Mind Over Matter: The Psychology of Good Surfing

In this Fit Tip, we introduce Dr. Bill Rosenblatt, a psychologist by training, avid waterman and surfer, and Surf Stronger board member. We have wanted to touch on the mental side of surfing for some time, and Dr. Bill was just the right person to tap for insight into the mind, body connection in surfing. This is the first in a series of "Mind, Body, Surf" Fit Tips.
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Yogi Berra once said "all of baseball is 90% mental and the other half physical". Every surfer knows that surfing, like baseball, is more than just a physical activity, more than simply a workout. Our mindset can play a key role in our level of performance and in our ability to have fun.

We all have gone into the ocean with our heads filled with junk, stressed out, in a bad mood, and come out in a much different state of mind. Likewise, we've all had sessions or "heats from hell" when nothing seems to go right,when we are totally out of sync. Lot's been written about the mind/body relationship in sport and the important role of having the 'proper' mindset to achieve peak performance. Every surfer, whether a weekend warrior or a top ASP competitor, knows what goes on between your ears is critical to having fun and doing well.

As a psychologist and specialist in the "mind body" relationship I've worked with hundreds of athletes all interested in the same things - doing better, living a happier more fulfilling lives, as well as upping their performance levels. Getting our heads out of the way is often a key ingredient in surfing better.

Let's look at a few examples, a few things that have happened to us all and see what we can do about them to make sessions more fun and to surf better.

It's happened to us all, the session or heat just starts out badly. You are paddling out and here comes a macker set. Duck dive after duck dive but the waves keep coming denying you that easy paddle to the line up. By the time you finally get out you are exhausted. As you sit and collect yourself you see peaks to your left, peaks to your right but nothing heading your way so you begin your hunt. Finally after what seems like an eternity a wave is coming right towards you. You paddle hard but it rolls right past you. Ah, another wave heading your way ... this time you catch it, go to pop up and your back foot slips. "Come on" you think. The next wave you catch a rail. The wave after that you get caught at the top trying to blow your fins out. Now you are mad ... seems the harder your try the more mistakes you make. What to do? What to do? You feel like you are on some sort of negative roll, you are getting more frustrated by the minute. You can feel your body tensing up. What can you do get off this roll?

Having the ability to clear your head is a critical skill. The more your thoughts race in a negative direction the more trouble you are in. Luckily you have a great tool right there in the line-up with you, right in the ocean all around you. It's called MINDFULNESS. Being fully aware of you and your surroundings. You can begin by focusing on your breath. Slow it down, focus, breath in and slowly breath out. Let go a bit with each breath. Now take a moment and look around you. What color is the ocean? Are there birds around? Watch one as it glides by. Can you see the reef or bottom beneath you? Now, imagine yourself paddling gracefully for a wave, gliding down it's face. See your self, almost in slow motion, popping up, making your bottom turn, riding the wave exactly as you'd like. See each turn, each move in slow motion, just like the replays on the contest web cast. OK, let that image set itself in your head. Be aware, relax, breath, use your mind to create the image you want. Now go have fun!

In future posts I'll discuss a few other tools for helping make your mind, your mental state, one of your greatest surfing strengths.

About Dr. Bill Rosenblatt
A psychologist by training, Bill holds a Masters degree from Rutgers, a Doctorate from Lehigh University, and has completed Clinical Training in Behavioral Medicine from the Mind/Body Medical Institute at Harvard. Presently he is Director of Clinical and Coaching Services at Surf House Puerto and in private practice he has been Director of Behavioral Medicine at a number of NJ medical centers. He has also been on the faculty of Rutgers and Monmouth Universities.

A native of NJ, Bill is an all around waterman. He has surfed on both US coasts, in Hawaii, Mexico, Australia, Europe, Central America, and the Caribbean. He is passionate about getting in the water and most days he can be found somewhere riding anything from a 5'9" fish to a 12' paddleboard. Bill's ambition is to become a paid "soul surfer" traveling the world, influencing policy, and working to preserve and protect the world's oceans, beaches, and waves.


Dr. Bill using his mind, body, surf skills in an East Coast contest.

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Disclaimer: Always consult with your physician before beginning any exercise program. The suggestions here are in no way intended to substitute for medical advice.