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PSCo. Tutorials: How to Wipeout Safely

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As seasoned instructors, we become Prophets of the Wipeout. We can predict when and to whom it will happen, simply by noticing subtle cues in the body language. Maybe it's the eyes looking downward at the feet, a narrowed stance, maybe it’s the slightly-off positioning on the board, or maybe it's the steep pitch of the wave that is going to pick up the unsuspecting student, sending them into the dreaded nosedive. 

There are a million different ways to wipeout. Embracing, even learning to enjoy this inevitability may be one of the biggest keys to tapping into the joy of surfing. So, hold on, get ready for a sinus flush, spin cycle, and hold-down, as we take you through some fundamentals for surviving and thriving through the wipeout. These

Commit 100% or not at all

I cannot stress this one enough. Spot your wave, once you are clear that you have priority (see our etiquette blog), and you are in position, paddle with intent and powerful strokes to catch the wave. Try your hardest: 1. Catch the wave and then 2. Take-off or pop-up into your surf stance. If you hesitate in this process, you increase the risk of falling on top of your surfboard during the wipeout

Caveat: There comes a point where you are aware that a wipeout will be inevitable. This is when you are “too late”, and the wave is already pitching and the board begins disconnecting from the wave. At this point, you have committed as much as possible and you should bail out

(Photo: Scott Gringich) 

Learn your “bailouts” and when to use them

So, you’re gutsy enough to commit 100%, but this particular wave was a mean one, and it had other plans. The lip pitches over faster than you can say cowabunga, and you realize you have lost control of the board. This is the moment that we want to eject or bailout. The goal here is to create distance between ourselves and our surfboard so as to avoid impact with it, and to break the surface of the water so that we can avoid being dragged by the turbulence of the wave. Here, we have two main options:

1. The pencil dive: a simple two-legged jump, pushing your board away from you as you tuck your two legs together to break the surface tension of the wave face. For shallow water, we may not want to pencil dive, as this could cause us to have a hard impact on the reef or compact sand, causing injury to the feet, ankles, or legs. Here, we would use

2. The pancake: fall flat on your back and send the board in the opposite direction by pushing off with your feet.

Important: Never bail out if you risk hitting another surfer.  Therefore, only commit to the wave if you are confident that you have a clear path, and can avoid any other surfers nearby.

(Photo: Scott Gringich) 

Cover your head! 

Statistically, the biggest cause of injury in surfing is the impact of your surfboard. After a wipeout, your board swings around underwater or above the surface. The turbulence of the water combined with the tension of your leash causes it to move quickly and unpredictably. As you are tumbling around underwater, you’ll want to form an “arm helmet” by:

  • Reaching your arms over your head, 
  • Overlapping your palms at the base of your skull, tucking your chin into your chest
  • Squeezing your elbows together over your head.
  • Relax and emerge slowly, spot your board and regain it underneath you to paddle back out.

Know the signs of concussion, and when to call it. 

Surfing is so fun because we can wipe out repeatedly with a relatively low risk of injury. As we progress into bigger waves, we inevitably hit the water faster and more forcefully. With this comes the increased risk of injury. Know your limit, and take breaks when you need to, to check in on yourself before going back into the water. Inform yourself of the signs and symptoms of concussions.

(Photo: Scott Gringich) 

Relax and don't be embarrassed to fall.

Watching from the shore, we can't help but watch the surfers as they hurtle across the waves. We want to see what they do; what the wave does. This can often make surfers feel self-conscious, as all eyes are on them when they are up and riding. 

When the crowd is watching, the wipeout can smart a little more than usual. Don’t let this phase you. No one cares as much as you do, I guarantee it! Besides, any surfers who saw you probably hope nobody saw the wipeout they just had! 

Finally, Relax. This is the most important advice I can give. Loosen your body and enjoy floating in the churning tumble dryer. It will take you for a ride, and spit you back up at the surface when it’s ready. When we learn to relax in this medium, we realize that we have all the time we need to get to the surface, and we emerge calmy and confidently next to our board, to get back on the horse and do it all over again.

(Photo: Scott Gringich) 

Blog Written By: Adam Tory 

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