Learning The Game
Five things to know before you enter a surf contest.
With the NSSA Nationals on the way, and the end of another contest season, it’s time for all you contest virgins to start thinking about a fresh new year. Maybe you entered a contest or two, didn’t do so well, blamed the judges (or threw rocks at them), and refused to enter any more. Don’t be scared. The jersey’s your friend, and as any successful competitor will tell you, it’s all in your head-your success depends on you and no one else. Why should you compete? Surf competitions are one of the only routes young surfers take to become one of those cool-ass professional surfers-it’s way better than playing football and turning into a jock. “Competing is always great because it gives you goals-it lets you focus on accomplishing something,” says NSSA Executive Director Janice Aragon. “It makes you rise to accomplish something great, and it brings out the best.”There’re lots of things you should understand before entering your first few contests-chances are you’re not gonna win. It’s like any other competitive sport where you learn the tricks of the trade and eventually become the master of your realm. “If you’re a first-time competitor, I think the most important thing is to just go in there. You might not kill it in your first contest, but just go in there and have fun,” advises Aragon. “Know that there’re a lot more contests. Get used to having that jersey on-make friends with it.”We consulted Aragon and amateur surf coach Mike Lamm for tips to help anyone yearning for success-both have life-long experience. Aragon’s a former world-amateur champ who’s seen the nation’s best competitors come and go through the NSSA, the organization she runs. Lamm currently works as a competitive surf coach with some of the best young surfers in the nation, including Nathaniel Curran, Travis Mellem, Alex Gray, and Sean Taylor. Read the following five tips, and go win a trophy.-A.C.
1. Learn the game:
“Realize it’s a game and the goal is to learn to be good at the game,” says Lamm. “There’re gonna be mistakes along the way that you’ll have to learn from. Ultimately, being a succesful competitor comes down to having a smarter strategic game that can put you on top. The people who actually take their time and consistently put together good heats are surfing different than just freesurfing. Freesurfing you just go out, look for anything, and try to catch a wave. In competition, you have to meet specific criteria.”
2. Don’t be intimidated:
The more contests you do, the better you get at competing. As hard as it may sound, you can’t be intimidated by the other competitors in your heat and how they’re surfing-worry about yourself. The biggest way to avoid intimidation is to surf as many contests as you can. If you really want to be a contest surfer, the more events you enter, the more experience you get. You’re gonna lose, and you have to get past that.”Sometimes better competitors advance through their heats more than the talented surfers because they’re so good at the game,” says Aragon. “That’s why Slater’s the master:
he’s not only a great surfer, he knows the game-that’s why he mastered the sport.” “The best thing to understand is that you’re competitive in the water, but at a certain point, you’re playing your own game,” says Lamm. “Set up your strategic game, go out, and execute your plan. You can almost tune everything out, focus on what you’re doing, and then really key in. It’s your game against other people’s games. You scatter on this guy’s doing that, that guy’s doing this-your mind’s all over the place. Once you get better at it, you zero in on what you’ve set out to do.”
3. Always be prepared:
Preparation means having all your gear ready, and more importantly, understanding the rules. Get a rulebook of the contest you’re entering and make sure you know the rules of the game. This includes wave counts, wave maximums,, boundaries, and times. Talk to the person in charge, and get instructions-that’s the first step to not making any mistakes. Waves and conditions can also change your approach, so that’s why knowing the rules is really important. You don’t want to be clueless when the wave counts are lowered or the heat times are extended.Competitors should also have a plan:
“I tell kids to always have a ‘Plan A’ and a ‘Plan B,'” says Aragon. “Always look at the main peak. If it’s giving you problems or you’re getting frustrated, have a ‘Plan B’ where you go to another spot. Especially in six-man heats-a lot of people with a lot of jockeying. To have a plan means you’re coming down to the beach a couple hours before your heat to see how the waves are breaking and where it’s best.” Being prepared also begins with the basics, and as corny as it may sound, you should probably do things like wax your board more than you think. “You’re out there in a heat, and the waves are marginal,” explains Lamm. “All of a sudden, with one minute left, you get the set wave that’s gonna pull you through, but you slip. That slip off can actually cost you a championship.”
4. Don’t make last-minute changes:
Equipment decisions should be made a couple weeks before an event. If you really like a surfboard, iron out all the kinks so that when you show up, you have some equipment you’re ready to go on and you’re prepared to really put your on best performance-it gives you confidence. As soon as you make last-minute changes, a lot of the time it’ll throw you off, mentally and physically.
5. Use proper selection in getting your wave count:
A common mistake by someone who’s new at the game is for them to hear the horn, hastily take the first waves they see, and concurrently make severe selection errors. The better competitors are more selective-they’re taking their time, making their choices count. Be a little smarter, take your time, and make sure your selections count so you’re getting the most out of the conditions and your heat. “When the horn blows,” says Lamm, “you want to know you’re gonna be scored on how smart you are in that round, what you’re selecting, and how well you can really let your skills fly with almost no errors. There’s a training program I do with young kids where we mock-up some heats. We practice specific things so they can nail their approach with no errors and hold up when the pressure’s on.”