No matter where you live, or where you move to in the search for big, juicy waves, there will be days when the surf... well, just isn't up. On these days, a surfer has a choice to make.
Do you sit out the day in a vague haze of depression, watching videos and compulsively checking surf forecast? Or do you grab your fish or longboard and have some fun in the small waves?
The small waves are where we all get started; the place where we constructed our surfing foundations. Here, we obsessed over the minute details of our stance and posture; we relentlessly practiced our pop-ups until we were confident; we figured out ways to generate speed with what little momentum was on offer. Each little victory gave us a thrill and before long, we were hooked.
As soon as we could we sought bigger and better, faster and more thrilling rides. In our pursuit, we abandoned the little fish proving grounds that taught us so much.
Whether you've yet to move on or can't remember the last time you surfed anything smaller than double overhead, here are some respect-restoring things we can all learn surfing small waves.
How to fine-tune your technique. When the waves are really pumping, a lot of your mental energy is used in "survival mode"; that is, making split-second decisions without considering how things might be improved with little adjustments in detail.
These can include anything from how to improve your stance - correcting bad habits such as hunching when you should be bending from the waist - to more precise foot placement for better control.
This is also a great place to strengthen your pumping technique: the one you use to gain speed down the line. Working those muscles in conditions where speed isn't a given makes for better muscle memory out on bigger waves.
Trying new tricks and maneuvers. When you're unsure how you'll pull off your first roundhouse cutback, or you're already skilled yet struggling with the fluidity of a particular trick, it pays to go back to the smaller waves to work out the kinks.
There's less pressure in the event of a wipeout or bail, and you can conserve more energy for trying different things over and over until you get it right. All the tricks in your arsenal should be perfected on waves that offer you the most room for error. Once they're solid here, you can take them to the big leagues and watch them blow up.
In the same way, trying out your first backside ride is best done on smaller waves, and if you're curious about trying opposite footing there's no better place to find out what you've got.
Etiquette reminders. With all of the energy and excitement of bigger wave lineups comes the inevitable occasional misunderstanding and clash of wills. It can be hard to stay focused on fairness with thirty surfers all jockeying for position when swells are big.
Going out in smaller waves means you're going to be in the water with novices still cutting their teeth, which is great for reminding you of where you started, and washing away any selfish impulses or bad etiquette habits you may have been letting yourself away with.
How to surf for surfing's sake. The endorphin high of making a big wave intact with a bunch of surfers watching you can quickly become an irresistible drug. If not kept in check, a surfer's skills can suffer as his focus in the water becomes more about performing for a crowd and receiving praise than about building competency and a solid set of skills.
Small waves remind you that there's much to be learned, and even though you may not have everyone on the edge of their seats in awe of your death-defying stunts, the increments of learning along the way to becoming a versatile surfer are of incredible value just the same.