Tag Archives: Surf Coaching

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!

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

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!

ESA Southeast Regional Surfing Championships

Last weekend Surf Asylum had the privilege of traveling down to Melbourne, FL to see the current level of amateur competitive surfing in Florida. We wanted a benchmark, something to aspire to as we teach a new generation of surfers. Friday we got to see an in form Freida Zamba riding a quad and executing precision backhand snaps, carves, and foam climbs in somewhat weak choppy surf. She was coaching Rachel Presti, one of the event’s standout performers, on wave reading and selection. The surf picked up for Saturday and Sunday with Pete Mendia and Shea Lopez joining the line-up with the kids who will soon be following in their footsteps. Below are images from the weekend and video of the final two days of competition:

Rod Logan’s power surfing distanced him from competitors half his age and younger in his first Open Shortboard heat.

Kaleb Kirshenbaum surfed with remarkable precision in the Menehune division.

Competitors in the Girls and Junior Womens divisions had a great read on the somewhat mushy waves.

Several  Menehune (11 & under) competitors exhibited polished, mature style.

Kaleb Kirshenbaum showing commitment.

Kelton Beardall was spending a lot of time in the water in the lead up to the event and it showed. (We didn’t get his 9 point air reverse off of a wave that looked like a giant close out on film).

It took a couple tries in his heats but Charlie Current nailed this one and rode out clean.

Nick Groshell was getting a lot of extension out of his turns while managing stay over his board and complete his waves.

Freida Zamba’s protege Rachel Presti linking turns like a pro.

Autumn Cockrill showing solid, traditional rail work.

Lily Whatley spending plenty of time on the nose in the Junior Womens Longboard Final.

Ryan Conklin pulling off one of the steeper noserides in competiton.

Video of Saturday and Sunday:

Buying Local

Our 10'2 Rozo log can get anyone up and riding.

David and I do our best to place a priority on shopping local and starting our own business has brought that concept closer to us than ever before. We aren’t selling a locally crafted, handmade good to take home, but we are essentially trying to sell ‘local’ knowledge and greatly appreciate when people choose to use our services over the same service provided by outlets with little to no surfing experience or worse, no respect for the local surfing community.

As we were planning out our business, one of the biggest decisions was deciding what type of boards we would use for our lessons and camps. It seems that most camps use either cheap soft tops or epoxy boards, so we went to the internet to see what kind of prices we were looking at to round out our quiver. There was a little bit of sticker shock as some of these factory produced boards might be cheap to produce, but carried price tags almost equal to what we pay our respective shapers.

Local shapes ready for a day's work.

That quickly led to the realization that neither of us would ever recommend to a customer that they invest in one of these boards. Aside from their cheap construction, our concern for the environmental impact of long distance shipping and taking away work from local shapers, these boards are virtually functionless once someone has learned to pop up and ride straight into the beach. They are designed as one size fits all and therefore must simply be as buoyant as possible in order to float both children and adults. They have virtually no design elements other than length and girth. The rails are typically a flat, hard edge, essentially impossible to turn and the bottoms have no contour to speak of. (Eleven custom boards later, when I’m placing a personal order, Rozo and I spend more time talking about the bottom of my boards than any other feature.)

Surf Asylum is now proud to say that we use a mix of custom Rozo and Whisnant shapes for private surf lessons and summer camp. We know from experience with other camps and volunteer events that our boards are no less safe than soft tops or epoxy (if you’ve ever been hit with one of those boards you know what I’m talking about). We also feel that we are providing an experience to know what real surfboards, handcrafted for NE Florida conditions, feel like on a wave for our clients . We’re able to point out design features that customers might want to look for when shopping for their own board. We’re also able to let students experiment with a variety of boards in various shapes and sizes. Best of all, we built on our existing relationships by continuing to support talented local shapers and have a selection of boards filled with years of shaping experience, plus a little heart and soul.

Mac, taking one to the beach on a Whisnant funshape. Photo: Kari Kenner, GoWaxhead.com

Interested in having your own custom board shaped? Contact Rozo or Whisnant Surfboards and tell them Surf Asylum sent you.

Acknowledging Limitations

Mick Fanning didn’t win the world title in question during this Tracks interview from last December. Since it was Gabriel Medina’s to lose I don’t think that reflects much on Mick’s talent or performance. What struck me in particular about this article is the open admission that there are things other surfers do better. You don’t often get to read such clear evidence that being the best requires one to honestly assess their weaknessess or limitations. Mick’s coach is quick to point out that Mick can sideslip into the barrel if that’s what is required but I looked up the definition of “au fait” and realized that he was pretty clearly indicating that John John and Kelly have an advantage when it comes to the “freefall late drop” at Pipe. This discussion seems to to stem directly from the performances of these athletes at the 2013 Pipe Masters which you can watch at the links below. Another thing I like about this interview is hearing that Mick uses immediate video feedback in his training to see what’s working and what isn’t, which is refreshing given the statements about Mick knowing how he wants to surf and what kind of surfing he wants to be known for.

One of Mick’s “classic roll-in lefts”:

John John’s recap of his 2013 Pipemasters run (plenty of freefall sideslipping):

The concept of the best surfers knowing their limitations was also on display for me in October of 2014 when I went to see Thundercloud at Sun-ray Cinema. The film gives a little historical background on Cloudbreak in Fiji and then goes into depth about 3 epic days in 3 consecutive years (2010, 2011, and 2012). The movie is long but a must see for dedicated surf fans. The same wave will often be shown 2 or 3 times while the surfers who were out on those epic days talk story. The waves showcased in the film are often at the limit of paddle surfing and don’t lose their visual impact on the third time around, especially when you’re hearing what it was like directly from the surfers riding them. Near the end of the film Dave Wassel and Kelly are considering giving it a go after commentating most of the day for a webcast that went live despite the official WCT event being called off. As Wassel tells it a set comes through like none other that day leaving Kelly content to have a beer and watch while Wassel paddles one of the biggest boards ridden that day into one of the scariest waves of the day. You can watch his wave below but the film puts it in context with the unridden set prior that allowed the theater audience to almost feel why some waves go unridden.

Dave Wassel’s 2012 set wave at Cloudbreak (XXL contender):