By Elliot Struck
Photo by Ryan Miller
1. Be a skater
Getting a skating mindset and practising certain moves over and over again is a good way to learn airs. For turns, it’s still repetition, but it’s more about going out and learning how to read waves and adapt to them.
2. Feel the turn
Don’t analyse manoeuvres too closely. There’s so many things in surfing that can’t be taught. It’s all just feeling. It’s riding every different kind of wave and surfing every day.
3. Find a pusher
Surf with people better than you. This relates to anything. It’ll always help you progress. But, don’t let it defeat you and make you bummed out.
4. Humiliate yourself
As confronting as it can be, watch footage of yourself at least once a month. I feel that this has to be the best way to learn. You can compare it to your favourite surfers, see what they have that you’re lacking, see where you can improve. Even for me, now, I’ll go and have a surf and feel like I was ripping, then I’m bummed out on the footage. Or I’ll think I’m having a shocker and the footage makes it look good. Think about what looked good, how it felt and how to do that again.
5. Join a club
This doesn’t work for everyone. If you’re naturally competitive and like the pressure, it helps your surfing a lot because you’ll try crazier stuff and put yourself in positions that you wouldn’t put yourself in when freesurfing. There’s also people who don’t like competing and crack under pressure. But, if you like the pressure, you’re guaranteed to push your surfing to another level.
6. Be a groupie
Freesurf near WT or prime events whenever you can so you can watch pros in the water. Growing up, I loved any chance I had to be around those guys or to watch a contest. Back then, I wasn’t thinking so much about learning, it was more about the experience of seeing those guys. But, looking back now, there’s guys who you’d watch in movies then see in real life and you realise there’s a difference because all the bad stuff gets chopped out in a movie. It definitely helps your confidence, knowing that. I remember when I was a grom I watched Kelly Slater in Black and White relentlessly with my brothers and I was convinced that Kelly didn’t fall off.
7. Don’t be proud
It ain’t easy but it helps if you ask better surfers how they nail their tricks and what techniques they use. That is, if you have the right relationship with that person. If I surf with someone and get along with them I’ll happily ask how to do things. Sometimes, I get asked myself and I’m more than happy to share what I know.
8. No crazy eyes
Don’t try and get in the zone in the water. I feel that it never helps when you free surf. When you go freesurfing you need to take it as a new experience and not put pressure on it. The coolest stuff happens when you’re having fun. Go out with an open attitude. If you’re having a good time and not worrying about falling off, it reflects in the way your session goes. If you paddle out going, “I’ve gotta do the sickest air,” you tend to get pissed off and never achieve it.
9. Bubba steps
Know that sometimes less is more. The hardest thing for someone learning is the fact that they wanna do things the way they see them straight away, instead of taking the baby steps that the guy who can do it has taken over the years. When you see the best guys in movies do something, you forget they’ve chopped out the 800 that weren’t made or didn’t look as cool. You can’t worry about how it looks, you need to realise there’s steps to take before you get to that point. When you’re learning finners, you won’t do one like Reynolds where you hit the lip vertically and go inverted. You’ve gotta start doing little horizontal slides. You’ve gotta start basic.
10. Know your surfboards
Learn to pick boards that suit conditions. Progressing has a lot to do with having fun. It’s silly to ride a high-performance shortboard when it’s two-foot and weak, when you could be on a fish and getting all sorts of speed to do airs. You can’t force a situation. There’s a board for every condition. There’s so many options with shapes, rockers, fins, fin systems. It’s endless. If you’re bored with something, try something different.
11. Know your mood
Your surf can be dictated by your mood. If you’re super amped-up on coffee and wanna go out and do a million of the sickest turns or biggest airs, you’re gonna go and try it. Not to say you’re gonna do it, but you’ll at least have the energy to try. There’s also times when you just wanna cruise and trim. The mood’s set before you paddle out.
12. You can do anything
View a trick as achievable. Everything takes a certain type of wave. There’ll be things that you think are unachievable until one day you surf a wave that’s perfect for that trick. Then you try it and go, wow, it is achievable. You get that little bit of inspiration and then you know what to go for when those conditions are right. Say a rodeo is something you’d love to do. If you always surf fat waves, you’re never going to get the opportunity to try it, and you’re going to think it’s unachievable. It’s about knowing waves and knowing what to try in what conditions.
13. Waves are teachers
There’s something to learn from every wave. If you grow up on a beachbreak you’re gonna surf different conditions 365 days a year. But if you grow up somewhere like the Gold Coast with long point breaks, you definitely have an advantage of being a local and knowing the wave inside out. Beachbreaks are always a tough one, but they’re also a good thing because you learn to adapt to every different condition. There’s a positive to everything.
14. Get a crazy pal
Find a friend who you can push you in big waves. You definitely need someone to push you and if they’re around the same age, even better. It’s a huge motivation. This applies to all waves, really. If you’ve got someone that’s a similar ability and age, it always brings out the best in you.
15. Get competitive
Recognise your competitiveness and play to your strength. Competitiveness isn’t something you can force. Everyone’s competitive to an extent, but it’s the people who aren’t afraid of losing or looking silly who learn the most. There’s always people who are too worried about how they’d look if they lost. Guys like Craig Anderson aren’t competitive in a contest sense, but they’re competitive in the sense that they wanna do a bigger air or get more barrels, and bring out the best movie part. You’ve gotta push your surfing when you’re filming those movie sections. Competitiveness is always there, just in different forms.