Advice: Surf comp ‘choke’….

All I want to be is a pro surfer. I know I’m good enough to make it. I’m focussed on my training and people I know in the industry say I’ve got what it takes to make it on the circuit. The problem is the last few months I’ve been completely choking in comps. I’m up against guys I know I can beat but I’m totally losing it and panicking which makes me surf like crap. How do I keep my head together?

Want-to-be-Fanning, 16. Gold Coast, Qld.

bruce surfOur psychologist says: Competition surfing, like any other sport, is as much about the mental game as the physical. While having a clear and focussed goal (eg. ‘I want to be a pro surfer’) can be a major motivator, things can start to unravel if the expectations you put on yourself are over the top (eg. “I have to win, otherwise it’ll be a complete disaster and my future in ruined”). Keep things in perspective. Take the pressure off by having an overall realistic outlook:  (eg.” I want to be a pro surfer and I’m going to do everything I can to get there. If it doesn’t happen though, life is not over. There will always be other options”).  List all the factors that contribute to your strength as a surfer (eg. “I’m training five times a week with an expert coach”,  “I’m fit”, “I’m flexible”,”I’m determined”,”I can land 360’s”). Remind yourself of these often. Regularly visualise surfing scenarios. Close your eyes and mentally go through the scene of a comp day from warming up to catching waves. Calm your body and visualise surfing the way you want. Plan ahead for competitions and develop a routine. If you feel the nervousness rising in your body, take deep slow breaths and say the word ‘relax’ to yourself. If worrying thoughts come flooding in (eg. “I’m going to stuff up”)  tell yourself to “let them go”. Repeat  a strong, positive statement  to yourself (eg.” I’m prepared and I can do this”). In the water, keep focusing your attention on the present (eg.”my arms feel strong paddling ”, “what’s this wave doing?” ,“time to duck dive”) rather than getting caught up in worrying ‘what ifs’. There are a range of sports psychology techniques which can help keep your stress levels in check so you can perform at your peak. Learn more about these by researching online (eg. the AIS Brainwaves fact sheets and Smiling Mind) or seeing a Sports Psychologist in person.


(image credit Bruce Elliott @ Restaurants)


Over to you:  Our psychologist has given a few suggestions, but what do you think? Are you involved in competitive sport? What ‘psychological strategies’ help you keep stress in check so you can perform at your best?

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  • I started off as a top grom and ended as a wishy washy pro surfer. How does this happen?

    As a grom I was always in the finals. It was because I was just surfing. As I grew older, I started trying to emulate other people. I focused to much on the other competitors as well. If I surfed against a big name surfer; I did well. Against others I lost the drive.

    Surfing is really about wave management and not the others in the water. When you practice, focus on improving what you are doing on the wave itself and continue with that in the heat. If you catch the best waves and nail down strong turns then you are going to advance no matter whom is in your heat.

    Go get it grom!


    • Good point Steve about not getting caught up worrying about what others are doing in the water. The more of your mental capacity you ‘expend’ focussing on something you can’t control (ie. what your competitors are doing) the less you have to concentrate on maximising your own performance (which hopefully you can have more control over)


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