Surf Psychology You Need To Know. Are Your Thoughts Messing With Your Surfing?

All photos of Mathilde Hamdi

In surfing we often spend a lot of time focussing on our technique. We focus on how to move our body to create more speed, how to compress to create better turns and so on and so on, but one thing that we often fail to consider is the power, the potency, of our thoughts, and how they influence our performance on both a session to session, and overall basis.


The quote, “all that we are is a result of our thoughts” is something that is often overlooked in surfing. I suppose because there are so many variables in the sport, the focus on our thoughts, something that we actually can influence, simply falls by the wayside.

But I am here to remind you that your thoughts will, and do, have a dramatic influence on your surfing. If you are serious about making the most of your sessions and improving your surfing, it is important to have a critical approach to the type of thoughts that are filtering through to your conscious.

Let me give you an example of how a self limiting thought will have a direct impact on your surfing. Let’s just say I have the belief (this belief I have actually had to conquer, it’s not just a theoretical example) that I am absolutely no good at surfing in crowds.

Because of this belief, when I go to check the surf and it is crowded, I become frustrated, unmotivated, and tell myself I am not going to go out because it is too difficult and not worth it. Because of this thought a few things happen.

1. I don’t go out – meaning I catch no waves, and do not improve my technique/surf fitness ect.

2. Because I don’t go out – I get absolutely no better at handling myself in a crowd and…

3. Because of the above 2 points, the thought “I am no good at surfing in crowds” starts to become true, because I avoid it and therefor never overcome it.

See how this one limiting belief actually carries through more than just that one session, and can begin to embed itself into who you think you are, and what you think you are capable of.

Here is another example.

Out when I am surfing, the thought comes into my head, “woah, it’s kinda big out here, I can’t make the drop on these waves. It looks way too steep.” Now you could be right, perhaps it is steep, perhaps the drop is challenging, but one thing is for sure. If you tell yourself you can’t do it – you sure as hell aren’t going to feel inclined to give it a go, especially again and again, which when progressing your surfing, is often required.

Because of this one thought, a few of these things happen…

1. You begin to think that the drop is indefinitely impossible – which makes the wave even scarier than it initially was.

2. You decide not to give it a go.

3. You then do not overcome your fear – and over time it gains more and more power over you.

4. The cycle of negative and self limiting thoughts begin to follow you.

Now I want to make one thing clear right now. Negative and self limiting thoughts aren’t bad. They are actually there to protect you – from physical harm, disappointment – embarrassment and so on.

Therefor, these thoughts should not be banished, forced away, and resisted, because what that will do is only make them more powerful, and therefor more dangerous.

What we need to do is acknowledge them, listen to them, and then reframe them.

Here is an example.

Instead of “I am not good at surfing in crowds, I hate them” you could listen to that thought, try and understand what it’s purpose is (perhaps it is to protect you from the disappointment of catching fewer waves than you would like) and then reframing it. “Surfing in crowds is difficult for everyone, I may not catch as many waves as I would like, but thats ok. It will still be a lot of fun”

The power of the negative self limiting thought is now diminished, and will not hang over you, or define you. You are free from the limit that you put on your self and are able to transcend from those self imposed boundaries.

Some examples of typical self limiting beliefs may be…

I will never be able to surf a wave as big as her/him/that person.

I always fall off when I take steep drops.

I will never have a swift pop up.

I can’t surf in winter, its too cold.

I won’t catch a wave with all those people out there.

These thoughts may start off as whispers in the back of your mind, or they may be screaming at you as you are paddling out : Either way – know that the more you try and resist these thoughts, the more stronger, louder and powerful they will become.

You may be thinking, but what if I rephrase the thought, but I genuinely believe the original self limiting thought. I can’t just lie to myself. You are right, but you will be surprised what affect the “fake it till ya make it” self talk will have for you. Often the thoughts we project, wether they are true or not, will lead us to take action, which I will tell you now, is a lot better than submitting to those limiting shackles that we place on ourselves day in, day out.

Overall, our performance in surfing is equally, if not more determined by the thoughts we have in our heads, than the muscles we have in our bodies. By learning to identify the thoughts that keep us stuck, we gain control over not just our attitude, but our actual capacity to push through plateaus, and improve consistently.

All images are of Mathilde Hamdi, you can follow her surfing adventures here.

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