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6 Life Lessons You Can Learn From Surfing

by Elana Miller, MD

Sometimes I’m surprised I wasn’t born with gills.

My life in the water started when I was 13 and joined my high school’s water polo team. I sucked, but fell in love. I got better and ended up playing competitively through college.

When I graduated, I wasn’t ready to give up the water yet and joined a masters swim team. I swam regularly through medical school, even setting a couple of records in competitions.

So when I discovered surfing… well, needless to say, I was in awe. Yes, it was fun to play around in a pool, but to be in the ocean? To feel the rhythm of the waves underneath me? To splash around with dolphins and seals (and luckily for me, no sharks so far)? You can’t beat it.


Surfing is not just a sport, it’s a perspective. It’s a way of life. Yes, that sounds dramatic, but hear me out. Surfing can teach you life lessons you won’t learn anywhere else. Let me share a few with you.

1. There’s plenty of room at the top.
Los Angeles is crowded. There are almost 10 million people within its county limits. On your typical sunny weekend day when the waves are decent, the water is congested with hundreds of little black dots, each trying to carve out his or her own little corner of the ocean.

For months, the crowds intimidated me so much that I wouldn’t even go out. I felt insecure about my own abilities. I didn’t think I belonged out there. I’d wait until it was rainy or the water was choppy and go out when no other decent surfer would bother. If the waves looked good? Forget it. I’d be at home.

But then, as I spent more time in the water, I realized that of all those hundreds of bodies out there, only a small handful were actually going for the waves. The rest were just sitting around, hanging out. I had spent all this time being intimidated by “competition” that didn’t even exist.

Now when I go out, I don’t care if I see a thousand bodies out there. I know there are enough waves for all of us who really want them.

Do you feel a burning desire to write? To create art? To build a business? Do you feel held back all the other people you see who you think are so much better at it than you? Do you worry that the marketplace is too crowded?

Please, don’t be. There are not as many people at the top as you think. There is room for you up there, too, if you’re willing to do the work it takes to get there.

2. It’s not about any one huge effort — it’s about focused, consistent work over time.
Have you ever heard the expression that to be a writer, you need “butt-in-chair” time? Well the same is true for surfing. You need “body-in-water” time.

My friend James Clear calls this your average daily speed. It’s not so important how much you do in a burst of inspiration. It’s about how much you do day after day, when you just want to give up and go home.

For the entire first six months I surfed, I didn’t catch a single wave. The next six months, I caught a few.

Most of the hours and hours I spent in the ocean were passed paddling around, falling, getting beaten up and jealously watching all the other surfers who seemed to know what they were doing a lot better than I did. Then I’d go home, tired and frustrated.

But this was not time wasted. This was when I learned how waves worked, where to look, where to sit on my board, how to position myself, when I should move in because the tide was changing, when I should move out because a big set was coming from outside.

One day, all of the sudden, I started catching waves. I didn’t even know what I was doing differently. I was just moving on instinct.

Put in your time. The results will come.

3. Bide your time, and strike when the iron is hot.
First, a little background on wave science.

Waves don’t just roll into the shore one after the other. They come in clusters, or sets. Depending on the weather conditions, the ocean will typically be silent for a while, and then a set of three or four waves will roll in a few seconds apart.

I can always tell the less experienced surfers because they go for the first wave in the set. Believe me, I understand the impulse. We’ve all been out there, sitting around, waiting for something exciting to happen. So when that first wave comes… bam! Everyone runs after it in a mad dash.

Not me. I watch and wait. I watch as everyone else rushes for the wave. A few catch it, but most don’t. And all of those who didn’t are now out of position when the second and third waves roll in, which are typically bigger and better formed than the first. That’s when I make my move, and get the wave all to myself.

So be patient. Don’t get caught in the mad dash. If everyone’s running one way, check out to see what’s in the other direction.

4. You can tell a professional not by his talent but by his attitude. The same is true of an amateur.
Everyone starts somewhere. Everyone was a beginner once.

Territoriality is for amateurs. Arrogance is for amateurs. Grandiosity is for amateurs. I don’t mean “amateur” in the professional sports sense, I mean in the Steven Pressfield Turning Pro sense. You can be the best surfer out there and still be an amateur. You can have a professional contract and still be an amateur.

I once saw a guy surfing who was pretty good, but was a total asshole. He had a longboard, which means you can catch waves earlier than other people can, and was stealing all the waves without respecting the lineup. He was yelling at anyone who he thought was getting in his way. He was grabbing people’s leashes to pull them out of the waves so he could cut in.

You know what? That guy had some skills, but in five years he’s still going to be putting around, stealing waves and pulling leashes. He’s never going to get any better than he is now.

So in whatever you’re trying to do, be a pro. Show up. Do your work. Help others who don’t know as much as you. Be helped by people know know more. If you find yourself getting arrogant, check it.

5. Most people are rooting for you, not trying to compete with you.
Yes, every once in a while you come across a surfer with a stick up his ass (see above), but more often than not, I’m blown away by the generosity of the surfing community.

I’ve paddled out to the ocean alone and swam back with new friends. I’ve had total strangers take me under their wing and show me the ropes for the few hours we found ourselves in the same waves, for no other reason than they had the expertise and saw I could use it.

Those of us who love this sport — we root for each other. We congratulate each other for good rides. We take turns. We see a good wave coming and say, “You go right, I’ll go left.” We share. We want each other to succeed.

Too many people operate under the delusion of competition, when the most helpful stance is collaboration. Don’t make the mistake of getting competitive when other people just want to help you. Don’t be the jerk who’s pushing others out of the way when those people would freely give the way to you.

6. There’s no point fighting forces of nature.
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How to make your own surf wax

Grip is all that matter when you’re taking off on fast, steep wave. If your feet get slippery, you’ll experience hilarious wipeouts.

Wax was first tested over a surfboard by Los Angeles surfer Alfred Gallant Jr., back in 1935. The formula was improved further and nowadays commercial surf wax is widely available in different colors and smells.


In the mean time however, why not try your custom-made wax? You’ll certainly impress your surfing friends and may even start a new business.

Actually, you can even design a cold water wax or warm water wax. It’s up to you to choose. So what do you need to produce homemade wax? Buy beeswax and coconut oil or any fragrant oil. You’ll only have to add tree resin (sap) if you opt for producing cold water wax.

For tree resin, you can cut a small area of a pine tree, and collect the liquid with small plastic cup. Don’t worry, you’re not hurting the tree.

Then, place three and a half parts of beeswax, one part of coconut oil, and one part of tree resin (optional) in a large cook pot. Heat it gently in a double boiler, while keeping the mixture moving.

After stirring the mixture and liquifying your ingredients, pour the melted formula out into paper/plastic cups or other disposable containers. Remember that molds like small Tupperware will work just like a classic surfboard wax.

Finally, let the wax rest for three hours until dry. Label it with a brand and logo, and test in the water. It’s the best organic surf wax you’ll ever get. Smelly and sticky, without petrochemicals.

The Organic Surf Wax Recipe:

3.5 parts of Beeswax
1 part of Coconut Oil or Fragrant Oil
1 part of Tree Resin / Sap (for cold water wax only)


source; also click to learn how to wax a surfboard and how to remove wax from your wetsuit.



8 Reasons Why Surfing in a Crowded Lineup is Good, Even Though it Sucks

Look, I’ll do anything to get my own waves. But sometimes that just isn’t in the cards. Here’s to growing from shitty circumstances.


1. It teaches you to have empathy… for drug addicts. When you can’t get your fix of waves, and find yourself vibing, scowling, or crying during the most fun activity in the world (surfing), you realize you’re the same as Bubbs. Just scheming and itching for that next hit.

2. It teaches patience. You gotta wait your turn. With a hundred fiends out, and a handful of waves per set, there’s gonna be waiting, sometimes too much. Which brings us to #3.

3. It teaches you to compete. There are a lot of people in this world. Hundreds of ‘em. All over the place. If you’re too patient, you may find yourself never getting a turn. No one ever got anywhere cool by being a timid little bitch. Put yourself in position, paddle with intent, and commit.

4. It teaches gratitude. When you do finally get your wave of the day in a crowded lineup it’s memorable. It tastes real good. It’ll turn your mood 180 degrees, and you’ll start experiencing all kinds of strange emotions, like gratitude. Once you’re on that train your mind starts spinning and you realize the swell size, direction, period, tide, wind, weather, season, day of the week, nature of the universe aside, both sets of your grandparents had to meet and successfully have sex in order for you to be riding a wave of energy traveling through water on this living rock which is hurling through the expanding universe at 1000 mph in an orbit around a fucking star. How crazy is that?

5. It teaches you grace under pressure. Duh. But when it’s super crowded, you have the added pressure of swooping and sliding around potential involuntary manslaughter charges and ruined families, as well as making the wave and having a nice time.

6. It teaches you how to fight. It’s a possibility that you will be involved in an altercation at some point if you regularly surf crowded lineups. Addicts have a tendency to get a might ornery when waiting for their next hoot. If you are able to remain calm and talk logically and objectively about the water sports disagreement, you may avoid physical contact. Otherwise, you may have to learn how to defend and even counter periodic attacks, verbal or physical, pertaining to water sports. And that’s good for you, too!

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20 Things to do on a Surf Boat Trip

1. Surf. Obviously. But only when there’s a photographer snapping. A ‘sesh’ is only as good as the photos posted on social media.
2. Play bocce with coconuts on a sandy spit at sunset.
3. Ask the skipper questions. About everything. Constantly. There are no dumb questions; just really, really stupid ones.
4. Enjoy your lunch. The surf always stops pumping from 12pm to 2pm.
5. Surf without a hat. It’s cool to have a tanned bald spot.
6. Surf without booties. It’s cool to have sliced feet.

7. Surf in a collared shirt (preferably unbuttoned). No-one is doing it. It’s cool to be original.
8. Jump off the roof of the boat.
9. Bleat about the crowds and about not surfing everywhere with only your mates.
10. Check the spot around the corner. It’s always pumping and there’s never anyone out.
11. Sit on the deck and hoot while your surf guide (or cook, or skipper) gets barrelled off his bosom.
12. Rave about the food. The cook on your boat will be the best in the islands.


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How to Be a Stronger Paddler: Surf Paddling Workouts

We’ve all had the feeling at one point. That feeling when all you can see is whitewater and oncoming sets, and your arms feel like they can’t move. You’re trying to paddle, but you don’t seem to be moving forward, and that damn burn in your arms and shoulders just won’t subside.

Of course, the most efficient method to improve your surf paddling endurance is to be in the water, and paddle, and then paddle some more. But, for most of us, that’s not always possible. What we can do is try to mimic the biomechanics and energy pathways that paddling requires. I would also recommend just going for a paddle, even if it’s flat, and get in some on-the-water paddling time.

Here’s a good surf paddling workout for the next time you’re in the gym:

That video gives you a circuit of exercises that, when performed correctly, will drastically improve your capacity in the water. I do want to stress, however, the importance of having the necessary flexibility in your upper body to accommodate strength and power. If you’re tight, bound up, and have restricted joint movement, adding strength and power movements to limited range of motion is a good way to tear joints apart. Don’t do that. Get flexible.

Here are some great shoulder stretches for surfers:

Paddling is a combination of what we term “open-chain” and “closed-chain” movements – pulling movements to be more specific. Open-chain means you’re pulling an object towards the body, like a one-arm cable pull. Closed-chain means you’re pulling the body towards a fixed object, like a chin-up. Paddling is a combination of those movements, which is why both types are used in the workout circuit from the video. Using a combination of closed-chain and open-chain movements in a workout has more of a carryover to paddling.

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Surf Completely – How to Turn (Use Your Boobs)

In the first episode of our new series “Surf Completely” Holly Beck from Surf With Amigas talks about how to turn your surfboard. This is the first step of learning to surf after the very basic part of standing up and riding is mastered. Watch and learn and remember to “use your boobs!”

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How to Cope with Flat Spells

Every now and then, the urge to get in the water builds to an unmanageable level. When all you can think about is surfing, from dawn to dusk, when you close your eyes you see sets stacking up, when you sleep, your dreams are occupied by A-frames. In your stomach, you feel a physical longing for the water, with Hulk like consequences for anyone that gets in you way. We know, we’ve been there.

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How to remove wax from your surfboard

Old wax is a problem. Surfboards get heavier and start losing tackiness. Learn how to properly remove wax from your surfboard and leave it clean for a new layer of grip.

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4 Solutions to Maintain Strong Shoulders

A good friend of mine told me a few years ago about a surf trip he went on where he dislocated his shoulder. He was in a far-away place, a long way from immediate medical care. I remember him telling me that the weirdest thing was that to put a dislocated shoulder back “in,” that you actually pull your arm (while lying on your surfboard) down and it actually will self-retract back into place.

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An exercise regime made for lazy fat surfer

If you’re anything like me, the thought of going to the gym is about as appealing as being run over by an old guy on a mal. Hanging out with a bunch of sweaty males on the gains, drinking protein shakes, and lifting heavy objects just doesn’t appeal. Nor, for that matter, does the current trend of paying to go and throw tires repeatedly against a wall and hit rubber things with large hammers – also known as cross-fit.

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