Surfing Survival – How To Take On The Ocean Safely - Gone To Get Salty
surfing survival tips

Surfing is a blast most times, however we often are quick to dismiss the danger involved - most likely because its so addictive, so we tend to not care. Every year surfers lose their lives, and while this is sometimes inevitable, understanding the waves, weather conditions, and your own fitness and ability levels can make all the difference to your safety. So before you paddle out, here are a few things to keep in mind to ensure your survival.

Maintain Your Surfing Fitness

​If you're like most surfers, just paddling out a few times a week will keep you fit enough, or so you think. Going one step further and training while not in the water will not only improve your surfing, but help you keep calm in dangerous situations

Always stretch before you head out so your muscles can warm up and if you’re doing regular fitness training, an all-round workout including cardiovascular, weights, balance training and stretching, this will give you the best endurance in the water.

Cardiovascular training and fitness are what you should be focusing on when not in the water.

Know The Area

Each break is different and knowing what to expect before you paddle out is going to give you a huge advantage.

If you’re new to the area, ask other surfers what the conditions are like. Are there rocks or a shallow reef lurking below that aren’t visible from the surface? Are there strong rips that will funnel you out to sea? Know the tides and how this affects the breaks (and your ability to get back to shore).

Whats normal ocean activity at your home break WILL NOT be the same when surfing overseas. If you've ever been surfing in Indonesia when the surf transforms from a leisurely 3ft  to a thick 8-10ft reef draining slab within 20 minutes, you'll realize the importance of this point.

Before you jump in:

  • Look at other surfers in the line-up to check if they are drifting, which way and how fast.

  • Watch for where the waves are breaking most consistently, and where they are closing out.

  • Count the number of waves in each set, and the time in between sets. This tip alone could save you LOTS of energy.

Study The Weather

Take the time to understand the weather and how this affects not only the ocean but your ability to enjoy it. Even slight changes in wind and tides can transform surfable breaks into a torturous mess, and drifting currents can drag you halfway down the coast before you know it.

Always keep an eye on the sky and if you see threatening weather moving in, consider getting out of the water. Remember that the ocean is a wildly powerful force that can unleash its full potential at any time.

Have A Plan For When Things Go Wrong

how to wipeout

Getting ready for it.
(Photo credit Kevin Baird, Flickr)

Experienced surfers will know that things can and will go wrong and being prepared to deal with them (or prevent them in the first place) can save your life.

  • Wipeout like a pro - when you come unstuck on wave you have 2 options: allow your body to rag-doll naturally (a good idea when you're in deeper waves and you need to conserve air by relaxing) or curl into a ball and cover your head (when you're surfing over shallow reef and you need to protect that noggin)

  • Cramps - Know how to release a cramp in the water and avoid them all together by not eating (and drinking) heavily before a session. (especially when the surf is 8ft +)

  • Rip of your legrope - Getting entangled underwater can be a life threatening situation and knowing how to unhook when you are stressed and submerged is essential. Practicing on smaller days in between sets is a great way to boost your fitness too.

  • Follow a rip, don't fight it - If you get caught in a riptide don’t try and swim against it - it will undoubtedly overpower you. Instead, flip onto your back so your airways are exposed, float (rather than swim) to conserve your energy, and follow the riptide out until its current weakens. You can then swim parallel to the beach to get away from its pull and swim back into shore from there.

  • Know how to starfish - If you fall over reef, first and foremost don’t duck dive! Stretching your arms and legs out to the sides in a ‘starfish’ will spread your bodyweight, helping you to float higher in the water, rather than bomb into the coral beneath.

  • Relax during a hold-down - Being sucked under waves and thrashed around for extended periods can be scary, panicking is the worst thing you can do. It’s easier said than done, but try and relax when it happens, hold your breath, protect your head with your arms and wait until it inevitably releases you to the surface.

Know Your Limits

The challenge of riding bigger and unexplored waves is ingrained in most surfers, but knowing when you are out of your depth is crucial. Don’t feel pressured by other surfers to head out - if you don’t feel confident, there is always another beach or another day to surf.

By far the best thing you can do to ensure your survival is to keep your mind and body prepared through fitness.

If you haven't started already, start cardio and flexibility training when out of the water and do a breathe enhancement course to improve your lung capacity - your surfing will improve dramatically, and you'll emerge from a hairy situation unscathed, and ready to get back out there!

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