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What is My Surfing Level? BecomE a Waterwoman

We’ve just started offering our WaterWoman’s Guide FREE of charge to our newsletter subscribers, so I thought it’s time to clarify just what a WaterWoman is and why you’d want to become one. By the way, this guide is 40+ pages of everything you need to know about overcoming fear and becoming a better surfer including 30 day work out plan and overview of our mindset program.

What’s Up With That Term, “WaterWoman”?

Is there something missing from your surfing that you just can’t put your finger on?

You love the ocean and are stoked on the sport, but you feel stuck at your surfing level. Often you have more bad surfs than good ones, but you are not sure why.

That missing ingredient is what we are trying to cultivate on our Surfaris. For lack of a better term, I call this journey from stagnation to feeling increasingly comfortable with yourself as a surfer, “becoming a Waterwoman.”

i borrowed the term “Waterwoman” from the oft used label “Waterman.” This surf marketing colloquialism generally describes muscle-bound Hawaiians who surf monster Jaws, paddle from Molokai to Oahu, and spearfish giant bluefin tuna in their spare time. in a name, laird. but as commercialized as this label has become, to me, a water[person] is someone with a deep and enduring connection to surfing and the ocean.

A better writer described the term as such in the Surfer’s Journal,

“YOU’LL FIND THAT YOU’RE THINKING OF MEN AND WOMEN WHO NOT ONLY KNOW OR KNEW HOW TO DO CERTAIN THINGS IN THE OCEAN WITH INCREDIBLE SKILL, BUT MEN AND WOMEN WHO KNEW WHY THEY WERE DOING THESE THINGS, AND DEDICATED THEIR LIVES TO EXISTING IN DEEP HARMONY AND ACCORDANCE WITH THAT PROFOUND SENSE OF PURPOSE.”

BRAD MELEKIAN
Woman surfing a right hand wave in Indonesia

FOR OUR PURPOSES, WHAT IS A WATERWOMAN?

THAT TONED AND TANNED WOMAN PADDLING PAST YOU TO CATCH ANOTHER SET WAVE AT THE PEAK WITH HER HEAD HELD HIGH AND CHEST OFF OF HER BOARD IS A WATERWOMAN.  

YOU MIGHT BE ON THE SHOULDER, IN THE WHITEWASH, OR EVEN ON THE BEACH WATCHING HER AS SHE NAVIGATES THE WAVES AND THE CROWDS WITH EASE.  YOU NOTICE SHE NEVER THROWS HER BOARD WHEN A SET COMES OR PANICS WHEN ANOTHER SURFER IS COMING TOWARDS HER.  YOU CAN TELL THAT SURFING IN A VARIETY OF WAVES NOT ONLY IS FUN FOR HER BUT IT IS A PART OF WHO SHE IS.  HER COMPOSED DISPOSITION IN THE WATER SHOWS HER UNDERSTANDING OF THE OCEAN AND COMMITMENT AND DEVOTION TO SURFING. 

AND THEN THERE’S YOU.  YOU LOVE THE OCEAN AND YOU LOVE THE WAY SURFING MAKES YOU FEEL BUT YOU’RE AFRAID.  YOU’RE SCARED OF BIG WAVES, HOLD DOWNS, SHARKS, MISSING OUT, AND FAILURE.  

THE TRUTH IS THAT ANYONE WHO IS TRULY DEVOTED TO THE SPORT OF SURFING HAS BEEN JUST WHERE YOU’RE STANDING.  EVERYONE HAD TO CRAWL BEFORE THEY COULD WALK; EVERY SURFER HAD TO RIDE THE WHITEWASH BEFORE THEY COULD SHRED THE PEAK.  BECOMING A COMPETENT, CONFIDENT SURFER DOES NOT HAPPEN OVERNIGHT.  

ON OUR SURFARIS, I FOCUS ON TEACHING THE CORE COMPETENCIES THAT EVERY SURFER NEEDS TO KNOW. I DON’T JUST FOCUS ON PHYSICAL SKILLS LIKE POP-UPS, STANCE, AND TURNS. BESIDES BEING A COMPETENT AND CONFIDENT WATERWOMAN, THE UPSIDE TO THIS KNOWLEDGE IS THAT IT WILL SERIOUSLY DIMINISH YOUR FEAR AND ANXIETY.  OUR GOAL IS TO TAKE YOU FROM WADING IN THE SHALLOWS TO JUMPING OFF THE BOAT.  

Determining your surfing level

AT A MINIMUM, IF YOU’RE THINKING OF COMING ALONG ON ONE OF OUR SURFARIS (THAT ISN’T SPECIFICALLY A LEARN TO SURF TRIP) WE ASK THAT ALL GUESTS HAVE BASIC SURF EXPERIENCE AND AN ABOVE-AVERAGE FITNESS LEVEL.

OUR DEFINITION OF “BASIC SURF EXPERIENCE”: 

  • YOU ARE A CONFIDENT SWIMMER AND ARE ABLE TO PADDLE ON YOUR SURFBOARD.
  • YOU CAN MANAGE YOUR SURFBOARD ON YOUR OWN WITHOUT BEING A THREAT TO THE OTHER SURFERS OR YOURSELF.
  • YOU UNDERSTAND THE BASICS OF SURF ETIQUETTE.
  • YOU ARE ABLE TO CATCH WAVES BY YOURSELF, AND SUCCESSFULLY POP-UP 60-80% OF THE TIME.
  • YOU ARE ABLE TO RIDE GENTLE UNBROKEN WAVES ACROSS THE FACE.

HOWEVER, MANY SURFERS GET WELL PAST “BASIC SURF EXPERIENCE,” BUT FEEL STUCK AS A BEGINNING INTERMEDIATE OR INTERMEDIATE SURFER. IT IS EXTREMELY COMMON TO FEEL YOU ARE NOT PROGRESSING FOR BOTH PHYSICAL AND MENTAL REASONS. WE AIM TO HELP YOU SPOTLIGHT THE AREAS WHERE YOU NEED WORK AND TROUBLESHOOT HOW TO GET TO THE NEXT POINT IN YOUR SURFING JOURNEY.

Improving your surfing level

IF YOU’RE READING THIS, YOU’RE PROBABLY INTERESTED IN CHANGE. MAYBE YOU HAVE SPECIFIC GOALS FOR YOUR SURFING OR MAYBE YOU’RE WAITING FOR IT ALL TO “CLICK IN.” EITHER WAY, OUR METHODOLOGY (READ MORE ABOUT GOAL SETTING & SYSTEMS) FOR ACHIEVING LASTING CHANGE IN HOW WE SURF AND HOW WE FEEL IS BASIC. HERE’S THE SECRET: WE BREAK DOWN OUR GOALS INTO SIMPLE, SMALL, REPEATABLE STEPS.  WE CREATE A SYSTEM OF CONTINUOUS SMALL IMPROVEMENTS THAT EVENTUALLY CULMINATE IN A BIG DIFFERENCE.

IF THE ULTIMATE GOAL OF A WATERWOMAN IS TO MASTER THE SYSTEM OF SURFING, OUR ULTIMATE GOAL FOR YOU ON ONE OF OUR SURFARIS IS TO LEAVE KNOWING THE STEPS YOU NEED TO TAKE TO GET TO YOUR GOALS.

THE 4 COMPONENTS OF SKILL AND KNOWLEDGE NEEDED TO BECOME A WATERWOMAN ARE OCEAN UNDERSTANDING, SELF-KNOWLEDGE, PHYSICAL ABILITY, AND AWARENESS.

READ THE WATERWOMEN’S CHECKLIST BELOW AND THINK ABOUT THE AREAS WHERE YOU FEEL STRONG AND ALSO WHERE YOU FEEL WORK. NEXT, THINK ABOUT SYSTEMATIC HABITS YOU CAN CREATE AND CULTIVATE TO GAIN EXPERIENCE AND SKILL IN EACH AREA.

THE SKILLS ON THIS CHECKLIST ARE YOUR TICKET TO SURFING BIGGER WAVES, AMONGST CROWDS, AND WITH CONFIDENCE. NATURALLY, THE MORE TIME AND EXPERIENCE YOU SPEND IN THE OCEAN, THE EASIER IT IS TO CULTIVATE THESE SKILLS. BUT DON’T MAKE THE MISTAKE OF THINKING THAT SURF TIME ALONE WILL MAKE YOU A MASTER. THERE’S PLENTY OF PEOPLE WHO PUT IN THEIR 10,000 HOURS BUT NEVER BECOME STEPH GILMORE OR KELLY SLATER. COMMITMENT TO HABITUAL PRACTICE IN AND OUT OF THE WATER IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PERPETUAL INTERMEDIATE AND WATERWOMAN.

Waterwoman’s Checklist

OCEAN UNDERSTANDING 

  • GATHER CRITICAL INTEL FROM A SURF CHECK
  • UNDERSTAND THE EFFECTS OF WIND AND SWELL DIRECTION, AND TIDE IN-DEPTH
  • UNDERSTANDING OF YOUR HOME BREAK AND THE ABILITY TO GATHER CRITICAL INTEL FROM WATCHING/SURFING A NEW BREAK.  
  • GATHER SURF BREAK INTEL: IDENTIFIES THE PEAK, CHANNEL, IMPACT ZONE, HAZARDS (LIKE RIPS, ROCKS, REEF).  
  • ABLE TO JUDGE BOTTOM TYPE AND POWER OF WAVE.
  • ABILITY CORRECTLY CHOSE WHERE TO POSITION YOURSELF RELATIVE TO THE BEACH BOTH IN TERMS OF DISTANCE FROM THE SHORE + PLACE ALONG THE BREAK.
  • JUDGE, SELECT, AND CATCH WAVES THAT OFFER THE BEST POTENTIAL FOR SURFING (IE NOT CLOSEOUTS).
  • NAVIGATE CROWDS AND BREAKING WAVES BY DUCK DIVING AT PROPER TIME, IN PROPER PLACE (BEHIND THE SURFER).  
  • SELF-KNOWLEDGE

Self Knowledge

PHYSICAL ABILITY

AWARENESS

  • ABILITY TO READ A CROWD AND USE IT TO YOUR ADVANTAGE.
  • USE THE BEST SURFERS AS INDICATORS OF WHERE TO SIT AND WHERE TO CATCH THE WAVE.  
  • IDENTIFY RISKS SUCH AS INCOMPETENT, DANGEROUS, OR AGGRESSIVE SURFERS AND AVOIDS THEM.  
  • APPRECIATE THE “TONE” OR “VIBE” IN THE WATER.
  • TRUST YOUR INTUITION AND GET OUT OF THE WATER WHEN YOU FEELS UNCOMFORTABLE. 
  • CORRECTLY ANALYZE RISK VS. REWARD.
  • DEEP RESPECT FOR THE POWER OF THE OCEAN. 

SO WHAT Surfing LEVEL DOES THAT MAKE ME?

I FEEL THIS IS SUCH A NUANCED QUESTION BECAUSE THERE ARE SUB-LEVELS WITHIN EACH SO CALLED LEVELS. PLUS, THERE’S A BIG DIFFERENCE BETWEEN LEARNING TO SURF AND BECOMING A COMPETENT SURFER. BUT AS YOU’LL READ FROM NICK CARROLL’S DESCRIPTION BELOW, AN ADVANCED RIDER COMBINES PHYSICAL PROWESS WITH A KEEN ABILITY TO UNDERSTAND THE OCEAN, HERSELF, AND HER SURROUNDINGS. HENCE, A WATERWOMAN.

A surfer executing a huge turn.
Bethany exhibiting what it means to have an advanced surfing level.

ACCORDING TO NICK CARROLL ON SURFLINE:

BEGINNER SURFING LEVEL

IS A SURFER WHO IS YET TO SUCCESSFULLY PADDLE OUT ALONE AND CATCH AND RIDE A WAVE CLEANLY TO ITS LOGICAL FINISH.

AN INTERMEDIATE SURFING LEVEL

IS WHERE A RIDER WHO CAN SUCCESSFULLY PADDLE OUT ALONE AT A FAMILIAR LOCATION AND CATCH AND RIDE WAVES TO A LOGICAL FINISH FRONTSIDE OR BACKSIDE, CONFIDENTLY USING THE THREE BASIC SURFING TURNS – BOTTOM TURN, TOP TURN AND CUTBACK.

HAVING AN ADVANCED SURFING LEVEL

IS A RIDER WHO CAN PADDLE OUT ALONE TO A SURF SPOT HE/SHE HAS NEVER RIDDEN, ASSESS THE LINEUP, AND CATCH AND RIDE WAVES TO HIS/HER CHOICE OF FINISH, CONFIDENTLY USING A FULL RANGE OF TURNS IN A DISTINCTIVE, EFFECTIVE STYLE.

HOW DO YOU LEVEL UP? DO YOU FEEL YOU’VE COVERED ALL THE SKILLS IN THE CHECKLIST? WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON AND WHERE COULD YOU USE HELP?

I’d love to hear what you believe your surfing level is and why in the comments!

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