Women of Waves 2016

Is there anything more delightful than time dedicated to celebrating women and their relationship with the sea? (If you happen to be a man, bare with me here, please) That is exactly what Women of the Waves, held annually in Cocoa Beach, is all about. Female surfers of all ages and all skill levels are invited to join together in Cocoa Beach for a weekend of community, friendship and sharing in the joy that is a life spent in the sea. Naturally, it is one of my favorite surf events of the year!

Despite having to be rescheduled once (Thank you Hurricane Matthew) and a somewhat dismal forecast for the new dates, this year’s event was just as special as years past. A less crowded event simply meant an even more intimate experience than usual and the opportunity to spend lots of time catching up with old friends. I dearly missed many of the friends who couldn’t make it this year, but was thankful for the chance to meet new ones and expand my growing network of surf sisters.

After a ridiculously fun surf session at home Friday morning, I jumped in the car and hit the road for the longest three hours of my life. Surf fatigue and driving are not friendly with each other! I did eventually get there, meeting up with my friend and weekend roommate Allison, just in time to head to the Friday night surf movie. This year we were treated to the Sisterhood of Surfing by Dr. Diana Wehrell-Grabowski, a film that captured the essence of what it means to women when they get to share waves with other women, completely comfortable, without competition, communing with each other and the ocean. The film heavily featured women from around the state of Florida (with a pit stop in Sayulita, Mexico) and the audience cheered and clapped whenever a familiar face graced the screen.

We awoke Saturday morning to the glaring reality of that dismal forecast and could see the tree tops blowing from our hotel room, but we were here and would not be kept from the highlight of the weekend, the surfing social. This is usually a time to jump in the water with about a hundred of your closest surfing girlfriends and trade as many stories as waves. Mother Nature decided to mix it up this year by throwing hard NE winds across the surface of the Atlantic, creating choppy surf conditions and a swift drift that swept almost everyone down the beach. I opted out of the drift session and was thankful that I did as I ended up making a couple new friends who also chose to relax on the sand. Mid morning someone suggested we might check out Jetty Park, a spot just north that had a jetty and might block some of the wind. The waves were smaller, but much cleaner and Allison and I, our new friend Ana, and a handful of others ended up having a fun surf session.

When the afternoon came around and Ana suggested lunch with some other surf sisters at Surfinista, Allison and I jumped at the opportunity. Surfinista is a funky, surf themed place in downtown Cocoa Beach with a menu filled with juices, smoothies, sandwiches and the adored acai bowl and walls filled with surf art. They also have a little retail space with boards by Tom Neilson and Stu Sharpe on display. We had a great time sharing stories of surfing and traveling and finding out what each others different interest were (three out of six have had very good luck growing eggplant!). We followed lunch with a quick stroll around downtown and a bit of shopping before heading back to get ready for the Saturday night potluck.

This year’s potluck was at Manatee Sanctuary Park, overlooking the sunset on the Banana River, with plenty of oohs and aahs to go around. The tables overflowed with an assortment of dishes and music from local band, The Aquanuts, filled the air. The raffle and silent auction are always a hit, with participants anxiously clutching their tickets and waiting to hear themselves announced a winner. At this point in the weekend, we’re all old friends, laughing and story telling the night away. Smartphones were pulled out and selfies galore were snapped to commemorate the fun of the evening. With stars twinkling overhead, plans are made for one last surf the next morning. The wind was still not cooperating, so Jetty Park was the call.

A perceived extra hour of sleep (thank you time change!) was more than welcome after a full weekend and allowed Allison and I to make the agreed upon 8:00 a.m. meet up time for the surf. Unfortunately the weather would not listen to our pleas for light winds and cleaner conditions. If anything, she persisted in blowing harder than the previous day, adding more chop to an already tumultuous ocean. It was our last day and we were all together, so in we plunged and despite the conditions, marveled in the beauty of the sea and the powers that be that brought us to gather, in celebration of ourselves and the sea.

My deepest thanks to Melody De Carlo and Sharon Wolfe Cranston for their commitment to this event and for the work they put in each year to provide us with an opportunity to come together in the name of women’s surfing. Thank you to Dr. Diana Wehrell-Grabowski for her work on the Sisterhood of Surfing and sharing it with us and to Teri McCutchen for the beautiful artwork for this year’s event. If you are a sponsor or donor to this event, thank you too! Sandy Lee, Ana Joly, Meredith Hackwith-Edwards, Judy Taylor-Gorman and Patricia ‘Sissy’ Dittrick, it was a pleasure to spend extra time with you this weekend. Allison, thank you so much for being my roomie, an all around awesome person, and hanging with me all weekend!

Frustrating Fall

Often when we have big surf whipped up by strong local winds I tell people there are a lot of waves, just not a lot of good waves. The same could be said about Fall 2016 in Northeast Florida. If you happened to inquire about surf lessons this fall and we told you that “there’s a lot of wind in the forecast” and that conditions would not be fun, safe, or conducive for learning during your stay you weren’t alone. In fact, with a very uncertain forecast for Hurricane Hermine we cancelled all of our Labor Day weekend surf lessons. Before that we had the swell from Hurricane Gaston arrive simultaneously with persistent onshore wind that created less than optimal surface conditions. We had at least twice as many good teaching days last fall.

The forecast track for Hurricane Matthew was much more reliable but the storm was almost always going to come in too close to produce much in the way of good surf. We at Surf Asylum evacuated Amelia Island on Wednesday to avoid traffic in anticipation of Matthew’s approaching Amelia Island Friday night. The storm needed to be several hundred miles further out to sea to create anything like the surf we saw from last year’s Hurricane Joaquin. If there is a silver lining to this season it’s that even with the constant onshore winds and the close passage of Hurricane Matthew our surfing sandbars have remained remarkably similar and intact. When the swell arrived from Hurricane Nicole, another unfortunate mix of windswell and groundswell similar to Gaston, we were still surfing the same spots at the same tides as we were before Matthew’s 20 ft. seas took out sections of both our piers.

It has even been a struggle to schedule surfs with our more advanced students who have been surfing for a year or more. If there was a succinct way for Betsy to describe the 2016 Sisters of the Sea Surf Classic it would be “challenging.” Two of our Fall 2016 First Coast District – Eastern Surfing Association contests were also held in the large choppy surf that has come to typify this season. We start Surf League early because we know the Northeast winds are coming but they usually run on weekly cycles with a few days of calm or offshore winds in between. This fall it feels like onshore winds have been blowing for weeks on end. If you’ve been surfing for a year and you’re fit and confident you can paddle out in these conditions. However, you’ll be learning a lot more about surviving than surfing as you can expect your wave counts to be quite low. It takes about 3 years of being fairly committed to the sport before you start catching many waves in choppy wind swell. I often find myself having to wait anywhere from five to fifteen minutes for a good wave in these conditions.

Fall is still the time when you are most likely to get surfing conditions that match the conventional idea of “good.” On one of the very few decent days this fall a musician from Cape Town (who had been living in Nashville, TN for two years and was in town performing at the Ritz Carlton) paddled up to me and asked “Is Florida always this good!” I had to be honest, by South Africa’s standards the surf in Florida isn’t always this good. At this late juncture we’re looking at maybe two magic days which were glassy but a bit too powerful and steep for learning. During our best fall seasons we get at least a week’s worth of such days. If you’re dedicated to improving your surfing you have to supplement your water time with the windier more chaotic days. If you’re new to the sport our best advice is to take advantage of every available summer morning (before the sea breeze picks up) to build up the paddling strength, endurance, and quickness to your feet required to enjoy the Fernandina Fall surf.

Betsy gets a… shortboard?!

2016 is my ten year ‘Surfaversary’. What is a surfaverasary? Well it’s when you celebrate your relationship with surfing! I even gave myself a surfaversary present. I’ve spent my first decade pretty dedicated to longboarding, telling people who harass me about getting on a shorter board that I’ll move to a smaller board when I master my log. Then I follow that by explaining that I don’t think I’ll ever do such a thing as there is too much to learn and even when you think you have a decent grasp on it, the creativity you can bring into logging never ends. From lines to footwork, where you can go with your longboarding is limitless. Plus, I could talk all day about how beautiful, graceful, and timeless I think logging is.

All of that being said, three things happened over the last year that put a couple of fissures in my rock solid devotion to logging. The first was having some local girls come to Surf Camp, get super stoked on surfing and (mainly due to their stature and definitely NOT because longboarding isn’t the coolest thing around) promptly start riding short boards. Technically I suppose they’re mostly funshapes and midlengths, but still they’re all at least two feet shorter than anything I’ve ever tried to ride. Striving to be the best coach I can be, I wanted to be able to relate better to these girls and their experience in the water. It was easy to talk with them about looking for the peak and determining wave direction, but I couldn’t relate to their struggles with simply paddling into the wave. I would try to paddle with them in an attempt to set a paddling pace, but two strokes on my 9’2 and I was five yards ahead of them on their smaller boards. I started to paddle out on our 7 ft camp board in order to be closer in board size to the girls. And then, to my surprise, I started to have fun on it.

The second thing came about from that Surfaversary gift to surf with the lovely Leah Dawson in Puerto Rico. Leah spent most of her time on a singlefin shortboard, drawing the most beautiful lines and showing me that shortboarding doesn’t have to comply with what the surf media tells us it is. I thought of shortboarding as fast, tight turns with lots of ugly pumping in between sections. Leah showed me that with the right equipment, you can draw really smooth lines on shortboards and get just as creative with your surfing as you can on a longboard. As inspired as I was by Leah on her shortie, I came home and ordered a new, but very traditional longboard, still focused on improving my logging. I’m stoked on my new log, but I couldn’t help but keep thinking about the potential of a smaller board and all the days I could surf that aren’t conducive to longboarding (because we all know that I don’t surf enough already, right?!)

The third and final breakthrough was meeting Justin Laird. I met Justin, of Laird Surf Craft, in the water last year, right around the time that Surf Asylum Surf Camp decided to set up at Log Cabin, basically taking over the spot closest to his house (and shaping room). He was kind enough to let me try one of his displacement hull boards one time which piqued my curiosity about his shaping. I’d never ridden a hull and didn’t appreciate the differences between his longboard and mine until I paddled for a perfect wave, spun out on the take off and lost the board. What was this hull and how did it manage to toss me off on a glassy thigh-high peeler? Justin gave me a couple of pointers and I managed to hang on to a couple of speedy lines, but was more than happy to hand off the board, still trying to wrap my mind around how a board could be SO different than anything I’d ever ridden. Since that day we’ve always taken a few minutes to chat about waves and boards when we see each other out. I knew Justin was making his own boards and was really enthusiastic about the hulls, but recently I had noticed him and some other local surfers on other less traditional shapes, mainly fishes and weird, short, stubby looking things that he was making. That’s when it crossed my mind that Justin might be the guy to make my first shortboard. So I asked him if he was interested. Five minutes later we had a design plan.

A week later I was in his shaping bay, watching him bring my 6’6 Wayne Lynch inspired singlefin (You didn’t think I was going to get one of those potato chip thrusters did you?) to life. He told me before we got started that he believed in positive energy and vibrations and that he felt really good when he was cutting the initial outline of the board. I told him I believed in the same types of things  and watched, mesmerized, as Justin took a barely recognizable chunk of foam and turned it into a functional piece of art. It’s apparent in each stroke of the planer and brush of the sandpaper that Justin is not only really talented, but genuinely loves shaping. He had a smile on his face the whole time, pleased with the harmony between his movements and the resulting shape of the foam. I had a smile on mine reveling in how cool it is when being in the right place with the right people and being open to new experiences can bring about great things.

Justin’s gonna put a cool acid splash on the bottom and the board should be ready for the water soon. Stay tuned for more as I try to chronicle my attempts at learning to ride a (MUCH) smaller board. Deepest thanks to my students and Leah Dawson for the inspiration, to Justin for being genuinely excited to make this board and putting some heart and soul into it, and last, but never least to David for always encouraging and supporting me, wherever surfing take us.

Expanding hearts and minds at the Earth Missions/Leah Dawson Next Level Surf Retreat.

Mindlessly scrolling Instagram a month ago, I was notified that I’d been tagged in a comment on a post announcing that one of my favorite surfers, the inimitable Leah Dawson, was hosting a ‘Next Level’ Surf Retreat in one of my favorite places, Rincon, Puerto Rico. I casually read the post to David who immediately asked, ‘When?’ followed by ‘How much?’ I read him the dates and then dismissed the whole thing by stating that it was probably more than I could afford on short notice. The next day David asked me again how much it would be and again I mumbled something about probably not being able to afford it. Thankfully for me, David insisted that it was an investment in myself and my surfing, as well as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and affectionately kept pushing me to find out more details. Long story short, in a matter of a few days, I went from planning out the next few months for Surf Asylum to planning a five day stay in Puerto Rico.

I’ve been a fan and follower of Leah on social media for a few years now. Her style is hers and hers alone. She balances grace and strength with creativity seamlessly. Social media told me that we shared a few other passions and interests, namely clean eating, clean oceans and promoting a platform for women’s surfing outside of the current industry standards. Still, you never know what you’re going to get in person once the online filters are removed. When I was contemplating the retreat, I knew that it would either be ‘okay’ or ‘EPIC.’ You can’t really go wrong with spending a few days in Rincon, so I knew it wouldn’t be terrible.

It was EPIC! It was beyond EPIC. From the first embrace, seconds upon meeting, it was clear that Leah was the real deal. She walks her talk. I spent the first forty eight hours in a bit of fog as I couldn’t quite believe that I was living and surfing with one of my heroes. Nor could I believe the late season swell that showed up the day we landed. There I was, in one of my favorite places on earth, with one of my favorite surfers and the waves were a Florida loggers dream, starting out waist to chest high, peaking a little over head, hovering waist to chest for two more days and fading to one of the funnest knee high sessions I’ve ever had. Celebration inserted itself as the theme of the trip as every session became more about deepening our personal relationship with the sea than trying to out perform our sisters and brothers. The whole trip ending up feeling like a non stop party and not the kind of party you regret the next day, but one you never want to end.

I’ve been working really hard in the last year to refine my style and improve my positioning on the wave, so when I booked the retreat, I did it from a purely selfish standpoint of wanting to improve my own surfing and get critique and tips from a pro. One of my best friends was coming along, but aside from her I never gave another thought to who else might join the retreat. I was surprised and then stoked to meet two other participants while we were boarding our plane. Turns out they were from Jacksonville and we had surfed together before though we didn’t really know each other. It only took a couple of hours to realize that one of the highlights of the trip would be connecting with like minded men and women from all over the U.S. and Caribbean. The surf sessions were a blast, but the meal time round tables were an unplanned treat as we all bonded over incredible food and enlightening and entertaining conversation. Each person had their unique passion and information to share and I got up from each meal with a full belly and even fuller heart. It was so inspiring to be around such a caring group of individuals who put aside self and cared for issues bigger than themselves.

The daily routine was to get up as early as possible and get the longest session possible before the trades (and late sleeping Rincon crowd) got on it. If you haven’t been, most of the spots are reef breaks and break faster and a tiny bit steeper than Florida. There were many, many Maria’s sessions, but we also got in a few hours at Surfers Beach and Domes. On the biggest day, with Tres Palmas breaking and Maria’s in the 8 – 10 ft range, Kahlene, my best surfing friend/travel partner/sister and I went up to the bay in Aguadilla and scored chest to head high perfection at one of our favorite spots. I only ride my log and I find the conditions to be great for noseriding as long you can manage the speed (I’m still working on it). I had some really epic hang fives though I bailed on a few as the waves quickened and steepened up on the inside.

It was a joy to be in the water with Leah and the other surfers. Everyone had their own style and approach to the waves, but we all shared the same positive energy in the water. Each session was full of laughter. Everyone cheered for each other. There was no ego. Everyone was appreciated for who they were and where they were in their surfing. Simplicity was applauded. Stoke radiated in the air.

I learned more than I could ever put in this blog, but I did have a really profound moment that will me make a better surfer and a better coach. We were lucky to have someone film a few of our sessions and even luckier to be able to review the footage with Leah. It was late afternoon on the last day of the trip when myself and three of the other girls gathered around a table as Leah went through each of our waves and offered up her praise and gentle suggestions for improvement. She was talking with our youngest member, Becca, about positioning when I heard her mention to try getting closer to the heart of the wave. “The heart of the wave.” The words echoed in my mind. I mentioned I’ve been working really hard on positioning. I know I need to be deep on the take off to set up a noseride. I know it’s useless to try and walk the board out on the shoulder, that the most technical maneuvers can only be pulled off in the steepest part of the wave… but I’ve always thought and used the terms ‘peak’ or ‘power’ and though I knew I needed to be close or quite literally in this spot, I’ve always been wary of it. In the back of my mind, the peak or power has been a bit of a scary place. I knew that’s where all the energy was, but I’ve been afraid I might not be able to control it. When I heard Leah replace ‘power’ with ‘heart’, I felt my fear crumble and fade away. My mind expanded. Hearts are for loving. Hearts are life givers and safe places. Now instead of inching closer with caution, I’ll embrace moving into the heart of the wave, a loving spot that can help me surf my best.

I’m filled with gratitude for this trip. I’m thankful for the incredible friends I made, for the conversations and laughs we shared, for the beautiful environment we played together in. Thank you to Leah Dawson and Tom Werner of Earth Missions for putting this together and giving so much of yourselves. Thank you to the sea herself! We celebrate you!

Wetsuit Season Part 2

Once you’ve decided on and purchased a wetsuit you’re going to want to take good care of it so it keeps you warm for as long as possible. There are bargain prices for children’s wetsuits but if you’re a young adult or older you should expect to pay around $200+ for a decent suit. Throughout my two decades of surf wetsuit ownership I’ve learned a lot about what not to do and I can share some of that here:

1) I put my first wetsuit on like a pair of jeans pulling it from the waist or thighs until my feet popped through the leg. The problem with this was that I carved out a trench below the calf area of my wetsuit that eventually wore through into a gaping hole. I learned to push my feet through the legs as far as I could without forcing and then stretch the material over my heel so it wouldn’t dig into the material every time I put it on. (A wet wetsuit can be a lot harder to get into than a dry one).

2) If you change out of your wetsuit or rinse it in the shower don’t use piping hot water. Luke warm is usually okay. Glue and seam tape are just as important as stitching when it comes to how warm your suit is and generally glued and taped seams weren’t designed to hold up to hot water which can melt, crack, or break them down.

3) Unless you have a really broad shouldered hanger like one for a tailored suit or one that came with your wetsuit you shouldn’t hang your wetsuit by the shoulders. I’ve actually even noticed this with rashguards but most standard plastic or metal hangers will cut through the wetsuit material over time just like my heel did. Patagonia recommends doubling your suit over and hanging it at the waist and we’ve adopted this practice for all of Surf Asylum’s wetsuits.

There are a few other things like no direct sunlight or dryers (these cause cracking), don’t leave front zip wetsuits (or any wetsuit for that matter) balled up somewhere, and try to fasten any velcro back up to its proper place when stowing your suit so the hard side of the velcro doesn’t start softening and working away at the neoprene near it.

Creating tight, proper fitting wetsuits that can hold up to being peeled off and on your body on a daily basis is a significant design challenge for the manufacturers and it’s true that in climates where you wear your wetsuit year round you’ll be lucky to get two good years out of it. However, here in Fernandina Beach, FL where you usually only need a wetsuit for less than half of the year, if you surf regularly but take really good care of your wetsuit you might be able to get four years out of it. You might be hoping for a mild winter during that fourth year though.

Wetsuit Season Part 1

Fernandina Beach, FL has some of the most dramatic seasonal shifts in air and water temperatures that I know of. I’m not saying that it get’s particularly cold, just that temps vary widely. In Southern California there is a distinct summer and winter outside but the water temps seem to hover in the 60’s (Fahrenheit) occasionally dipping into the high 50’s or rising into the low 70’s. In a typical year on Amelia Island you can experience everything from water in the low 50’s to brief foray’s into the mid 80’s. This makes it hard to keep the right temperature rated surf wax on your board. It also means that the decision of whether or not you are going to surf through those first few winters becomes a decision about whether or not you want to invest in a decent wetsuit.

This is an even bigger problem for young kids who are still growing. Wetsuits aren’t something you want to “grow into.” A wetsuit that is even just a little too big can take on cold water faster than your body can warm it up, getting flushed everytime you duckdive for instance. A properly fitting wetsuit lets in and retains a small amount of water that is then warmed by your body heat. It will cycle small amounts of water at the neck and cuffs but this should never dramatically reduce the overall temperature of the water the suit has taken in. A little too tight is better than a little loose and kids who might be spending only one season in their suits might look to participate in a hand me down cycle to surf through those early winters.

After fit one of the most important considerations is thickness. Anyone who has been surfing for more than a decade has usually experienced some level of astonishment at how flexible and light neoprene has become. Today’s 4 mm is just as stretchy as yesterdays 3mm. A suit’s thickness is recorded with two numbers, 3:2 or 4:3 for example, where the numbers are thickness in millimeters. It’s a little different for each suit but the smaller number usually represents the panels of the wetsuit that need more flexibility like the ones used in paddling. Your traditional performance wetsuit is a 3:2. However, I’ve chosen to go a little thicker (4:3) in hopes of getting away without having to wear accessories like booties, gloves or a hood. I also hope to get an extra season or two out of my suit since it feels like a little too much for all but the coldest handful of days (or weeks during the harsher winters). I will say that my first session back in the 4:3 after putting it away for the summer is a tough one even with the advances in materials.

Everyone has different tolerance levels for cold water but my general comfort is as below (Fahrenheit):

High 70’s and above – I’m skinning it
Low to Mid 70’s – Skinning it if the weather is nice, springsuit if the weather is cool.
Mid to high 60’s – Springsuit if the weather is nice, fullsuit if the weather is cool.
Low 60’s and below – Fullsuit

These are for comfortable multi hour sessions. If I know I’ll only be out for an hour I can go a little lower on everything (skin it in the high 60’s for example). The closest to realtime estimate for our shoreline water temperatures can be found at the National Data Buoy Center’s Fernandina Buoy Station 41112.

Surf Asylum Alumni at the Sisters of the Sea Surf Classic

I wrote this post at the beginning of the summer, as surf camp was about to get under way, expressing how excited I was about our All Girls Surf Camps and what I hoped I would be able to share with our students beyond the fundamentals of surfing, namely, confidence, joy and gratitude. In my wildest imagination I would have never been able to imagine seeing that come to fruition as it did this past Saturday when nine Surf Asylum alumni and eight other Fernandina Beach surf sisters took to the water at the 17th Annual Sisters of the Sea Surf Classic.

My cheeks still ache from all the smiling, my lungs are still tired from all the cheering and my heart is forever expanded from watching this group of girls develop (or deepen) a relationship with the ocean and come together in sisterhood through surfing. It was incredibly rewarding to be on hand as each of them went into the water and delivered their personal best. While I am super proud of all of their results, I was blown away by how much they gave of themselves in the spirit of competition. I watched each girl push the boundaries of their personal best and couldn’t be happier in the effort displayed.

Surf Asylum is proud to present the alumni who competed in the 17th Annual Sisters of the Sea Surf Classic:

Lani: Lani is just adorable. At four years old, Lani was by far the youngest competitor of the event, competing in White Water Riders Age 12 Under. If Lani’s mom, Joy Anderson’s performance (3rd place in Sage Sisters Shortboard, 3rd place in Stand Up Paddleboard) is any indication, Lani will find herself in the finals sooner than later.

Sofia M.: Sofia came to surf camp, stood up and took the first wave of her life all the way to the beach. She has now been surfing for less than four months and is already paddling into her own waves in the right conditions. This was Sofia’s first contest and I was so proud of her for entering. She got some great rides and should be so proud of how far she has come in such a short amount of time. Sofia also has some pretty sweet dance moves she likes to bust out after a good ride.

Maili: Maili has been surfing for a few years, but is still only 10 years old and is completely independent in the water. She caught all of her own waves and made some very critical drops in her heat. Also a competitive swimmer, Maili’s upper body strength allows her to catch waves with ease while her leg strength allows her to execute nice bottom turns. Maili is a great role model for girls who are just getting into surfing.

Ella: At surf camp this year Ella asked me who the best surfer was and I replied, “the one having the most fun!” She then quipped back to me, “then I’m the best surfer!” Ella really stepped up in the competition getting third place in her round one heat, moving her into the quarterfinals. Competition was pretty fierce in the quarters and even though she didn’t make it through, Ella was definitely giving 110%.

Ivy: Ivy is another camper who has been surfing less than four months, but already has her own longboard and can often be seen out surfing with her mom. SOS was also her first contest. She placed second in round one taking everyone of her waves all the way to the sand. She also got the single best wave of her quarterfinal heat, but ran out of time before she could find a back up wave. Look out for Ivy when she is paddling for a wave, she’s also one of the top competitive swimmers in her age group in NE Florida.

Malia: While she had never surfed before either, Malia told us the first day we met her that she had watched several surf movies to get ready for camp. She must be a visual learner because three days later she was catching her own waves and working on a bottom turn. This allowed her to skip the beginners stage of riding whitewater to the beach and sent her straight into riding the open of face of the wave. Pretty impressive for a first generation surfer with no previous experience! Malia earned herself a third place in round one and advanced to the quarterfinals.

Sofia B.: What a summer for Sofia! Sofia had a little surf experience when we first met her but was nervous because of a bad wipe out experience. This summer’s small surf was perfect for putting that behind her. Sofia has come from almost not standing up until she hit the sand to popping up fast, making steep drops and shifting her weight around to speed up and slow down as necessary. This was a lethal combination in competition, letting her catch waves further out than her competitors and taking them all the way to the beach. It also led her to first place in her round one heat, first place in her quarterfinal heat and fifth overall in White Water Riders 12 and Under. Way to go Sofia the Brave!

Kaia: At only eight years old, Kaia already has a few years of surf experience and is impressing everyone by surfing independently, catching most of her own waves and taking steep drops with control. She has a super smooth style, combined with a lot of strength and has the potential to take her surfing wherever she wants. She made quick work of her competition in her round one heat of the Keiki’s 9 and under division, placing second and earning herself a spot in the finals. She continued pushing herself, catching her own waves, navigating critical sections and working them all the way to the beach and ended up fifth overall. Great job Kaia!

Mikaela: Mikaela has three things going for her that I find fairly unique to her young age of seven. She is incredibly strong, almost fearless and has a really mature read on the wave. This allows her to surf waves, sometimes well over her head, with composure and style. She took third in her round one heat of the Keiki’s 9 and under division, impressing the judges with a backside rail grab down the face of an overhead wave where she almost found herself under the lip of a closeout tube. She solidified a third place spot in the finals by paddling into her own waves, pumping down the line and working it all the way to the sand. She’s got two more years in the division and I can’t wait to see her and Kaia at this event next year. If they keep at it, one of them is going to walk away with first place.

Way to go girls! I’m already looking forward to next year’s event. Go ahead and mark your calendars, the 18th Annual Sisters of the Sea Surf Classic has been scheduled for September 17th, 2016.

The Contradiction of Surfing Fast

During your first year or three of surfing you’ve worked so hard just to master getting down the line that you often want to stay a safe distance out in front of the whitewater to guarantee a successful ride. Often what separates beginners from more advanced surfers is speed but it wasn’t always obvious to me that surfing fast didn’t mean getting down the line from point A to point B as fast as possible.

I thought that you did cutbacks because they looked cool not because they had any sort of function in letting the wave catch back up to you. I was baffled when I heard Rob Machado say his favorite thing to do was to go as fast as possible and not even worry about doing turns.

As different as Mick Fanning’s approach to a wave is from Machado’s it is interesting to note that they both recommend going as high as possible on the wave in regard to finding speed. In Surfline’s “Generating Speed” Trick Tips he goes on to emphasize going up and down, using the whole face of the wave, and not “wiggling” in the middle. Truly fast surfing is high amplitude surfing.

For me the contradiction in how to surf fast is most obvious when it comes to executing a proper bottom turn. Waiting for an extra second during your bottom turn allows the wave to stand up more so that you can enter into a steeper more powerful part of the wave (as emphasized by Tom Whitaker at the 2:10 mark in the video below). “Waiting” in order to surf “fast” is something I never fully grasped the importance of until recently.

After watching the above videos you might be tempted to think that these surfing fundamentals are more applicable to traditional rail surfing. However Matt Meola exhibits a full mastery of waiting to surf fast in his Spindle Flip video when he wipes off speed at the beginning of the wave near the 1:50 mark or during his drawn out bottom turn at the 5:50 mark that sets up the video’s big pay off manuever.

Once you are getting to your feet and surfing down the line you’re not quite ready to work on tricks until you’ve gotten comfortable doing high amplitude surfing in the pocket/power source of the wave.

Pillars and Plateaus

One week is the blink of an eye in the experience of anyone who takes a committed interest in surfing. At Surf Asylum we’re dedicated to the long term progress of any of our students that fall in love with the sport. It took me a whole summer of going to the beach with my grandmother and sister on a daily basis to make significant progress on my used 6′ 2” Eric Arakawa “Island Classic” the first year I tried surfing. My sister on the other hand caught on almost immediately first riding a narrow, pointy foam body board and then a 6′ 3” Quiet Flight. Progress in surfing isn’t a straight line. However, if you stay in the water, you can always be gradually improving.

I’ve hit several plateaus in my surfing. The first one came after I had mastered the most basic fundamentals of surfing: getting to my feet and riding down the line. As a first generation surfer (my dad, my sister, and myself all started surfing at the same time) no one ever told me how important it was to pay close attention to the wave. This might seem obvious but as I poured through the pages of surf magazines looking at the big fans of spray and airs, I thought that I just had to get good enough and I could do the same thing on any wave. I spent years ignoring the fact that certain maneuvers required the right section on the right wave. I was surfing hard in the wrong part of the wave having never heard the word “functional” in regard to surfing. During this time I made modest progress on trips to Costa Rica or heading to South Florida, Central Florida, or the Gulf when the forecast was right. However, even as late as college I wondered what separated the surfing I was seeing in videos and magazines from my own.

Myself surfing hard in the wrong part of the wave.

My most recent plateau was partially a result of considering surfing in Florida to be all the exercise I needed. I didn’t necessarily need to hit the weight room but semi-regular yoga practice and surf-specific core and leg exercises like Taylor Knox’s SurfFit have vastly improved my speed generation and overall control on the wave. Additional core and leg strength started helping me wait out the slow parts of the wave and hold speed through maneuvers without wasted movement that throws off your rhythm and causes you to grind to a halt in some of Florida’s weaker waves.

To help me break out of any future plateaus I’ve identified 3 pillars that contribute to solid surfing.

I’ve seen good surfers that have just two of these but most great surfers have a decent mastery of all three. The Mental Pillar consists of wave awareness: how you position yourself to catch waves, how you interact with and anticipate different sections of the wave you’re riding, and it overlaps with technique when it comes to things like timing. The Physical Pillar represents your personal fitness. Good surfing requires you to build strength while maintaining agility and flexibility. The Technical Pillar includes things like how you follow through with your shoulders, getting really low at the right point in your speed generation, and overlaps with the mental aspect of surfing with things like watching the lip line (the part of the wave that is about to break) approximately 7′ in front of you.

Whenever I feel stuck from now on I’ll identify which pillar needs the most work and form a plan. Once I’ve settled on a fitness regime that keeps me where I want to be I’ll probably focus on the Technical Pillar when the waves are average and focus on the Mental Pillar when the waves get good. This all depends on the season and often all three need work, but focusing on one aspect of your surfing allows you to accomplish specific goals that you can look back on to give you the confidence it takes to surf your best.

Fernandina Beach Surf League – Fall 2015

Fernandina Beach Surf League

Surf Asylum is having a great time this summer with our surf camps, private lessons and events. We have been overwhelmed by the positive response from the community. Thank you! The main questions we field at the end of a lesson or a week of camp are, “What now?” “How do I keep surfing?” “How do I build on what I learned at camp?”

The easy answer is, spend as much time in the water as possible. However, we appreciate and respect that for families new to surfing or working parents, more water time isn’t always easy to come by. Following through with our commitment to taking surfing as seriously as more mainstream sports, Surf Asylum is excited to introduce the Fernandina Beach Surf League. FBSL gives young surfers the opportunity for weekly, focused practice. Surfers continue getting time in the ocean through the fall, building on what they learned over the summer and receive coaching to help them achieve personal surf goals.

While the FBSL initially came to fruition as a place for beginners to continue surfing, it is also a place for kids who already have experience and want to improve on things like cutbacks, snaps and executing a proper bottom turn. Advanced coaching tools like personal video review and studying top athletes are regularly employed by professional surfers. One of the goals of FBSL is to make these tools available locally to those who want to take their surfing further. The league is multidisciplinary and encourages shortboarders, longboarders and cross over athletes to participate.

For more details click here: Fernandina Beach Surf League