The racket coming from my alarm actually inflicted physical pain on me.
It was still 40 minutes before sunrise, and according to my adopted training regimen, I had 30 minutes of stretching to endure before paddling out in the chilly, pre-dawn light. The only thing adding to the lunacy of me being conscious at this hour was my motivation: I’m actively trying to become a better surfer.
A week earlier in an editorial planning meeting, I made the near-fatal mistake of suggesting that someone (1) should actually test the advice we so readily give out in this Surf Tip column. The suggestion was met with sinister smiles and a unanimous vote, resulting in me becoming SURFER’s Surf Tip guinea pig. A title that is bound to be the cause of much personal pain and suffering in the coming months.
The natural kickoff point decided by my sadistic coworkers was to train like a champ. Specifically, the reigning champ, Mick Fanning. With that in mind, I contacted Rip Curl’s “Pit Boss,” Matt Griggs, who gave me an overview of Mick’s daily movements using a WCT event lay day as an example:
-Wake 40 minutes before sunrise to stretch.
-In the water just before light.
-Surf for 30 to 40 minutes utilizing a number of different boards.
-Switch off (watch a movie/hang out).
-Light gym work before lunch followed by a second surf.
-Surf for the third time.
-In bed by 8:30 p.m.
Since I work a nine to five, I would have to modify the schedule and adhere to it without bastardizing the process. Furthermore, to fully understand Mick’s regimen, I would have to remain committed to it for the entire length of a WCT window period—torture for a slovenly night owl who loves sleeping in. The pre-work surf was fairly easy to arrange, albeit painfully cold (2) and performed through sleep-crusted eyes. The second surf would fit snuggly into my lunch break and the third would have to be squeezed in at dusk. The gym work would have to be tackled some time before my 8:30 curfew. As for switching off between sessions, that would be easy since I already did that at work anyway.
The first day exhausted me. But I got through it. However, by mid-afternoon on the second day I was soundly asleep at my desk. And this, I wondered when I awoke, is what Mick does to conserve energy for the finals? Despite being exhausted most of the day, meeting my 8:30 p.m. curfew each night was nearly impossible. So while my laundry piled up and my bills went unpaid, I tossed and turned for hours to the muffled sound of my roommate watching prime-time television.
By the fourth morning I was utterly miserable; the surf was flat and the air temperature was bottoming out at 40 degrees. To make things worse, I could barely paddle thanks to my swollen, aching right elbow—an almost inevitable result of attempting to copy Mick’s ball-balancing (3) ritual. Let me warn you ahead of time: Standing on a Swiss Ball unassisted is not easy. In fact, Mick’s ability to pull this off affirms what has been a long-standing belief of mine: That he, like Tiger Woods, is an alien. After flailing hopelessly on my knees, I rolled comically over the top of the ball, abruptly ending any and all future attempts. Thankfully, my face and elbow broke my fall.
Despite being technically “injured” for the remainder of the experiment, I found that the more I surfed, the more I wanted to surf. My body acclimatized quickly and my surfing immediately made steps in the right direction. Within five days I felt energized, lighter on my feet, and happily reacquainted with my entire quiver. The dreaded one-board rut was already a thing of the past. Being the first person in the water each morning meant that I caught more waves, which freed me up to try new things instead of just trying not to fall. I was actually getting somewhere. I was improving. Then the project got derailed.
With such focused intensity, it’s easy to see why Eugene (4) sometimes needs to come out to blow off some steam. My version of Eugene made an appearance a week into the window period and partied late into the night. Since I wasn’t actually competing in a contest the next day, there were no tangible consequences to my big night out. But I did miss the following morning’s dawn patrol, and when I did eventually drag my dehydrated frame to the water’s edge, I had my worst surf of the entire experiment.
I spent the next four days trying to make it up to myself. Not because I had to, but because the regimen had given my life a new orbit, however temporary, but nevertheless one that revolved around surfing rather than the other way around.
Five Ways to Improve Your surfing with Matt Griggs
Matt Griggs coaches some of the world’s best competitive surfers including Pancho Sullivan, Taylor Knox, and Mick Fanning. It’s therefore safe to say that Griggsy knows his stuff. Here he offers some advice on how you can improve your surfing:
Focus on the easy things: The biggest mistake people tend to make when looking for improvement is picking things that are too hard or too far away.
Don’t surf for too long: Your motivation and body will tire, so be aware of when that time is and come in.
Film yourself: Make your girlfriend, mom, dad, or mate video you. This is your best and most reliable feedback.
Go into every surf with a challenge: If you keep challenging yourself you’ll always improve. Pick something you want to work on. It might be airs, it might be cutbacks. But get out of your comfort zone: try bigger turns, bigger waves. Don’t be scared to fall off, to look like a kook, or to fail. Falling is part of the terrain to success.
Enjoy every minute: ? A lot of learning is about repetition, but it is also meant to be about having fun.
(1) Other than myself.
(2) Southern California. Mid-winter.
(4) Despite my best efforts to avoid any mention of Mick’s silly alter ego I simply couldn’t resist the urge. Sorry.