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HOW TO GET BETTER AT SURFING: Goals, Systems, Habits

Where are you headed with your surfing in 2019?

Where are you headed with your surfing in 2019?


As we stand at the business end of 2019, everyone inevitably talks about goals: how to set goals, keep goals, and record goals. Yet, mere goal setting never gets anyone across the finish line.  Instead of focusing too much on procuring a result, we must figure out a way to create a process that can be applied over and over again to achieve great success in any endeavour.  So, when it comes to surfing, how can you meet and exceed your New Year’s aspirations?  

We must first answer this question:

“How Do You Eat an Elephant?”

What do you do when faced with what seems like an insurmountable task? How do you wrap your head around volumes of material, climb the ranks of an association of superstars, create an empire out of sticks or go from beginner to barrel rider?  

You eat an elephant the only way you can: “ONE BITE AT A TIME.”

In our journey as surfers, we are all criticize ourselves ruthlessly. Just watch a video of yourself surfing and listen to your inner monologue go nuts (see our post on changing the voice in your head). You’ll be able to point 50 ways you’re not ripping as hard as you thought you were. But just like writing a book, losing 20 kilos, or starting a business, we can only achieve our surfing goals by committing to a good system of a thousand little steps.

Below is the hierarchy we will use for achieving our surfing goals and that can be used for any other aspiration to greatness.  

Of course, you start with setting the big-picture, end-result goal but then you must forget it.  Instead, focus on the nitty-gritty: the little changes you can make each day that move you closer to your goal.  Recognize patterns and optimize your system for the best possible outcome. Be adaptive but keep marching forward no matter what happens and you’ll either reach your goal or adapt your goal to something better.  

  1. Goals

  2. Systems

  3. Habits

Keala Kenneley putting her system to the test.

Keala Kenneley putting her system to the test.


This is why we are going to focus on systems rather than goals: systems are more effective, longer lasting, and provide more intrinsic value. Even if you completely forget your overarching goal and instead pour all your energy into developing an effective system, you will still succeed. For example, if your goal was to lose 10 kilos and you developed a system that included habitually working out 3 days week, intermittent fasting from 8 PM to 12 PM, and eating a high-fat-low-carb diet 6 days a week, you could completely forget about your goal and you would still lose weight, be healthier, and feel great.

Use goals to set your course, then develop a system of habits to navigate the seas of success.  Both winners and losers set the same goals.  Every athlete wants to win a Gold Metal.  Every candidate wants to get the job.  The difference is what they do in-between setting the goal and achievement.  Here’s the secret: the “winners” break down their goals into simple, small, repeatable steps.  They create a system of continuous small improvements that eventually culminate in a big difference.  

Take improving your Pop-Up for example.  A lot of surfers struggle in this area and a slow or awkward pop-up will cause all kinds of other problems for catching and riding a wave.  Creating a system to improve your Pop-Up requires deconstructing the movement into smaller chunks and then figuring how and when to practice each part of the movement.   If you struggle getting to your feet, there are three exercises you can do to improve your Pop-Up including sets of push-ups (on knees are fine), spilt squats, and burpees.  Try doing rounds of 10 of each of these exercises, followed by at least two sets of five Pop-Ups with rest in between. Place a piece of tape on the ground to simulate the stringer of your surfboard while you do you Pop-Ups.  This is basically the basis of our 30-Day Pop-Up Challenge that every guest will do the month before each of our Sea Hearts Surfaris.  You can take things one step further by working on hip mobility and watching the waves to correctly determine the perfect time paddle in and stand up.  

The 30 Day Pop-Up Challenge is our system for improving your Pop-Up. It works because:

  • Clear

  • Time defined

  • Performed in small, simple, repeatable chunks

  • The steps become a short, daily habit that shouldn’t require much willpower 

Everyone can benefit from the 30 Day Pop-Up Challenge. In this video, I wish my pop-up was faster and cleaner so I would have had more time to do a clean bottom turn and not have to race the whole wave. This is at Pasti at Surfing Village.


“First forget inspiration.

Habit is more dependable.

Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not.

Habit is persistence in practice.”

— Octavia Butler

Speaking of habits, one of the most important elements of achieving a goal is making the steps in your system habitual.  Habits are the building blocks of the systems that create long term change and carry us to our goals.  

Stop multi-tasking.  Focus on one little step at a time.  Figure out a way that you can make achieving this mini-goal a part of your daily routine.  If you want to improve how long you can hold your breath while surfing, practice breathing first thing every single morning for 5 minutes, everyday for 30 days.  You can make any behavior almost automatic if you practice it everyday for 30-60 days in row.  Once you’ve created a habit, you’re likely to keep doing that thing for life.  You’ll get a taste of success when you are able to complete these small steps towards your goal that will create momentum towards your end result.  But this is the best part, once formed, habits don’t require much motivation.  You’ve effectively rewired your brain so you won’t have to summon up much willpower, you’ll automatically be moving towards your goal.  How cool is that?

Win the War, One Battle at a Time

What do you want to achieve in your Surfari?  Go ahead, write it down.  On the first day at our Surfaris, we’ll discuss our goals and then map out a system of steps to get you there.  You’ll take home a plan of action that you can do everyday from here on out.  Make the little things habitual, adapt and optimize your system every time you encounter an obstacle, and you’ll have a formula for success that you can repeat over and over again.  Our ultimate goal is to master the system of surfing.

Common Surfing Goals:  

The following are some of the most common surfing goals.  How would you create a specific system for each goal?  Or do you have another goal not mentioned here? Leave it in the comments and we’ll create a system for you!

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