How do you conquer your fear of high waves?

What a power the ocean has! You probably remember very well the one time that you were pulled under water and only just managed to come out of the water again. Since then you regularly think back to that session and if the conditions are even somewhat comparable your fear will come back. In this article we will take a closer look at your fear and I will give you tips and tricks to reduce your fear in the water.

What exactly is fear?

But what exactly is fear and how does it work? The definition of fear is an emotion that arises from a perceived threat that normally leads to the avoidance or evasion of the threat. In other words, our body reacts anxiously because we see waves that we experience as a threat. Often this results in a stress response in which our body enters a state of fight or flight so that we can respond as quickly as possible if necessary. A nice souvenir from earlier times in which we actually had to be gone as quickly as possible if a tiger was after us. Now, however, that is a bit different and we do not always have to fight or flight immediately.

That is great because it means that we can pause for a moment when we experience fear and we can see what happens exactly. What happens in your body when you experience fear? Maybe your heart rate goes up or you start to sweat. Or maybe you get stomach pains and you can’t think anymore.

Recognize your fear

This is an important question because we cannot change fear until we recognize it. Like many emotions, anxiety also has a certain intensity and you can imagine that if you experience enormous anxiety, it is difficult to take it away. But if we experience a little bit of anxiety and our stress response is only just beginning, it is a lot easier to do something about it. So the key is to recognize the signals from your body that indicate that you are afraid and to tackle the fear at the earliest possible stage.

Break the circle

Enormous fear can express itself in a panic attack. Take a look at the circle below. You experience anxiety and your body is already responding. Your heart rate goes up and you become restless. Then you pay extra attention to that unrest and the stress increases. Your body prepares for a flight or fight reaction. As a result, you all get thoughts like what if I drown, what if this doesn’t go well. These thoughts cause the increase in even more stress in your body. You have entered a vicious circle.

The cycle of panic

Fortunately we can break the circle. We can choose to do this at the level of your body or at the level of your thoughts. First, let’s look at the first option. We must try to diminish the stress response in our body. This can be done in many different ways. One way I often recommend is to focus on your breathing. For example, you can try quantum breathing. Breathe in 4s, hold 4s, breathe out 4s and again hold 4s. Another option is to count your exhalation. You count on each exhalation. So you count to 10 and when you reach 10 you count back to 1. Both ways allow your heart rate to become calmer, your head to relax and the stress to decrease.

Another option is to break the circle in your head. Just look at what thoughts come to you when you experience anxiety. Try to discover the precise thought. Then ask yourself if it helps to have this thought. This thought is probably not going to help you when you are actually in danger. Then try to reverse the thought. How can you make the thought positive without being too far removed from reality? Imagine “what if I drown”. Instead of this thought you can also say “there are many people who can help me.” Suddenly the focus turns from something negative to something positive so that we can let the fear decrease. Every time that thought comes up you try to replace it with the new thought.

Respect your limits

We have looked at how we can overcome the fear. Yet the fear is not there for nothing. Without fear we would easily drive 200 miles per hour on the highway, cross over when cars pass, and maybe start surfing in 4 meter high waves as a beginner. The fear is there for a reason and it is therefore super important to take the fear seriously.

I often see that surfers want to completely remove their fear, but that is a mission that will fail anyway. It would be better to be grateful with your fear. This is because the fear indicates where your limit is currently.

Check out where your limit is. When do you feel fear coming up in the water? For me that is with hollow containers of more than 2 meters. I respect that limit but at the same time I try to challenge myself to push the limit. Not by surfing waves of 4 meters, but by surfing small hollow waves that make me feel more comfortable with those conditions, or by paddling to the line-up when the conditions are 2.5 meters. Maybe the first time I will only be watching the other surfers, but that’s okay. Slowly but surely I notice that my limit is changing and therefore my fear is changing.

How complex…

Anxiety is indeed not one of the easiest mental facets within surfing. In this article I tried to give a small insight into what is involved in anxiety, but in the end everyone will work differently and to really tackle your anxiety, 1 on 1 guidance is advisable.

But we now know that it is good to notice it early. The moment the fear arises, we can break the circle either by watching our breath or by turning our thoughts around. But perhaps even more important is to see fear as something beautiful. Fear indicates where your limit lies so that you can consciously work on it!

Do you want to learn more about how you can deal with your fear in the water? Then go on a Surfmind trip and not only learn to surf better but also to develop yourself personally! More information can be found here. Would you rather be guided 1-on-1? Then you can also choose to do online surf psychological coaching.

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