I can’t prove it, but I would venture to say that the vast majority of surfers ride crappy waves more than they ride perfect waves. I mean, that’s what makes a session epic. The very meaning of the slang term “epic” means that it doesn’t happen very often. Okay, sure, we throw around words like “all time” and “classic” a little too freely, but my point is clear: bad waves happen more than good waves.

But that begs the question: what makes for a bad wave? We can all agree that the unrideable realm of small waves would constitute a downright crappy session, but closeouts, mush balls, side-shore winds, on-shore winds or generally blown out conditions (which are all traditionally considered undesirable conditions) all offer a variety of options for surfers with the right perspective.

 If you have ever had access to great waves for a long period of time, you know that your surfing improves exponentially, but in crap waves there is potential as well. You can improve your surfing skills and experience by changing your perspective of what a good wave is. A good wave offers the possibility for expression and creativity and speed generation, and for that all you need is a single viable section of a wave. I’m not saying that we should seek out bad surf but rather that we should re-vision the waves we are given.

So what’s the point here? The point is that you need to see even crappy surf as the potential to improve your skills and enhance your fitness. So after you have made sure you are riding the correct board for the conditions and continually cross-train to be sure you always in surf shape, the last piece to the puzzle when the surf is no good is to tune your attitude. Paddle out with a goal whether the waves are one foot and clean or 6 foot closeouts. If you paddle out and drift among the others who are bored and unfulfilled, you have failed yourself. Instead, make the most of your time in the water. Let’s look a few ways you can make your next session in crap waves pay off in the long run and maybe be a little fun as well.

#1. Set a performance goal – If the waves have enough juice to pull off one maneuver, pick a maneuver you have always wanted to stick like, for instance, a reverse. Now, try one on every wave you get. Since the waves are so bad, it really doesn’t matter if you waste them with each failed attempt. The point is to try and get closer with every wave. Make it a competition with your buddy. The first one to pull it off wins. You can wager a free lunch, beer, or whatever to raise the stakes.

#2. Set a fitness goal – One time I surfed with Occy at small, windy Rocky Point. He said that he didn’t even paddle out that day to surf. He paddled out to catch and stand up on as many waves as he could. He paddled for every wave he saw regardless of the quality and jumped to his feet, regardless of whether it was a gutless mush ball or a total closeout. Occy was just working out his surf-specific muscles. Sure, that doesn’t sound fun, but it sure makes an otherwise lame session into a focused challenge.

For example, make it a goal to catch 10 waves in 20 minutes, regardless of quality or size. You will find that you will stay moving the entire session and will push your paddling and pop-up fitness to the next level.

#3. Think out of the box – If the waves are really bad, it might be a perfect time to try something different. Ride an alternative craft or even try strange new approaches to waves you’ve never tried. Ride a longboard on your belly or coffin style on your back. Challenge your friends as to who can ride the smallest wave. Or who can surf with the worst style. It’s all about fun and being in the water, so let your imagination go wild. Try to surf a whole session switch-stance or tandem.

One day, the surf was 3 feet and the wind was blowing like 20 knots on-shore. The waves were horrendous. I made it point to not just catch 10 waves every 20 minutes but I swore I would take off on every wave fins first. Believe me, when I got to the beach, not only was I laughing and very tired, but I had done serious work on my balance, pop-up, and board handling skills. There were loads of wipe outs but also a few really interesting rides.

All right, I’m sure these ideas won’t change your life, but they will open your mind as to the potential that crappy waves offer. If you change your attitude, you can make even a day full of crappy waves into a positive experience. Now…go rip!