately. Your fear of failure actually turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy. If this is true with fear then I am of the belief that the reverse can be true of confidence. Think about that.
Yesterday, there were some rather large waves that I caught and as I slid down the face I realized that each time I slide into the weightless abyss my mind determines that I am going to crash long before the physics has determined that I am indeed going to crash. I realized that it was all in my mind!!! I simply reversed this thought process to tell my mind this simple mantra:
"I AM GOING TO MAKE IT!!!" Sure enough, all day yesterday I dropped down many large waves and succeeded in going all the way even though as I was dropping it sure seemed to me that things were going to end up poorly for me. I think this mind game goes on in every single surfers head, and this simple trick might help people out there, sure worked for me.
If it works, this trick will also help you overcome the fear of late takeoffs and taking off on bigger and bigger and bigger waves.
So, to recap:
Get your ass in shape, and WORK when you are surfing, get wrecked
Get a board that reflects you and your current abilities
BELIEVE in yourself, think positively and be confident