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PSCo Tutorials: Surf-viving in Powerful Swells

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The Tofino coastline is alive with storm activity in the winter. If you are well prepared, this time of year offers some of the best conditions for surfing. Dive into our new tutorial to discover what it takes to ride the winter waves. *NOTE: We strongly recommend taking lessons / making sure you’re an experienced surfer before heading out in bigger swell. 

I will break it down into two parts: Part 1 covers your preparation leading up to the session, whilst Part 2 covers wave riding techniques, such as navigating steep takeoffs and hollow sections.

Part 1 - Preparation

    • Know before you go. Where do you intend to surf? You’ll want to understand surf forecasting and have a good knowledge of the breaks in the area

    • Equipment check: Make sure your equipment is dialled in. Check your leash for wear and tear.  Make sure your wetsuit (or bathing suit/boardies) are well-fitting and not prone to flushing. Our Winter Warmer blog has some crucial wetsuit tips to help you there.

    • Is your surfboard suited to the waves you intend to surf? You can ride a wide variety of craft in all sorts of waves so I won’t go into specifics, but you’ll want something that is generous in volume, well glassed, and in good condition. Longboards and “guns” or  “semi-guns” will allow for easy paddling and wave catching, but at the cost of maneuverability. Shortboards work well in steep waves, but you will lose that buoyancy can be so useful. 
  • Spot check: Take time to look at the spot as this will tell you a lot more than just a glance. You’ll be able to assess the waves coming in and where hazardous zones to avoid like rips and rocks
  • Check-in: Now you’re prepped and ready to go, let someone know that you’re going surfing. Give them the location, and time you intend to be done. This is a good practice with any session, but especially in bigger waves. Paddling out with a buddy is a great idea, too.

Part 2 - Technique

  • Duck dive: Get this technique down quack. Fortunately for you, our last tutorial covered just this.
  • Learn how to wipe-out: The wipeout is an inevitable part of surfing! Waves are powerful enough to drag you and hold you underwater for longer than is comfortable. The key is to be relaxed and let the turbulence of the wave pass, without trying to fight the force as it tumbles you around. You will be able to tell which way is up by looking for the light at the surface and remember that you have plenty of oxygen even if you experience the urge to breathe. One final tip for this technique - cover your head when you come up!! That surfboard could be right above you, or still mid-air from being launched by the wave.
  • Take off on the peak: Spot waves as they approach from far away. Anticipate where it is going to break and put yourself there. Eye the peak and aim to take off right underneath it, board slightly angled in the direction you aim to surf. As you paddle for the wave, add a few kicks to propel you faster on your entry. Let the board fall under your feet as it projects along the wave. Keep a crouched stance for stability.

  • Make the section and kick out of the wave: “The section” refers to the rideable part of the wave that is breaking at that moment. This section becomes more critical as it builds in size. Respond to the section in front of you, stalling and accelerating accordingly to match the pace of the wave. The fundamentals that you will want to develop for this will be your bottom turn, pumping and trimming skills, which we will discuss in more detail in our next PSCo. tutorial. The goal is to make it across that critical section of the wave, and safely off the back of the wave without being engulfed by the notorious foam ball. 

Go out there with a visual gameplan of what you want to do.Think about where you want to sit, how you want to ride the wave and see how it goes. The worst that will happen is that you’ll wipe out, and it’s good to get that out of the way with, anyway.

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