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.

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

No Shortage of Female Surfing Role Models

Surf Asylum All Girls Surf Camp, Photo: Stephanie Nichols

While 6 young girls were refining their surfing at the 2015 Surf Asylum “Girls Week” here in Fernandina Beach the World Surf League’s top 17 women were pushing the limits of surfing at the Fiji Pro on the island of Namotu. Our girls showed up on day 1 to a swell that made the front page of surfline, learned to handle 9 – 10 foot surfboards, and contended with jellyfish stings. On the other side of the world Sally Fitzgibbons perforated her ear drum during a wipeout and continued on through three more rounds of the Women’s Fiji Pro to eventually be crowned champion. Watch the final day highlights here. (We borrowed the lunges and sumo squats for our camp’s morning stretch from a video of Sally’s pre-surf routine.)

There’s far too many to name or recognize in one blog post, but we compiled a shortlist of women surfers that we look up to both as incredible surfers and positive role models for young girls. These women represent the many ways in which any girl with enough determination can progress in the sport of surfing.

Rell Sunn – You can’t compile a list of surfing role models without mentioning Rell because women’s surfing wouldn’t be where it is without her influence. Her surfing was the epitome of grace and style, but she was also co-founder of the current women’s pro tour and spread the spirit of aloha everywhere she went.

Leah Dawson – The epitome of “girls just wanna have fun” amongst surf personalities. This video is from the perspective of her surfboard. If we’re not mistaken she’s going on her second summer (southern-hemisphere winter) in Indonesia this year. You can get a better idea of her approach to waves from this video (incredible old school bottom turn at :22)

Courtney Conlogue – Courtney is one of the hardest working, most committed competitive surfers of our time. The surfing above is some of the most playful we’ve seen from her as she’s usually the definition of power. Check out her ‘day in the life’ surfline feature here if you want to know more about her routine.

Paige Alms – You have to LOVE surfing to persevere to the point where you’re ready to attempt the recently pioneered, paddle-in tube rides at Maui’s infamous big wave surf break Jaws. The video above shows Paige’s genuine sense of accomplishment and pure joy.

Sophie Falzone – Sophie is a young, dedicated, competitive surfer from just down the road in Jacksonville. We wanted to share this fun video of one of her trips to Costa Rica so young girls learning to surf in Florida know what they can achieve in a few years if they put their minds to it. Follow along with her at sophiefalzone.com

Let’s Go Surfing!


Betsy at the Coastal Crusaders Beach Clean Up, Main Beach, Fernandina Beach, FL. Photo: Sarah Ashley

One of the moments that David and I have put a lot of energy into the last six months is here. Tomorrow is our first day of summer surf camp and I could not be more excited (with just a touch of nervousness)! Not only is it our first day of camp, but it is also one of two ALL GIRLS weeks of camp. I could not be happier or more proud that David and I have brought this to fruition. The response we have received over these two designated weeks has been overwhelming. I see all of our students as an honor and a privilege, but the opportunity to share surfing, something I credit as both being one of the best things that ever happened to me and a life changer, with young girls is something I will cherish forever. I haven’t even met them and I love them all.

Special Olympics Surf Camp, 2011, Photo Amanda Tapley

In a short essay for Women of Waves 2014, I wrote, “Surfing at once gives me a self confidence I’d always denied, a humbleness as vast as the ocean herself, joy that knows no boundaries and a gratitude for which there are not words.” Confidence, joy and gratitude. If I have one student leave camp at the end of the summer with these feelings, I will consider us a success.

Betsy, prepping for Surf Camp 2015. Photo: Eddie Pitts, 911SurfReport.com

Getting to this point has already brought us some of our own confidences, joys and gratitude. We owe a huge thank you to our friends and family, not one of whom so much as raised an eyebrow, what less crowed, “what are you thinking?!?” when I resigned from my very dependable and even somewhat enjoyable job last fall. The support everyone has shown us over the past eight months has itself boosted our confidence and we are eternally grateful for it. We’ve also gained confidence, and quite a bit of joy, by having the luxury to solely focus on this project. And focus we did. I think I speak for the both of us in saying that we’ve never been more committed to something.

Pools Beach, Puerto Rico, 2015.

We’ve spent months hashing out our camp program. We’ve read guides to surfing, watched innumerable online videos of everything from popping up to duckdiving, we’ve surfed as much as possible ourselves and critiqued our every move and talked about every aspect of surfing, almost every moment of the day. We want to provide the highest quality instruction possible and ensure that every camper has a great time. From the start we realized that we wouldn’t be satisfied simply pushing kids into waves. We are dedicated to creating confident surfers who will be able to assess conditions on their own, handle their own surfboard and select their own waves. We believe that through building their own confidences, students can then enjoy the ocean and ultimately, appreciate what a gift it is to spend time in it.

Now, Let’s Go Surfing!