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21 October, 2011

When is big too big?

I am writing from a Tropicsurf trip in Indonesia where there’s been a ton of swell lately. No matter how massive it gets, there’s always some maniacs out there charging from way behind the peak. Plus there’s the silent majority floating acceptable excuses to justify their absence.

Which one are you? And when is too big anyway?

With some reservation, I am a big fan of getting out there and at least having a look – even if it’s from the shoulder and you don’t even catch a wave. There’s no improvement to be gained by sitting on the beach. And just sitting on the shoulder watching can be one of the best surfing experiences of your life. That proximity to the intensity is priceless. This works well on beach and point breaks where there is safer deep water.

I call this de-sensitizing. If you paddled out on a ten-foot day for four days in a row and just sat on the shoulder … by the fifth day, it just wouldn’t seem so intimidating any more. This is the simple method that has worked for most of the world’s best big wave riders. They paddled out and got used to it. Even sitting on the shoulder is improvement. It all starts to build your confidence.

Having said that, you do need to realistically look at the worst case scenario and to decide if that is acceptable or not? Ask yourself – what is the worst that could happen here … is it:

a) I could get a scary hold down in deep water but will come up eventually – mildly terrifying, but statistically not life threatening in 99.99% of cases.
b) I could potentially get washed onto dry rocks where a leash snag causes me to drown.

If the answer is b) then there’s nothing wrong with knowing your limits. Stay on the beach. But if a) is the worst case, then maybe you should take the 99.99% odds, harden up and paddle out.


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