Six foot. Ten foot. Twenty foot. We all have our limits and our own idea of what ‘big’ is. Josh Redman has spent years building himself up across a full spectrum of waves, ranging from heaving cyclone pits in Durban to ten foot Pipeline and beyond. But no matter where your threshold currently lies, there are a few ground rules that will prepare you for taking on heavier waves. With the Striped Horse Challenge in full swing and swell predicted for next week, we thought it would be a good time to cover the basics again, and who better than Josh to lead the way…
1. Surf no matter what
Surf when you can, not when you want to. I often see guys that won’t surf if it’s small or if the waves are crappy. Some of them will just go train or watch TV instead. Training is a big part of it, but you have to find that balance. You have to spend as much time in the water as possible in all conditions so that when the waves get big you are at your peak and in synch with the ocean. Not to sound all Zen, but you got to keep yourself in tune and nothing does that besides spending time in the water.
2. Work it
When you can’t surf, you can still work on it by training. Training makes you fit and fitness gives you confidence, which really does boost your performance. You have to know that you are capable of taking a beating if and when things go wrong. And in big wave surfing it is only a matter of time before you take a big ol’ beating, so make sure you are prepared. Some guys like to gym, others run, cycle or swim. Whatever you’re into, remember that cardio vascular is far more useful than strength training when it comes to taking on heavy waves. I do breath exercises in the pool which I find helps a lot. You can really feel the difference when the moment comes.
If you are just starting to ride bigger waves, you don’t need to get all technical on your board specs. Just make sure you are riding something suited to the occasion. The first few times I surfed Dungeons and Sunset in Cape Town, I just used a borrowed board. Only when I realised my love for riding bigger waves did I get my first custom 9’6” Built from Elton Fursman. We’ve been working on my bigger boards since then and I have found what I like best. There’s a lot of mutual respect and camaraderie amongst big wave surfers, and no one holds back about what they are using. They’re always willing to share knowledge so it’s good to chat to other guys when ordering boards and see what they are using. Ask as much as possible as you go along. And this doesn’t just go for rhino chasers – anything from a step-up to a semi-gun will need to perform differently to your standard shortboard. Spend time figuring out your equipment and you will be rewarded in spades.
4. Buddy up
It’s good to build up your confidence and surf heavier waves with a mate who is on the same mission. Whether it’s Pipeline or Dungeons, 90% of the time when I surf bigger waves I am surfing with one of my best mates, Frank Solomon. I love surfing with him, not because of any rivalry between us that gets us going, but because of the camaraderie. We encourage each other to go bigger and I spin out just as much when I see him catching a nuts wave. It’s also good to know there’s someone who always has your back if things go wrong.
5. Embrace your nerves
Butterflies are natural. With your skills, fitness and equipment up to scratch, it all comes down to paddling out. The most nerve-wracking part for me is suiting up, getting my boards ready and the time leading up to the surf. You just have to push through that anxiety and get out there. My nerves seem to subside a bit when I hit the water.
6. Focus and use the force
Most successful big wave surfers are very focused and calculated. They aren’t these crazy guys going out there and not thinking about the consequences. Speak to most of them and they will tell you it isn’t a matter of not being scared, it’s a matter of using that fear and channeling it in the right direction in order to make calculated decisions.
**Lead Image: Mike Schlebach at Dungeons. All Images © Alan van Gysen.