How to: handle a wipeout

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How to: handle a wipeout

A surfer gets pummelled by a large wave and the board goes flying through the air

Well, Ryan has walked us through a drainer at the Mexican Pipeline in the post below, and I expect like me, that got your pulse racing. So here’s a little tip section on dealing with the one sure thing in surfing: wiping out!

A surfer gets pummelled by a large wave and the board goes flying through the air
Can't fight it, gotta roll with it

Just like the Inuits have a hundred words for snow and the British have a hundred words for rain, surfers have a hundred words for crashing: eating it; buying the farm; getting licked / clobbered / dusted / mown-down…the list goes on. Lest we get too down though we should remember it is the very threat of wiping out that makes surfing so challenging and thrilling.
Let’s look at a couple of different scenarios and how to deal with them:
I never saw it coming
The unforeseen wipeout occurs mostly during take-off which is the most critical part of the entire ride. Although the best wisdom says you should never enter the water head first, if you stack it on take-off it’s all but unavoidable to tumble in that way. There isn’t much you can do but thrust your hands to break surface tension so you don’t get neck strain on impact. Hopefully you will have been paying attention to where other surfers are before you paddled for the wave and won’t be about to land on someone else.
During the wipeout, it’s likely to go one of two ways: if you’re lucky, the wave will just pass over the top of you, then with your eyes open, give it a second before coming up so that you don’t get struck by your flying board. Still, always resurface with your hands first to fend off stray boards. If you were going for a steeper wave, you’ll probably land in the flats with the lip about to axe you. Accept the pummelling, don’t panic, and trust that you will resurface automatically in a few seconds. It will feel like an eternity, but don’t let your mind freak you out – your body is a lot more adept at dealing with this than you might imagine.
I see I’m about to crash
Usually we know it’s the end of the ride when the wave closes out. Here, you’ve got two choices: stay on your board and ride the whitewater into the shore and paddle out again (really?!) or get off the board, take the licking and save some time as you won’t have as far to paddle. So when making an intentional bail, you have the luxury of planning things.
The first thing to consider is how to get off the board, and the safest way is to land butt first, as though you were sploshing into the shallow end of a pool. This spreads impact so you don’t penetrate as deep and risk hitting the bottom.
Next, you can decide where to jump. If the wave is pretty small, or quite mushy, jump right into it. The whitewater will absorb impact and who knows, you may make it over the back of it. If however there’s a full on avalanche going on behind you, get off quick and try to get under so you avoid the worst of the turbulence.
I’ve snapped my leash and am about to get clobbered
This tip also applies to being over-whelmed by a set of waves larger than you have experienced before. Whilst we should not seek situations beyond our ability, it is a reality that the surf can sometimes jump up in size and catch us out.
Picture the scenario – a set of heavy waves is marching towards you. Instinct might tell you to dive deep to get under the turbulence, but when it’s a survival situation, this is a bad idea. After the second or third dive, it gets incredibly exhausting and there could be more waves in the set still to come, what then?
What we do is use the power of the ocean to get us back to safety. Waves move towards the shore. Towards the shore is where you want to be, where you can stand up. So, stay on the surface, brace yourself and let the white water blast you back in to shore. Go with it, let the wave to the work and conserve energy. When the wave lets up, swim steadily towards the shore and prepare for the next one, repeat until you are safe.
We can’t fight the ocean
The physical beating a wipeout dishes out will sap your energy. Don’t fight to get to the surface, wait till the wave lets up a bit and then go for it. Don’t panic; build your confidence by doing some training on land between sessions to increase your cardio-vascular potential. Wipeouts are a part of surfing, next time you go down just think of it as having free tickets to the best water park on Earth.

Hans van Mourik

Co-founder SurfaWhile, ♥️travel, sports & outdoors.

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