How to Survive a Flat Spell

Ben Bourgeois' secrets to staying sane between swells

| posted on January 17, 2012

When all else fails, it might be time to jump ship. Ben Bourgeois, escaping an East Coast lull in the Caribbean. Photo: Burkard

Being a surfer on the Eastern Seaboard doesn’t come without sacrifice. For every day of perfection on the Outer Banks, there are weeks of flat spells to accompany them. So how do you go about keeping your sanity when face-to-face with lake-like conditions? According to North Carolina’s own Ben Bourgeois, it aint always easy, but there are a few ways to keep it together.

Be Vigilant: When you don’t have consistency working in your favor, you’ll need every tool at your disposal to keep you privy to any bump in the lineup. Above all, this means knowing exactly what the weather and forecast are looking like on a daily basis. “I would watch the Weather Channel religiously and pray for the wind to blow onshore when I was younger,” says Ben. “That’s really the only way we get surf: wind swell. I’ve sat through my share of two-week-plus flat spells growing up. It was torture! I definitely spent a lot of time looking at the maps hoping for any little bit of color to show up on the charts.”

Stay Motivated: Meager forecasts can be tough to endure, but just because you can’t get in the lineup doesn’t mean you have to mope around the house feeling sorry for yourself. Isn’t that new skate park open? Have you seen that West African Wedge clip? The point is to do whatever you can to stay fired up. “We skate a lot on flat spells and watch a lot of surf movies,” adds Ben. “But when I was a grom we got into wakeboarding and wake surfing when it was flat.”

Get in the Water: An open-ocean swim will not only keep you in shape, but being submerged in the sea for an hour or so can help take the edge off. If you’re not much of a swimmer, you can follow Ben’s lead and take up another aquatic hobby. “For me, I don’t care if it’s flat anymore. I learned how to kitesurf with my normal surfboard and no straps. It’s so much fun and a lot like surfing when done right. Usually the wind blows hard south every day in the summer and it’s perfect for kiting. A 1-foot wave with a kite can be super fun because you’ll have all the speed you can handle going into it.”

Fly the Coop: If the forecast has you wondering if your leash could double as a noose, fear not, because salvation may be closer than you think. It’s not always cheap, but from the East and West Coasts of the US, overhead sets are often just a short plane ride away. “From the East Coast, it’s really easy to hit up Puerto Rico, the Caribbean, and also Central America. So you always have to keep an eye on what’s going on down there. It’s nice to get away from the cold winter or a summertime flat spell.”

How do you stay stoked during a flat spell? Leave your answer in the comment section below.

Click here for more tips from the How-To Blog.

  • Bart

    Bong Hits!

  • Barklie

    Try stand up paddle boarding. (I know..never a sweeper head will I be…blah blah) But there’s a whole new level of bad surf you can ride on a SUP!! Or just flat water paddle, it’s more fun than you think, especially with a date.

  • Boulder

    Get over it.
    Figure out the reason surfing is to most what crack is to many.
    Figure out the reasons that surfing holds you back from maturing in life.
    Figure out the reason everyone knows youre an asshole for ditching out on your responsibilities to go surf.
    Figure out how selfish you are for all the time you spend floating in the ocean.
    Figure out the reason you wait for waves instead of seeking responsibilities that will take precedence over surfing.
    Figure out the reason that the time you spend surfing will limit progress in other areas of your life.
    When you find the reality of it all and then choose to surf. You surf stronger.

  • Logan

    Flat Water Trickss!!!!!

  • Stan Kruslicky

    that water looks perfect.

  • Caribbeaner

    Ben, keep your Caribbean pics to yourself.. 😉 and “your” secret spot.

  • Airdrop76

    What get me through the flat days?
    Mountain biking, surf movies, forest walks with the kids… and Xbox

  • Nate

    Work, Spearfishing, and simply enjoying the A/C in the summer. Fishing, working on my house, and reading in the winter.

  • Ruddy

    I hide out at Jeff Myers house. Then by week three I creep around the beer church looking for strangers with random room keys. Stay thirsty my friends.

  • Oyisti

    Skate in summer, snowboard in winter, motorbike riding all around the year, the best for the cold turkey, DIY longboard skates too,…
    It’s good to be King,… 😉

  • jimmy

    Spend some time helping someone. Give your friend a ride, volunteer at a food shelter or clean up the beach. Lord knows we spend enough time on ourselves. Theres a hell of a lot of people who wish they could spend all day worrying about the surf.

  • Omer

    Play YouRiding (a pretty good surfing game) hang out with friends, watch surf movies and vids in the surfer website.
    mostly, trying to stay alive until the next swell hits the coast.

  • butch

    Wack it

  • dgcova

    Go skate at the Pool or Die!

  • Humberto

    When is flat I go to beach breaks and if they do not work either, I take my mountain bike for 30 Kms or more and do some yoga for 30 min, then I wait for the next swell.

  • TerrBear


  • Ross

    You have to live in Italy……..only a week of flat could be a miracle

  • Burt

    That picture, I am guessing is Pottavil Point in Sri Lanka possibly?

  • Michael Soule

    Do Not Tell Anyone where this is Ben!
    A friend and I Pioneered this spot in the late 80’s…
    We surfed it Alone for about 5 years before letting our fellow St. Johnians know about it and made them Swear that they wouldnt tell Anyone!
    Well… Someone couldnt handle and leaked out our Special Spot…
    Since then all the Kids from the East Coast Have blown it up..
    Kids like ZM for instance started bringing his parents charter boat there and telling all his buddies about it…
    Sure its not a secret anymore but it only holds a handful of surfers at a time…
    So please Do Not Blow It Up Anymmore!!!
    Thank you for respecting this sacred little bay…
    Aloha nui…
    Michael Soule 😉

  • BHawk

    I used to party as hard as I could till two days before the next swell, then I realized I had become an alcoholic so now I just go fishing, and if the fishing is bad for some reason for any amount of time I have to actually go to a meeting 🙁

  • Matt R

    Puerto Rico

  • Aiden Paul

    Finding lil Wedges and shore break can always keep up the stoke selling old boards can get u some money for that baja rode trip and theres always skatboards!!!