I will not be getting into the water till this weekend at the earliest. Run-off from these rains has, no doubt, created a festering crockpot of people poo, engine goo and storm drain stew. All of which I prefer to keep out of my orifices, thank you. More is on tap I hear so I may be looking at midweek next week at the earliest come to think of it. Which reminds me...I need to get a partial refund or raincheck on my ticket-to-surf deal with my wife. Honey? Are you reading this?
On with my topic...
There is a very important and often overlooked skill you need to develop as you increase your surfing prowess. It has alot to do with your physical abilities, yet it's categorically not a physical skill. It's purely mental. You need the ability to recognize your abilities and, more importantly, your limitations.
I'm a careful person. Really, I am. My wife and friends may argue that point as they've seen me do everything from skateboarding through my early 30's to taking up BMX street riding at the age of 35 (yikes!) to jumping out of a perfectly good airplane. But you know what? In all instances I knew what my body, my mind, and my skills would allow me to do and I stayed within those boundaries. When the surf is up, I generally head for a break that is only getting a portion of the swell rather than the full brunt. Don't get me wrong, you're allowed to push yourself, conquer fear, do the Dew or even simply just do it, for that matter. However, there is a point at which you stop pushing yourself and start pushing stupidity.
I notice this alot at Sunset. It is the definitive beginner's break. Slow, mushy, and predictable. Harmless in most respects and forgiving to even the greenest of beginners. Hell, even the more experienced surfers know that there is a significant percentage of kooks in the water and are prepared and capable to cope with it. However, on powerful swells, this place can really turn on and things really pick up. But you know what? Even when it's firing at head high+, there seems to be the same percentage of clueless beginners out there, if not more. Boards are flying everywhere, people are colliding, folks are getting washed in to the rocks or madly trying to unsuccessfully scramble to the outside. I won't even mention the blown takeoffs in an already limited takeoff zone. Why are these people out there endangering themselves and others? Because they have no clue as to what their abilities are.
When you get out of your vehicle at the beach take a good look at the conditions. Have you successfully ridden waves that large? Can you confidently pick the safest [not easiest] spot to paddle out? Will you be able to volley backwards, forwards and sideways in the lineup without getting in any anyone's way? Have you surfed with anywhere near this many surfers in the water?
Answering no to any of these is a red flag to stay the hell out. Find a break with less height and less surfers. You are not prepared, Grasshopper. This should be routine, folks. As routine as putting on your wetsuit (or trunks for you lucky bastiges who live near warm water).
That's not to say you're not allowed to experiment with progression. On those days when the crowd is light and the waves are just slightly larger, steeper or more hollow than your past experience has provided you, take a second and listen to your gut. It will quietly tell you that this will be fun and challenging or that this will be questionable and sketchy. We don't want sketchy, now do we? Good answer. :-) These are those days.
So why do we read about all these great surfers tackling their fears and charging big surf? Aren't they listening to their guts as well? Sure they are. But their gut is responding to the threat of severe injury or death. Their abilities are a non-factor since they have mastered them already. You haven't. You suck. They don't. Don't try to convince yourself otherwise.
Rant over. :-)