Can You Get Better At Surfing?

Steve Shearer picture
Steve Shearer (freeride76)
Swellnet Dispatch

It seems a straightforward question and on some basic level the answer has to be yes. We all came out of the womb prone yet somehow we have John John and Gabe doing ridiculous things on waves. They got better. Most people who surf have somehow managed to wangle their way into a basic skill set at least.

So let me re-phrase the question: Once you have your skill set in place at, say, 18, 20 or 25 years of age, can you continue to improve?

Can you keep getting better, can you improve your skill set as an adult?

Spoiler: I say no, with vanishingly rare exceptions. Here is why.

Before you let loose below the line, think about your mate Smitty who has got better as an adult. You might come up with one name. You won't come up with five. Think of the guy or gal who catches the most waves at your local, who surfs more than anyone - probably your mate Smitty. Maybe they ride a hundred waves a week.

Smitty rode the hundredth wave exactly the same as the first one. Correct..?

What catalysed this topic was a series of YouTube instructional videos made by Scottish Mountain Bike star Ben Cathro. Improving at mountain biking was broken down into ten video segments beginning with a video on how to learn new skills. I was struck by how incredibly easy the process was compared to surfing. Cathro and a non-expert pal picked a new skill, broke it down, practised it and within the first ep had nailed it. Too easy.

With a completely replicable platform - the bike and the ground - they were able to get their reps in doing what Swedish psychologist Andres Ericsson termed “deliberate practice” which is defined as, "engagement in structured activities created specifically to improve performance in a domain.”

Ericsson was the grand-daddy of expert performance, a major influence on Malcolm Gladwell who came up with the famous 10,000 hour theory for acquiring mad skills. Neither man tested their theories on surfing.

Despite not referencing or even understanding Ericsson's work on expertise a whole cottage industry has sprung up in surfing over the last decade designed to make you surf better, usually for a small or large fee. Nick Carroll's books and video series were some of the first modern incarnations, CT coach Martin Dunn has also been in the game for a while, YouTube star Kale Brock has focussed on beginner-intermediates and found a willing audience, Brad Gerlach has his Wave-Ki method, South African big waver Matt Bromley has a series, and now Ace Buchan has released a product to improve the skill sets of aspirants.

I've probably missed a few. It's a rapidly growing field.

I've tried most of 'em and would have to describe any improvements as marginal, contingent, and temporary.

2019 into 2020 I put on a major offensive to improve my skill set. Great boards, good level of fitness, and the first La Nina year coincided to where I felt I was doing my best surfing ever. Then, a lockdown mental health crisis in the family derailed the program and surfing had to drop right down the priority list. Whatever little bits of progress I made were discarded or just seemed too trivial to pursue. Injury struck. I couldn't quite find the magic board formula again. In bodybuilding parlance, "I couldn't lock in the gains.”

Improving is hard work. The hardest work is mental. Riding a wave happens so quickly, on such an incredibly complex surface which is the result of a matrix of natural forces and bathymetry that you can't think your way through it. The thinking and reshaping of the mental models has to be done away from the ocean. Then you have to be ready to translate those different mental models into different physical actions while on a wave, which feels incredibly foreign and kooky. How many waves are you prepared to butcher? How many sessions will you sacrifice to learn something new?

You want to look at the elite level? Fine. Skill sets are notoriously impervious to change there too.

Heat strategy aside, did Mick Fanning really do anything different in 2018 compared to what he did in 2001 as a twenty-year old?

Have we seen John John's 2017 high water mark at Margaret River broached by any new performance gains in the ensuing five years? Anything remotely as high as his Backdoor alley oop in 2016?

Carissa Moore did one slick air in the Merewether shorey in 2021 and since then...nothing.

You'd have to invoke the GOAT as the exception to prove the rule. As a 40 year old he produced two of the biggest airs ever seen in competition at Bells Beach and New York in the early 2010's. Otherwise, his skill set in small surf is clearly going backwards.

The GOAT and his Bells Hail Mary Air in 2012 (Cestari/WSL)

We watched the immense difficulty of improvement play out in real time this year on the Women's tour. Despite tens of thousands of dollars prizemoney, live broadcasts, and cleared lineups as inducement, elite athletes - who have no other responsibilities except to improve their surfing and lay down world class performance - weren't able to deal with hollow lefts.

Can you surf worse? Of course.

At the elite level the QS makes people surf worse. It's a graveyard for performance surfing levels. Watch any of the raw clips of surfing in Bali with the local shredders in good waves. Now go watch a QS heat in typically shitty surf. It destroys skill sets! People come off long QS campaigns as worse surfers. The opportunity cost of surfing so much garbage instead of good waves is significant.

Improvement is an alluring siren song at all levels. Learning new things is incredibly sexy right now in this post-COVID era where work from homers look to imbue their extra leisure time with more meaning. Surfing is not immune to those broader cultural trends, especially amongst the COVID beginner boom cohort.

Yet reality intrudes on the fantasy. We were told the wavepool would be the solution to rapid improvement. Nearly seven years on from Slater's unveiling of the Lemoore Tub, and four years on from its debut as a competition venue we are yet to see a material difference in performance levels there. If anything, performance has regressed to a more 'safety first' standard. Almost three years after the opening of Melbourne's Wavegarden we are yet to see an army of QS aspirants flying out of Tullamarine after honing their skills in the Tub.

Seth Moniz pulled a backflip in the Waco Tub, but four years later we are yet to see that replicated in the ocean. The promise of wavepool mediated skill set progression has been an illusion, a fantasy, a mirage in the desert mostly appealing to the vanities of the beginner-intermediate.

We're told that improvement and progression are the way forward, and that they're the best way to have fun on a sled. Does even that sacred cow need to be taken down to the bottom paddock and dispatched? It seems that the surf culture as a whole has already decided that question and I am merely saying the quiet bit out loud. Mid-90s fish, finless, alternate crafts, the mid-length revolution...all of that is predicated on letting go of improvement in performance and relaxing into the ride.

If I think about my most memorable rides over the last decade, two spring immediately to mind. A ten-footer I whipped and went on the Black Nor'easter swell of 2016 and a bomb set at Kirra during TC Oma in Feb 2019. Maxing out and red-lining the whole wave on a 7'6”, total exhilaration but in all honesty I did fuck all on both waves. Video footage, apart from the drop, would be deflating no doubt.

I know I could have done more, but could those waves have felt any better? Been more memorable? What was amazing was that I rode them, not how good I rode them.

Fear not comrades. There does remain one method of improvement, as currently being demonstrated by our Russian brothers on the Bukit and the rest of Indonesia. Good waves, not too big, are the only pathway with any proven track record for getting better. It seems unbelievable that the Woz, as the peak body for pro surfing can't seem to recognise that simple fact, whilst recreational surfers from all over the world can.

You can't get better - it's too damn hard - but you can enjoy it more.

How..?

Sign up for my sixteen week online course for just USD $500 and I'll show you the secret.

// STEVE SHEARER

Comments

Shaggydagz's picture
Shaggydagz's picture
Shaggydagz Wednesday, 9 Nov 2022 at 4:39pm

The Kellycopter.....
There can't be many 40 year olds around trying those airs

channel-bottom's picture
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channel-bottom Wednesday, 9 Nov 2022 at 4:50pm

"You'd have to invoke the GOAT as the exception to prove the rule. As a 40 year old he produced two of the biggest airs ever seen in competition at Bells Beach and New York in the early 2010's. Otherwise, his skill set in small surf is clearly going backwards."

I think his performances are still as good as ever in the small stuff, but there are so many now at a level in the small stuff that KS never got to, Filipe, Gabriel, etc.

Island Bay's picture
Island Bay's picture
Island Bay Wednesday, 9 Nov 2022 at 4:53pm

Thanks, Steve. Once again you think and write, and then make us think.

Quick answer: not easily. Growing up in Denmark I came to surfing late in life and then mostly on trips. Home was garbage, but we embraced that garbage. I was always destined for mediocrity, however.

Once installed in NZ, I only improved slowly till I started to think about what to do and how my body worked. I managed to improve into my 50s, but fuck a lot of things come and derail you: Lockdowns floored me, and the last few years in general have been mentally hard, as have injuries. Death of parents; loss of friends.

Living in a place with really consistent surf has been a boon. No longer fretting to surf whenever it's on, but whenever it's good or you feel like it, or aren't having lunch with the missus. So there are still glimpses of magic where I surprise myself, but it's too late for proper improvement. Reckon I can surf a 12-15ft wave again, though, if my body allows. That'd do me.

memlasurf's picture
memlasurf's picture
memlasurf Thursday, 10 Nov 2022 at 10:49am

Not at any where really serious your not like HT's, even 8 -10 foot there requires elite level tube skills and unless you live there you will get hurt badly.

Island Bay's picture
Island Bay's picture
Island Bay Thursday, 10 Nov 2022 at 10:59am

Heck no. Not delusional.

I've got a couple of more user friendly spots in mind. Just want to take off and go fast down the line, so a wall will suffice.

mpeachy's picture
mpeachy's picture
mpeachy Wednesday, 9 Nov 2022 at 5:46pm

It's almost entirely about consistent time in the water.

Once you have kids its basically just trying to maintain, rather than improve, your skillset by getting out in the water whenever possible. So that when it gets good you can actually enjoy it.

Assume that in 40s and later, age becomes a major factor too.

blackers's picture
blackers's picture
blackers Wednesday, 9 Nov 2022 at 6:31pm

Huge factor for sure.

zenagain's picture
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zenagain Wednesday, 9 Nov 2022 at 5:55pm

Cool article and pretty much spot on.

I reckon if you don't start surfing in your teens then you are gonna be a pretty mediocre surfer forever. Doesn't mean you won't have fun, just that you're not going to turn out to be a ripper. I can't think of one person who started in their twenties who went on to become really good. I can't think of anyone who started in their thirties to be even half-way decent. Happy to be corrected but nobody I know.

As for me, I'm as good as I'm ever gonna get, that's including snowboarding too. I might have the odd glimpse here and there of pulling something that surprises me but for the most part, everything performance-wise in surfing for me has well and truly been preceded.

Intertidal's picture
Intertidal's picture
Intertidal Thursday, 17 Nov 2022 at 3:05pm

Phyllis O'Donnell started surfing in her 20s, Ma and Pa Bendall started in their 50s. Reckon you'd say they all ripped.

zenagain's picture
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zenagain Saturday, 19 Nov 2022 at 10:16am

Depends upon ones interpretation of 'ripped'.

Island Bay's picture
Island Bay's picture
Island Bay Wednesday, 9 Nov 2022 at 6:06pm

Not wrong, zen. Started skiing real young, and even at 59, I could come back to it post Covid and improve.
Surfing, different story

andy-mac's picture
andy-mac's picture
andy-mac Wednesday, 9 Nov 2022 at 6:59pm

Good read and reckon you are spot on. Reckon the years between 12 and 16 are the key, stating the obvious I guess, but if you are not a great surfer at 17-18 you never will be. You may become competent, but not a outlier. Geez some of the young guys and girls are doing unbelievable stuff now. I mean wtf???
https://m.

sacash's picture
sacash's picture
sacash Wednesday, 9 Nov 2022 at 8:35pm

Another factor to consider is the the technology, kids today with go pros and can instantly go over the days session and analyze on what there doing wrong, the best way to improve is to watch yourself

icandig's picture
icandig's picture
icandig Wednesday, 9 Nov 2022 at 9:07pm

That kid reminds me of China on the GC in the 90's.

andy-mac's picture
andy-mac's picture
andy-mac Thursday, 10 Nov 2022 at 7:27am

What an incredible surfer he was!

icandig's picture
icandig's picture
icandig Thursday, 10 Nov 2022 at 11:00am

He sure was. I remember him as a younger than this- he's a bit older in this vid. Not sure he got better as he got older though...anyone know what happened to him?

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 Thursday, 10 Nov 2022 at 12:43pm

Hardly surfing.

Rides a mini-mal occasionally.

morg's picture
morg's picture
morg Wednesday, 9 Nov 2022 at 7:18pm

Great article FR. I waste way to much time watching crew surf and theorise that pretty much by the time a life long surfer hits their early 40’s they basically surf every wave on their home break the same. Give’m a 5’6” and they’ll be Mr Squiggle for a couple of waves then fall back into their usual routine. Give’m a 6’3” and after a few waves they’ll wind it up to surf the same as on their 5’9” goto. Yep we get more consistent with time but few genuinely seem to improve, although those skills developed in our early childhood seem to be relatively easy to regain or maintain. Kudos on your two most memorable rides. I didn’t even do a turn on my biggest ever wave but I’m claiming it.

conrico's picture
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conrico Wednesday, 9 Nov 2022 at 7:23pm

Tend to think many surfers slow their progression by simply not trying to improve. Soccer and football players attend weekly trainings to address particular skills. In contrast, surfers usually just surf for the fun of it, not focusing on any one movement or technique

bluediamond's picture
bluediamond's picture
bluediamond Wednesday, 9 Nov 2022 at 7:31pm

100percent you can improve. There's always room for improvement.
I've been tuning into alot of the OMBE stuff with Clayton Neinaber over the last couple of years. I've found his approach of really breaking down the body mechanics and how you need to become aware of what you're body is doing (the thing you can control) has had profound benefits on my surfing.
I'd say in the last 2 years there's been a 200percent improvement in my surfing (although many may beg to differ) but comparing footage from before this type of analysis and after it shows huge changes, especially in the bottom turn. So either i was a really big kook before this and now i'm a reasonable kook, or the instructions and tips have had the effect i suspect hey have had. I'd definitely recommend giving him a go.

spenda's picture
spenda's picture
spenda Friday, 11 Nov 2022 at 4:16pm

I second this. Clayton Neinaber's mention of standing like a sprinter with shoulders square to the stringer, rather than parallel, had a huge impact after 25 years of surfing. But it was a step change, and the improvement gradient has been fairly flat since this revelation. I think he has other great nuggets of learning, but to apply them there needs to be long term consistency of getting in the water - age, illness, family, life gets in the way of that. My skills go backwards every time I am out of the water for a week or two, and I have to re-learn the sprinter stance again.

Crab Nebula's picture
Crab Nebula's picture
Crab Nebula Monday, 14 Nov 2022 at 8:22pm

I can only watch the vids where Clayton is giving operationalised advice: The techniques, body posture, analysing other surfer's style, board placement etc. I think they are great.
Once he and the bloody 'Mentalist' start harping on about psychology and behaviour of the surfer, I cringe and restrain myself from tearing their 'analysis' apart. I have to turn it off. It is so inconsistent and non-analytic. Then you have Hardacre's podcasts .... oh dear lord!

wax-on-danielson's picture
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wax-on-danielson Wednesday, 9 Nov 2022 at 7:42pm

All comes back to time in the water I think. The more time you spend when you are younger the stronger a foundation you have to run off. Even the best surfer will be surfing pretty average if they only surf every few months, for fitness reasons alone. Also comes back to how good the surf is, everyone surfs better in Indo don’t they?

goofyfoot's picture
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goofyfoot Wednesday, 9 Nov 2022 at 7:48pm

I don’t think I’ve improved since I was about 25 as far as doing turns and “tricks” etc.
But I reckon I can read and surf barrels better (forehand only) and I’m a lot more comfortable in bigger waves now than I was when I was 30. (Nearly 10 years ago)
I probably don’t surf them better than I would of then but I also wouldn’t of paddled out in some situations then that I would now.
I still can’t backhand tube ride to save my life except for easy ones and I’ve pretty much given up on setting my sights on travelling for hollow rights. I like surfing my backhand I just can’t make technical tubes.
If I can spend the rest of my life surfing around home and time in Indo going left every year that’ll do me.

I see local guys my age doing surf coaching and taking the heats in the local board riders club so seriously and think what’s the point? But good on em I guess if that’s what they’re into.

Standingleft's picture
Standingleft's picture
Standingleft Wednesday, 9 Nov 2022 at 8:11pm

Every day is a new day. It is better to be lucky. But I would rather be exact. Then when luck comes you are ready.
Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea

Addo's picture
Addo's picture
Addo Wednesday, 9 Nov 2022 at 8:20pm

Really good dispatch, so many valid points, starting young and regular surfing key to enjoying waves which is what its all about though without stuffing up some other persons surf. Gets harder as you get older so stay loose and fit anyway possible. The variety of equipment has also allowed enjoyment at all levels without having to pull off airs.

Snuffy Smith's picture
Snuffy Smith's picture
Snuffy Smith Wednesday, 9 Nov 2022 at 8:28pm
sacash's picture
sacash's picture
sacash Wednesday, 9 Nov 2022 at 8:39pm

I don't think La Toya was ever a real person it was Michael in drag

Beggsie's picture
Beggsie's picture
Beggsie Wednesday, 9 Nov 2022 at 8:37pm

Bottom line more time in the water means better results
Plenty of 50 plus guys from the surfcoast charge and some are getting better
Like fine wine my friend

memlasurf's picture
memlasurf's picture
memlasurf Thursday, 10 Nov 2022 at 10:58am

In good reef waves on that coast which generally don't have hollow take offs and are generally predictable, they all struggle with the younger ones in chunky shifting, hollow beachies. Reaction times are just not as quick and the flexibility is not there. Just age.

AlfredWallace's picture
AlfredWallace's picture
AlfredWallace Monday, 14 Nov 2022 at 1:07pm

Beggsie i agree wholeheartedly. Very evident when on a boat trip to Indo or similar, at the end of 14 nights, guys our age are surfing with the ability they had half a lifetime ago. I’m on the Surfcoast and you are spot on with that statement. Here’s to us maturing lads.

bbbird's picture
bbbird's picture
bbbird Wednesday, 9 Nov 2022 at 9:15pm

Can you keep getting 'better',
can you improve your skill set as an adult?

YEP.... enjoying each moment is a skill we can all improve upon....
many a surfer has fallen & gone to sit on the bench, bemoaning the better days, waves & ways.

Maybe an injury or work or a holiday away from the waves can reset expectations & savour surfing ...again
thrills maybe just being in the ocean,
paddling over the first wave of the set, rainbow spray, to see what may be coming my way....
&
making the drop

"my most memorable rides over the last decade..... I could have done more, but ...
could those waves have felt any better?
Been more memorable?
What was amazing, was that I rode them,.....not how good I rode them."

mickseq's picture
mickseq's picture
mickseq Wednesday, 9 Nov 2022 at 9:16pm

Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to some other person today

batfink's picture
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batfink Friday, 11 Nov 2022 at 11:48am

Nice!

Island Bay's picture
Island Bay's picture
Island Bay Sunday, 13 Nov 2022 at 4:16am

Jordan P nugget. There are many.

Solitude's picture
Solitude's picture
Solitude Wednesday, 9 Nov 2022 at 9:41pm

Really good topic. One I’ve pondered a lot.

I reckon you can improve with sheer consistent time in water. I know I feel much more in sync if I’m surfing 3-4+ times / week. …….but I guess doesn’t mean I’m getting better perse.

I believe you can improve on your bigger wave surfing and barrel riding during your years 30-50 through experience as long as you keep your fitness up.

As for the good wave theory, I agree to a point, some reps at an uncrowded point or Indo can do wonders for the bog rail backhand bottom turn or forehand cutback. However anyone witnessed those middle aged mouthy heros out at snapper/dbah everyday? Surf absolute perfection more than most and apart from good positioning surf like total muppets.

Anyone learnt to do an air over the age of 30?

juegasiempre's picture
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juegasiempre Thursday, 10 Nov 2022 at 12:37am

I'm improving ATM but here's what it takes:

I've been retired for a year now, age 36, and given up skateboarding to only surf. Not drinking or smoking weed. Eating healthy. I travelled around the east coast of of oz, two months in Bali and now I'm in Latin America, all this year. I wasn't improving in oz much at all. Too fickle and crowded. In Bali, despite the perfect waves and daily surf, only a little bit. The food was lacking in protein which was also a holdback. The only time it was uncrowded was when it was big(!) or if I was surfing a C grade spot. Now I'm surfing average but consistent uncrowded point surf everyday. Some hollow rocky barrel point surf and another point wave that's good for turns mostly. Actually a half dozen uncrowded waves that are all slightly different AND uncrowded. I'll surf a couple of hours and catch heaps of good waves. I eat well and sleep well.

It's like that shark thing I read here regarding attacks. If you're surfing with one person, your odds drop to 50%, 10 people, 10%. Same thing with waves all things equal. You do the math at Bali where it's quite lully and you're rarely going to get your fill, unless you're in g land or somewhere.

Father time is my only concern at the moment and there's going to be a point where no matter what, I'm going to be sliding backwards. At that point I might consider giving it up, depends on where I am in the world. I don't want to be one of those angry, unfit old men on the latest trendy twin mini mal trying to relive glory days.

Good article and I agree with it, despite being an exception. Also, I can't do airs so I have a lot of space to improve!

toncie's picture
toncie's picture
toncie Friday, 11 Nov 2022 at 1:01pm

Sorry mate, almost guaranteed : If you are still around, you will be a grumpy old man.

Otherwise, congratulations on retiring early and having your pick of surf paradise.

velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno Saturday, 12 Nov 2022 at 4:16pm

You are looking at being a grumpy old man in completely the wrong way ;)

Seaweed's picture
Seaweed's picture
Seaweed Thursday, 10 Nov 2022 at 4:18am

You forgot to mention Surf Hacks where you can learn not to be a hack.

The best surfer is always going to be the one having the most fun.

wavie's picture
wavie's picture
wavie Thursday, 10 Nov 2022 at 4:59am

Surfing has been by far the hardest thing ive learnt, i grew up on the boog and probably been on the stand up for like 10 years now, and my gawd the progression has been minimal haha.

Surf Turkey's picture
Surf Turkey's picture
Surf Turkey Thursday, 10 Nov 2022 at 7:12am

You can get better for sure, I’d say it’s mostly mental. The mountain bike analogy is interesting, I raced downhill mtb for over 10 years and started in my mid teens. I saw lots of people start at different ages and become more competent and fewer rapidly improve. Whilst trails are always there, they do change with weather conditions. So while not as diverse as waves, things aren’t totally predictable.

Coming to surfing in my later twenties, I noticed the progression curve started out quite steeply, and then begins to flatten out as you get better.

I think you’ve got to have a mindset that is focussed on progressing and finding fulfilment and joy in improving your skill level. Every time I jump on the bike or paddle out I’m trying to improve, which is something that keeps me engaged and very satisfied. Some people are more satisfied with just being engaged with the activity.

Most of my mates I surf with are also exceptionally good and love chasing heavy/challenging waves. Aside from watching/learning from them, a little bit of friendly persuasion to throw yourself over the edge and out of your comfort zone/ability level definitely lends itself to progressing your surf skills quicker if you prefer not to get smoked in heavy conditions all the time.

Weatherman's picture
Weatherman's picture
Weatherman Thursday, 10 Nov 2022 at 7:21am

Interesting topic for sure. If defining progressive surfing, like airs and moves like pros might do as improvement, then I have not improved for a long time. But, in my mid 60's, like goofyfoot and Solitude noted, my barrel riding has improved over the years, I think. A lot of improvement comes from experience. You generally get better at reading waves and lineups and wave choice. Is this counted as improvement? Maybe.

Craig's picture
Craig's picture
Craig Thursday, 10 Nov 2022 at 7:41am

As others have stated, starting in your early teens has such a huge advantage compared to later.

I started in my late teens and it's taken years but feel like I'm at a good but far from ripping level. In perfect waves I'll do quite well and love grovelling in the rip bowls in and around Manly which gives you a high wave count to time surfing ratio.

I think the main advantage with time and years of surfing is reading the ocean (like Goofy pointed out). This gives you the biggest advantage to be on the better waves or better bank across the beach, thus giving you more opportunity to try and improve your surfing.

I wish I could pull off an air or two, just a simple air-reverse, they look super fun, but copping a fin to the arse or arm while trying doesn't sound too appealing in my late 30's.

As long as you're still having fun and not missing/bogging waves that's the main point.

I also agree Steve that the free-surfing clips showcase and push progression much more than competition surfing does where a slightly more safety approach is taken. So you're right that the QS/CT could lead to a degradation of surfing level/improvisation.

FriarTuck's picture
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FriarTuck Thursday, 10 Nov 2022 at 7:52am

1. Kids and young adults surf in anything these days and for hours v me I only surf if glassy or offshore and for probably half the time. Example: daughter surfed with boyfriend and mates for 3 hours late yesterday arvo onshore SE here, then at 7am back again with a girlfriend, me having a red and coffee lol.
2. So many average surfers now that are just good enough to take waves off you, so less waves.
3. I don't think surfer who have surfed all their life will improve much over 50, not in todays conditions.

joesydney's picture
joesydney's picture
joesydney Thursday, 10 Nov 2022 at 10:56am

Pfft - you can always get better. I started surfing in mid 20s after bodyboarding, I went from starting on a mini-mal to surfing Puerto, Gland and Ments in about 5 years. I’m still average but I can throw myself over a ledge and get pitted which was the main goal.
1) Get on a surf trainer skateboard - helps so much with being able to repeat turns and get your body shape right.
2) since COVID and WFH and job change I have been lucky to go from one surf a week to 3 for an extended period and its helped my surfing so much. Just in terms of consistency,
3) Surfer bigger waves is a realistic target at any age which is a form of improvement.
4) don’t measure your surfing against pros - set realistic targets.

icandig's picture
icandig's picture
icandig Thursday, 10 Nov 2022 at 10:57am

I find I'm not over surfing waves as much as I used to. I don't flap around nearly as much. In fact I'm under surfing them. If going in a straight line with better style counts then I'm so much better than I used to be.

memlasurf's picture
memlasurf's picture
memlasurf Thursday, 10 Nov 2022 at 11:25am

Great article Steve and as always carefully thought through and well articulated. Pushing 63 now and just trying to keep fit is almost a full time job when every organ in your body is on the slow way out. Still love surfing and nowadays making sure every turn counts and not a series of check turns. Also my tube riding is a little better than it was. Started surfing sub teens, stop start to late teens, lots of surf in 20's, backed way off in 30's (career and kids), some time in my 40's amongst mid life crisis, 50's lots more surf (more time), 60's even more time shifted permanently down the beach (thank you Dan and Covid which made it legitimate to work from home), and still going OS to surf. Still enjoying it with expectations lowered to a painfully realistic level. I think what has saved me is my surfing mates are now my son's mates (late 20's) who have invited me to a Mentawis boat trip next year. They still have that youthful enthusiasm that my mates the same age have lost (just about all have given up).

jedi old mate's picture
jedi old mate's picture
jedi old mate Thursday, 10 Nov 2022 at 11:24am

I find it hard to quantify improvement in surf skills. I might be falling on waves I would of made once upon a time and feel that my best surfing is behind me. But every dog has its day and every couple of years we all have that rare session when all of the elements align and the set of the day rolls through and your in the spot…. Muscle memory takes over and we somehow execute something truly special. It’s been a good couple of years since I have experienced one of those peak breakthrough moments but I like to think I’ve still got it in me.

As others said having that ability to read the micro-sensibilities of approaching waves and positioning yourself in accordance before you even get to your feet is perhaps the most useful skill as a surfer. That’s something you can only learn yourself and most commonly through absolute dedication in the formative years when you conveniently have no other responsibilities.
Curious to hear everyone else’s opinions.

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garyg1412 Thursday, 10 Nov 2022 at 11:28am

I'll say one thing about Ben Cathro showing Joe Average how to get new skill sets on two wheels, and that is he probably doesn't go into the broken bones factor in too much detail. I think I'll stick to trying to improve my waning surf skills in the twilight of my career unlike some of my mates who regularly injure themselves flying down dirt tracks on two wheels.

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FiveMill Friday, 11 Nov 2022 at 11:56am

Haha a very good point! I've done a tonne of mountain biking and yes some people pick it up quickly, but if you have what i would call world class mountain bike trails, then many newer riders eventually get in over their heads and break their wrists or femurs.

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joesydney Thursday, 10 Nov 2022 at 12:07pm

I will also say that the improvements in board shapes for the average surfer has helped massively. I spent way too long on under volume performance boards because 20 yrs ago the choices and my knowledge were limited.
That first time you get on a lower rocker and well volumed average Joe board and suddenly wave count goes up, speed goes up and boom you are away

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FiveMill Friday, 11 Nov 2022 at 12:03pm

Yeah for sure. I'll also add that if you are carrying extra weight, lose a few kilos, then go surfing: wave count goes up, speed goes up, and boom you are away!

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freeride76 Thursday, 10 Nov 2022 at 12:54pm

Boards are one area you can definitely improve on with no limit- assuming you can accurately assess where you are at and what will work best for you.
Some equipment has a lot of "head-room" you need to be at your best and reaching to get the best out of it.

Other equipment is more easy going and lenient.

I've also improved on my ability to find the best waves in a crowded or semi-crowded Point surf.

There are different strategies which I have conceived and practised and can identify and utilise in different situations- not going into them here though. hahahah.

As far as surfing more, when my son was fully frothing end of 2020/2021 I was surfing more than I ever have and I actually found myself going backwards due to fatigue and over-use injuries.

I cut-back and found a sweet spot.

I don't surf myself out now, I surf myself in. At the end of a swell cycle I want to feel better and fresher than when it began.

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flollo Thursday, 10 Nov 2022 at 1:06pm

I surfed so much that I developed quadriceps tendonitis from constant pop-ups and faster turns. As I got better, my knee was hurting more and more. Every time I would do a really good, fast cutback I would feel it in my knee. It dragged on for a good 2-3 years until I finally had to stop and rest. I don't feel any pain now which is good but it's obvious that after a certain age, the body just can't handle any improvements.

freeride76's picture
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freeride76 Thursday, 10 Nov 2022 at 1:08pm

It's about how much stress you can handle, vs recovery time.

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mitchvg Thursday, 10 Nov 2022 at 1:04pm

You're Shearing too close to the bone Steve

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garry-weed Thursday, 10 Nov 2022 at 1:07pm

What is 'better'? Is it subjective or objective? If you feel like you are surfing better are you surfing better? Or.. If you look better is that better? Is the standard based on the WSL performances ? Who sets the bar? Too hard.

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freeride76 Thursday, 10 Nov 2022 at 1:09pm

Fair questions.

An improved skill-set might feel worse, if you have to work harder for it.

Maybe why almost all pros immediately jump on more user-friendly, lower performance boards when they retire.

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garry-weed Thursday, 10 Nov 2022 at 1:20pm

Or maybe they want to glide...Feel the wave etc rather than think of a wave as a kind of ramp with point scoring opportunities. ( I lean toward an alt approach. Have you ever come in from a terrible surf and mates have remarked on how good the board seems to go (or the opposite) ?
The Phil Edwards approach is helpful.

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Island Bay Thursday, 10 Nov 2022 at 1:30pm

I'm normally more cynical and skew towards objectively good surfing, but you've got a point. Two days ago I took my 8'6 gun out, because it was a solid paddle and because I'd had a blinder on it two days earlier and was a bit in love. Waves were only OH, but clean, bowly, predictable and empty.

I reckon I did some of my best surfing in months that day. No expectations, no pressure, just pure joy at leaning hard on all that rail and feeling the board accelerate and carve hard.

Which brings up another point: change gears every now and then; ride something different; trick your body and mind. I think that may bring bursts of improvement later in life.

Ash's picture
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Ash Thursday, 10 Nov 2022 at 1:17pm

About 4 years ago at 59, I started to have takeoff issues, definitely slower and as it went on it became a lack of confidence issue too. So, it was either do something about it or just let it fade into the sunset.
First up new lighter, more flexible wetties, then in winter the lightest boots I could find which were Ripcurl 2mm Rubber Soul jobs, not a long-lasting boot but you don't know they're on. Some popup training and serious focusing in the water helped. At the same time, I began to experiment away from thrusters towards higher volumed short twinnies, that helped too.
Then last year I saw a 7' Chili Mid Strength in my local and as I was already thinking along those lines, especially as where I surf there are soooo many beginners and people on mals etc. and they're gliding into the fat ones with ease, I pulled the trigger and bought it.
That was surprisingly a really good move, as the middy was more work to wrangle in the water which equated to a better workout. caught way more waves so more exercise and my takeoffs were back again to normal. I had to put it away after months on the thing as although the surfing was based on longer lines with less abrupt turns, which was surprisingly enjoyable, I was having too much fun and was beginning to part company with my shorter boards. It only comes out for the days where it's literally impossible to catch waves on a small board, and I can enjoy actually catching and riding those frustrating waves.
What I found was the ease of mid length takeoffs had renewed my takeoff confidence and I was enjoying getting acquainted with shorter twins, now that I was popping fine. It was a long experiment, but I think one that has paid off and if your 20 - 30 something you've got this to come, but it's a long way off.
I don't know if anyone else has found this, but on my last two boards I haven't put tail pads on and I find that there's no kick pad for my back foot to drag on, which is something I've always done. Apart from not dragging the back foot I now find the deck is an open deck scape and move around on it with a new sort of freedom.

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velocityjohnno Saturday, 12 Nov 2022 at 4:34pm

Yep totally, full wax cover forever and you'll be free.

Ash's picture
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Ash Saturday, 12 Nov 2022 at 6:32pm

It's a small thing and it wasn't until I surfed my sons board recently with a tailpad and high kicker, that it became apparent that I was dragging my back foot so low to the deck. I'll be saving my money from now on.
So can you improve over 60, nah, but you can change things to improve your chances of maintaining a level of participation. Personally, so long as I'm getting out there, I'm happy.

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GuySmiley Thursday, 10 Nov 2022 at 1:21pm

Where’s old mate uplift when we need him?

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gearoid Thursday, 10 Nov 2022 at 2:50pm

Good work once again, Steve. Food for thought.

I have decided you may not be able to 'get better at surfing', but you can definitely become a better surfer.

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wally Thursday, 10 Nov 2022 at 3:27pm

Steve, as an experiment, I think you should try a couple of sessions with a good surf coach, for example Jenny Boggis.

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Deanorip Thursday, 10 Nov 2022 at 3:31pm

Reflecting on my youth years I reckon I pulled back on progressive skills when the waves are so beaut I wouldn’t want to mess it trying to hack that top tier manoeuvre. So loving the feel of a great wave and be tragic to lose it.
Looking at breaking down manoeuvres Luke a skate boarder or mountain bike you gotta practice practice practice. Surf is more vibe more fun more endorphins than that

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Crab Nebula Thursday, 10 Nov 2022 at 3:58pm

A person can almost get better at anything given the right environment and a willingness to learn. The environment consists of many, many variables. As such, there are a myriad of reasons people do not get better at surfing. I have to laugh at surf coaches who try to delve into the psychology of surfing when they clearly do not have an thorough undertsanding of it.

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booman Thursday, 10 Nov 2022 at 5:22pm

It is very important not to let others dictate / influence what you might or might not be capable of.
There are so many "older riders" in surfing and skating that have maybe adapted their riding but are still progressing, it is epic to see.

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garry-weed Thursday, 10 Nov 2022 at 10:14pm

yep

indo-dreaming's picture
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indo-dreaming Thursday, 10 Nov 2022 at 6:01pm

I just wish i could go back to being a grommet and do it all again, my understanding of how to improve now is so much better, but once you pass 40 i think its close to impossible and i find i only surf as good as the waves allow and sometimes surf ten times worst than my best, getting older is depressing.

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Sando1 Friday, 11 Nov 2022 at 9:56pm

Wow.
I’ve read (but never commented) heaps of your comments over the years and I’ve gotta say I’m impressed with your knowledge, experience and opinions on lots of issues and you are obviously a well versed\travelled surfer even if some others take you to task over your personal or political views (entertainment).

But, I find this (your) comment itself depressing. Get out there, enjoy the rubbish days out there with ya mates. Who cares if you kook or rip? You’re not a pro, it’s not your job. Some of my best days have been in terrible chop with mates and my worst in absolute perfect solitude.

You should know that by now.

Getting old?

What’s the alternative? cheers

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groundswell Thursday, 10 Nov 2022 at 6:51pm

Currently at age 45, simply due to not being able to get to my feet any more, maybe due to a minor stroke i had about 8 years ago, possibly due to antipshychotic meds i was on and then immediately taken off of and put on something worse..Anyway since around hitting 40 years old being treated as a severely schizoid patient by doctors and put on heavy meds that make most people sleep for 18 hours a day if they are not used to them..as well as injections which caused tardive diskenesia, a muscle spasm like reaction where you struggle to breath and end up going to hospital every time it happens..Anyway all these things such as meds and gaining 25kg in weight,some episodes of binge daily drinking, going fit freak back to 70kg again then gaining it again....Stopped the injections a few months ago and am losing weight fast..Even so these days i can still bodyboard the nice hollow tubey waves around here but cant get to my feet on the good waves here any more...Also most locals hate bodyboarders here..But i cant get to my feet on a surfboard any more ..but living near two of WA's best two lefthanders, as a goofyfoot who could surf ok on a standup- hp shortboards, twin keel fish designed for indo and NW aus, and mini mals and longboards and sometimes get pitted on longboards all day if the wind stayed good..I didnt start standing up until i hit 17 while being a decent bodyboarder started when i was 11 and then at 17 (on average surf condition days) found a few 80's surfboards under my mates nans house and i got alright and capable at riding single fins, then thrusters then later on -fish the way they should be ridden, highlines drivey long drawn out bottom turns drawn out long highline drives down from the lip down into the bowl for drivey speed into a pit or around a long closeout section...shortboards dont do that without a few thrusts and pumps around a long shutdown closeout section.. and had a 4wd i could sleep in so went to waves fish and shortboards and bodyboards suit like many in indo, many on south coast nsw and had a great knowledge of south coast nsw reefs and beachies from my bodyboarding experiences and travels and friends..

I didnt even learn to bend my knees properly until i was 26-28 sometime- when a fellow surf forum friend took me on a surf trip on a good swell and he pointed out my faults i was doing every time i pulled into a pit or did a carve..Or even a bottom turn..I wasnt bending my knees properly and then boom worked on that and got ok and had many standup barrels longer than 10 seconds up to around 18 seconds at some spots..Simply by going on a surf trip with a better surfer than me who knew my faults...

watching Surf movies such as castles in the sky and seeing the ever stylish surfer Rasta in an Indian island, somewhere near the Maldives but not that close..Seeing his stylish layback cutties- i sat in my room visualized doing them at the age of 35-38 in a stage of my life where i was running through the bush regularly, doing 500 situps every second day and surfed my fave breaks on the margies coast whenever i thought they would be good..And had some people say nice things to me about my laybacks i started off with by in my bedroom visualizing the movements Rasta does at around 36-38 years old.

I never did an air on a surfboard until i was about 23 at the earliest, on a pretty powerful wedging wave sometimes STEALTHILY renamed as "A frames" in magazines... airs were piss easy there...Just paddle into a side wash, hit a set wave coming in from the right direction - when planets and sand, swell and winds align- then get a 2-4 second wide pit and there is a perfect launch ramp on the end..Its unavoidable to do an air off the section..maybe no grabs or spinny winnies or flips or rodeo clowns but a solid 2 foot plus air and landing..
Maybe the late learning was possible due to me having a good few managers and bosses in electrical trades, (and also choose your own shifts each week- servo jobs later on) who understood i had a passion for waves on bodyboards and surfboards and let me take hours off for lunch breaks if the swell and wind was good...And work it off later in the week when the conditions are bad..Awesome people i worked for and people stuck in a career where you need to go home and think about work and study and spend time in a study room at home or whatever invades your surf time, ambition to surf and ability too imo.
Many manage their lives with a good career where work is priority number 1 yet still surf well, but most good bodyboarders and surfers i know were committed to surfing and chose careers around surfing, where they could take off and work in any country with their skillset and awareness and have plenty of time to go on extended surf trips or have a surf at lunch time at work.

Matt Percy, one of the underground true chargers originally grew up bodyboarding shark island and other slabs started standing at 17-18 designing and shaping his first own fish, single fins, shortboards and continues today to make bonzers his latest passion.
He is just one of those guys that is gifted at anything he does and is still charging waves you need an 8'6 plus for in Chile and south American spots and margs coast...
The last time he rode a lid was at speedies with me on a 2-4 foot perfectly fun and empty of crowd day, not sure why, maybe money trees looked less slow or maybe some dont want the critical knife straight into the tube approach on a shortboard you need on smaller speedies days where its very sucky takeoff like lids need to perform at their best.Most standups dont seem to surf speedies until its 4 foot plus and not slow at all.Big enough for launchpads to peak up and roll you into the pit or big enough to stand tall and raise your arms to the lip to drag some speed from your board and wave..I dont know why exactly but any time i surfed speedies at below 4 foot it was empty and slow.To myself or with perce.

He later i heard him say, "that's enough bodyboarding for me for another ten years"..As he enjoys standing up so much more now and i do too but can not function the ninja to your feet on a surfboard any more..even on burger waves.Maybe i can at green island or medewi.

One bodyboarder commented on facebook one of the perce standup photos of him at shark island saying how disappointed he is perce started standing up when he was already charging and ripping on a bodyboard.
That is just a stupid comment, like "stick to your strengths" with sticking to your strengths i wouldnt have learnt how to ride a refined fish at 27 years old, learnt how to dance to breakbeats and other dance genres, learnt how to grow chilies..anything worth doing to make life fun and enjoyable..

Anyway i think you can improve get pretty much better than intermediate, learn how to get long tubes after 20 years old,do airs -"without tricks" and continue to improve and keep fit dedicated and surfing well enough for people to say nice things about your surfing if you are not a dickhead or typical old fried grouch sitting on the couch, bagging out alternative surf crafts in the lineup every time yet never go out that spot when its bigger than 3 foot..(some cronulla point first reef locals do this)...and think the whole of Indonesia is called Bali sort of types.
Anyway i think its possible if you eat your veggies exercise, have a job that is flexible, dont get married too young, if at all...Unless you meet a women of your life, soul mate, who doesnt want kids early on and your life to be dedicated to family life away from the ocean sort of thing, or be all about doing what she wants in life.Most of my gf's have been about what they want you to do in life, not what you want in life.
"What? you want to get married? Is this where i line up to lose half my stuff?"

FiveMill's picture
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FiveMill Friday, 11 Nov 2022 at 2:06pm

I'm mid 30s. Thanks for the tip, i will start working on laybacks in my room.
Yeah i agree, like with any sport, after the reality of the aging body, dedication is really the limiting factor to improvement. If you are as dedicated as ever you should get better!
I am not a good surfer. But after my one year of learning to surf in my mid 20s, I took a few years off surfing because i was living away from waves.
Finally at 30 i had some cash and booked a trip to a surf spot. Starting months before my trip I swam in a pool with the intent of bulding paddle power for catching waves, i practiced fast pop ups on the floor and spent lots of time jumping on the flat side of a half-ball (bosu) to build up my balance, and i bought a skateboard and learned to ollie. When i took my trip i was taking off in essentially overhead closeout beach breaks (you cant guarantee scoring waves when you book the trip months ahead right?). I was watching the bottom of the wave dissapear as i began to free fall, my muscle memory kicked in and somehow my board was beneath me, already pointing down the line with the rail engaged. This happened three times that trip. Up to that point i had never had such incredible take offs, and i owe it all to practice away from waves.
I said i started surfing mid 20s, now im in my mid 30s, this year i have seen a huge improvement in my surfing just from losing weight! Finally these little surfboards work incredible! And they turn on a dime! I got my first compliment from a stranger on my surfing just two months ago, if thats not a sign of improvement i dont know what is?
Have fun catching waves however you can! Enjoy those sucky takeoffs on the lid, you'll be getting extra deep i'm sure!

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AlfredWallace Tuesday, 15 Nov 2022 at 12:54pm

Groundswell. Good stuff mate. You are by far the most honest and upfront contributor to Swellnet forums. I love reading your take on life and surfing.
We know surfing is a selfish pursuit, endorphined to our eyeballs , clandestine in the way we organise ourselves and others around us so we can just slip away at any moment when good conditions prevail.
Ask most psychologists who practice near coastlines who the majority of their clients are, surfers, yep, sent by their wives to save their marriage for the third, fourth or fifth time. They say its about finding the ‘happy medium’, well I’m happy when I’m surfing but don’t know much about the medium.

Your last line sums it all up really. AW

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goofyfoot Thursday, 10 Nov 2022 at 7:19pm

Epic read as usual groundy, hope you get back to stand up surfing soon

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lilas Friday, 11 Nov 2022 at 4:32am

I believe you can progress more with mental practice than most people realize. I was only able to visit the beach on weekends as a kid yet I practiced surfing every day in my mind by reliving every moment of every single wave I caught, over and over again. Not just thinking about each wave but trying to tap into what was happening on a physical level. It's not easy at first but with practice you can almost feel the physical movements as you practice in your head. This strengthens the neural pathways as is scientifically proven to improve performance.
Although I understand how important ocean-time is to improving, I feel it's wasted without doing the mental training alongside it.

stunet's picture
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stunet Friday, 11 Nov 2022 at 8:16am

Coach Martin Dunn would agree wholeheartedly with your theory. Big part of what he teaches.

wingnut2443's picture
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wingnut2443 Friday, 11 Nov 2022 at 5:43am

Interestingly timely topic.

As I've found my interest in surfing wane, the surf fitness and enjoyment have progressively disappeared such that boards with more volume provide no fun, so the spiral continues.

Precipitation by ongoing lower back issues, creeping age and the ensuing decline in surf fitness along with its nasty cousin extra weight, the downward spiral is hard to stop.

So, I posit the question from my less than average view that should I return and improve from this state of kookdom to some level of mediocre competence, is that considered improvement? Or merely a marginal return to the baseline?

How does one measure improvement? Especially in the non competitive free surf average Joe surfer sphere? No points, no judging, no subjective metric for measurement? Is it purely about fun and enjoyment as the metric? Or are there other "improvement" nuances?

The GOAT gives some interesting bits away in this just dropped "interview". Talks about what he gets out of ongoing competitive surfing, how golf helped him win world titles, concept of neutral position when surfing and where he sees his future:

icandig's picture
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icandig Friday, 11 Nov 2022 at 6:50am

Forget about whether you can improve or not. Can you still enjoy it without worrying about improving? Can you be comfortable in your mediocrity? Surfing has so many more benefits than worrying about if you're at your peak. You'll have good days and bad days, but can you still come out of the water stoked? I had a session with a mate a few weeks back. Two of us in the water, millpond flat apart from the odd 2 foot runner. Both on Mals. Late evening stillness - Huey even threw down a double rainbow. All we were missing were dolphins. Speed runs on a 9"3' log. I didn't set performance highs that's for sure. But I came in stoked as fuck. That's why I'll always keep going back to the Ocean. It's also why I try to keep up some level of fitness.

velocityjohnno's picture
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velocityjohnno Saturday, 12 Nov 2022 at 4:47pm

Best comment here. Nice session too. Was flying on a 9'6 last week, it was fast and sectiony, you had to walk to the nose ultra quick - and the board was just ploughing through it with the most confident momentum... Weekend before, the inside sandbar of the spot we had moved like old Kirra on one wave, what a thing to replay in the mind...

Title of thread should be 'Can you get better (in Joy) at surfing?'

iirc Derek Hynd said something along the lines of 'getting better as you get older has nothing to do with love, and everything to do with joy.'

icandig's picture
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icandig Sunday, 13 Nov 2022 at 7:56am

Any cryptic clues in that post VJ? There's a small chance we are talking about the same place.

velocityjohnno's picture
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velocityjohnno Sunday, 13 Nov 2022 at 11:12am

I dunno, we sacrificed a bit of size for being the only ones out and no one else seemed interested. Most waves shut down on the inside, but that one...

Stephen_mckay's picture
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Stephen_mckay Friday, 11 Nov 2022 at 6:52am

The problem seems to me to be 'performance' surfing. Why are you performing? What level of performance are you looking for? You will always be measuring your performance against someone else. And it will never be enough. Just go and have a bloody surf. It was meant to be fun remember. Also, get onto a bigger board in your 40s and you can continue to get better. Too many old blokes sitting up to their necks in the water not getting nearly enough opportunity to practice new things on the handful of waves they get a session.

joesydney's picture
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joesydney Friday, 11 Nov 2022 at 8:54am

Ah always worth a watch - we have all had one of these moments

clif's picture
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clif Friday, 11 Nov 2022 at 10:01pm

hahaha love this! cheers, mate.

Iced vovo's picture
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Iced vovo Friday, 11 Nov 2022 at 8:54am

Crowds must play a big factor when trying to improve your surfing. I now live on a part of the east coast where the surf is relatively uncrowded, but when I tune into a cam and see hundreds out at Snapper, D'bah etc, & watch surfers weaving and dodging others in the lineup, surely that has to be an impediment to improving. That plus the lower wave count & when you finally get a wave you don't want to blow it. I guess the opposite is true as well, I lived and surfed at NN for many years, the high quality of surfing in the water certainly pushed you to improve.

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spinafex Friday, 11 Nov 2022 at 9:16am

Steps for maintaining or improving:
1. Fitness and flexibility - paddle fitness is obvious - lower back and hip flexibility is essential for your "pop up" which is where older blokes start to go backwards. Do stretches every day and watch your blown take off rate plummet.

2. Lots of waves - we all know about this one

3. Get the right boards, Mid -length for wave count when you're out of shape and a hybrid shorty that paddles is stable in take off and allows you to do the turns you want to do. Plus specialist boards for certain waves.

4. Focus on your hands. Getting lots of waves and doing the same wrong stuff will create neural pathways that will lock you into kookiness. As soon as you take off your brain has a template to follow and its impossible to change it once engaged. You need to kick off a new pathway. Your hands are the most amenable to manual control and they have a mechanical effect on the rest of your body. Thinking about touching the water with your trailing hand when bottom turning forehand is a good one - your hand positioning actually forces mechanical changes on your whole body - like you have to get low to touch the water this creates a new neural path. Backhand - turning your palm of your leading hand toward the wave has a similar effect.

5. Over 45 you need to ditch drinking, smoking and late nights. You should also start replacing the stuff your body stops making. Creatine + Hydrolysed Collagen + Magnesium L - threonate + vitamin D3 + zinc, seem to be what most docs reccommend.

garry-weed's picture
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garry-weed Friday, 11 Nov 2022 at 2:00pm

Great and positive advice. Cheers!

linez's picture
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linez Friday, 11 Nov 2022 at 9:53pm

That's a great point about your hands. Stopped and thought about the mechanics of it and when you think about it, you're spot on.
I don't remember where I saw it, but Nick Carroll did a piece on being aware of what your arms are doing on a wave.. the point was that your hands/arms play a big role in getting your body into the right position to execute whatever you're trying to do.

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spinafex Monday, 14 Nov 2022 at 11:21am
shraz's picture
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shraz Thursday, 17 Nov 2022 at 3:10pm

Sounds like some good pro tips there but does anyone really need a solid bottom turn at pumping J-Bay? Shaun Thomson didn't seem to need one! Geez I miss powerful waves.... and good line-ups... and pintails...

Westofthelake's picture
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Westofthelake Friday, 11 Nov 2022 at 9:46am

"Improve" and "get better" are two terms that really are difficult to define in relation to surfing. I guess I was lucky and got started as a late teenager and after stepping off a skatey and onto a board it seemed I had the motor skills and sense of COG issues already sorted without any real effort. i.e I picked it up very quickly. I remember as a teenager seeing guys get progressively better over time, but for some, for whatever reason, they never really got much better no matter how much time they spent in the water.

To me it appears that like many sports there are 3 types of people. Those who are naturally gifted and without much effort do learn quickly and excel. Then there are those who through dedication and commitment and practice do progress and improve and eventually excel. The third type of people are those that no matter how hard they try, they never really get any better.

I don't get to surf enough to know if I am improving, nor do I have any real way of measuring this. It's more like I am having a good day and ripping the top of a few, or for some reason on the day, am having a bit of shocker and should have stayed at home. What I can attest to is that any advancement in ability achieved at a younger age is carried forward into later years. Even after many years out of the surf you do have the ability to kinda take off where you left off, to somehow innately draw upon the skills you developed many years ago.

spinafex's picture
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spinafex Friday, 11 Nov 2022 at 10:14am

If you can skate bowls and ramps - you can pick up surfing at any age I reckon.

shraz's picture
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shraz Thursday, 17 Nov 2022 at 9:33pm

Interesting, I skated before surfing as many did but hardly did after surfing, except for chasing down some half pipes and bowls on flat weekends, when young enough not to get hurt to bad. Probably helped with the fear of ledges mostly. Concrete hurts more than water.

harrycoopr's picture
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harrycoopr Friday, 11 Nov 2022 at 10:49am

Most of the guys u see in the bay just get more and more kookier... I of course just keep getting better.

batfink's picture
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batfink Friday, 11 Nov 2022 at 12:26pm

Can you get better? Of course you can, and that applies to anything in life.

Are you willing to pay the price to do so? That’s a much bigger question, and as you get older the price for improvement or just staying adequate goes up, and the return on investment reduces.

All of us know where our sweet spot is, where we are getting more than our share of waves and doing as much as we want to on each wave. Who really needs more than that?

As for Malcolm Gladwell and his 10,000 hours, what complete rubbish that was. Have read a number of his books and the thinking behind them is a bit better than puddle deep.

The other question that people here have asked is who is the judge here? And how do you judge it, assuming you aren’t having yourself videoed regularly, and even then wave quality may dictate more than your performance.

Golf is a bit easier to quantify, you have a scorecard after every game.

DanCB's picture
DanCB's picture
DanCB Friday, 11 Nov 2022 at 1:28pm

I agree Batfink - it's a lot of bloody hard work!

I started 20 years ago in in my early 30s, so I'm only ever going to be mediocre at best, but I want to be the best mediocre I can be, because there's no doubt that the better you are the more fun you have.

I'm limited for water time as I don't live as close to the coast as I would like, but I practice pop-ups at home and get on the Smoothstar a few times a week to practice turns. My turns have improved out of sight if the conditions are good - less noticeable on a bumpy beachy closeout than on a 200m left at Raglan - and my pop ups are better than they have ever been. But all the practice allowed me to enjoy NZ surf so much more than had I not done it.

Yes, the dynamic nature of the elements means that improvement in surfing is harder than the vast majority of, if not all, other sports, and I agree with Steve that those improvements are marginal, but marginal improvements can make a massive difference to your enjoyment level when you start from a pretty low base!!

stylemaster1970's picture
stylemaster1970's picture
stylemaster1970 Friday, 11 Nov 2022 at 4:02pm

I think you can get a lot more stylish. Is that an improvement? I think so.

spenda's picture
spenda's picture
spenda Friday, 11 Nov 2022 at 6:38pm

A common theme in some replies is the right board as you age. Interested to hear what boards have been a revelation for folks as they aged... Assume there must be a forum thread somewhere on this….

Finnbob the terror's picture
Finnbob the terror's picture
Finnbob the terror Friday, 11 Nov 2022 at 6:44pm

I reckon you should ride a board that is the same as your body shape.

spenda's picture
spenda's picture
spenda Friday, 11 Nov 2022 at 6:53pm

Very skinny, extremely well hung.
Suggestions?

Finnbob the terror's picture
Finnbob the terror's picture
Finnbob the terror Friday, 11 Nov 2022 at 7:54pm

Maybe an Alaia with the The Whiptail 8.5" Single Fin

icandig's picture
icandig's picture
icandig Friday, 11 Nov 2022 at 8:26pm

Quad fish high volume maybe 15 years ago. Changed my whole perspective. Saved my back and my surfing. Thanks to Ross Slaven. Dunno what it says about my body shape though -full nose, wide tail - well proportioned???

Finnbob the terror's picture
Finnbob the terror's picture
Finnbob the terror Friday, 11 Nov 2022 at 8:53pm

I've been riding an hour glass shaped twinzer since my late 30's, I'm 45 now. I've had a few blokes say they wouldn't give a fuck how well that board goes, but they wouldn't get caught dead with it under their arm. Not sure what that says about my body shape but I'm feeling a bit sorry for my wife.

linez's picture
linez's picture
linez Friday, 11 Nov 2022 at 9:43pm

Hahaha.....

icandig's picture
icandig's picture
icandig Friday, 11 Nov 2022 at 9:46pm

Hourglass shape is kind of sexy. Anything like this?

bbbird's picture
bbbird's picture
bbbird Monday, 14 Nov 2022 at 9:54pm
bbbird's picture
bbbird's picture
bbbird Monday, 14 Nov 2022 at 10:05pm

or "McNugget"
It only took 25 yrs for shapers & fashioninstars to wake up and use the Mccoy design concept
https://www.mccoysurfboards.com/surfboard-models/nugget-info

bbbird's picture
bbbird's picture
bbbird Monday, 14 Nov 2022 at 10:20pm

eg. Shane Horan at Waimea bay
In 1982 Cheyne Horan had been on the World Tour for six years and was ranked second in the world,....
https://www.swellnet.com/news/design-outline/2012/10/09/waimea-bay-58-tw...

Finnbob the terror's picture
Finnbob the terror's picture
Finnbob the terror Tuesday, 15 Nov 2022 at 7:51am

https://dksurfboards.com.au/product/cuttle-bone/
Been on this one for nearly 7 years. Twinzer set up. The rear fin box has been ripped out and replaced 4 times, snapped clean in 1/2 about 400mm down, fused back together with some bamboo stakes, and still my favourite board. I would put some photos up but have no idea how to.

udo's picture
udo's picture
udo Tuesday, 15 Nov 2022 at 8:25am

Thats a Cool bottom
surfboard shaper Deano, with his own shaping innovation, the “Step Cave.” This one is aiming out concave, with two channels stepping into a concave and again stepping into another concave. This helps to direct the water flow out to the fins and rails for more drive. With the ‘”Step Cave” and the location of fins suited for it (like a quad set up yet closer together) resembling a keel fin area, it can help you modify your style and level of surfing
The “Step Cave” was designed and developed by Deano in 1995,

icandig's picture
icandig's picture
icandig Tuesday, 15 Nov 2022 at 9:36am

Not quite Meyerhoffer level weird, but it sure has a bit going on in the bottom. Much like yourself Finnbob?

tubeshooter's picture
tubeshooter's picture
tubeshooter Friday, 11 Nov 2022 at 7:51pm

I do know one thing. The older I get the better I was.

clif's picture
clif's picture
clif Friday, 11 Nov 2022 at 10:04pm

As I stand Guinness in hand a bit dizzy at a bar in Ireland following being scared witless by some heft Autumn swell I have decided I am now ripping more than ever before. So, there we have it. Steve's thesis is false. The Guinness says so.

shraz's picture
shraz's picture
shraz Saturday, 19 Nov 2022 at 11:29am

'heft' is my gonna be my new term for anything big and solid from now on! Love it. Should be some confusion for those around me! 'get your heft arse off my wave!'

I focus's picture
I focus's picture
I focus Saturday, 12 Nov 2022 at 10:20am

Can You Get Better At Surfing?

Of course you can so many areas to focus on surfboard development over the years alone will do that to a point.

Personally I go with and work at, "can you reach your full potential at your given age?"

lolo's picture
lolo's picture
lolo Saturday, 12 Nov 2022 at 10:57am

Depends on your starting point doesn't it? And the waves you're trying to surf.

At 26 I spent a season in Indo and went from a competent weekend warrior to a much higher level. Now at 56 I'm back to weekend warrior and the annual surf trip away again. If I had the time and desire, I'm sure another full season in Indo would improve my surfing greatly again. But trying to eke out a tiny bit of improvement while surfing average Sydney surf ain't gonna happen?

udo's picture
udo's picture
udo Saturday, 12 Nov 2022 at 12:52pm

Dont take onboard the 'Cos your over 45 now you need a Minimal' or you must go at least 10-12 inches longer than your usual Shortboard
Who started that Shit....Yeh get Fcked
https://vero.co/proctor_surfboards/MzNG-GVpCR6DkXmffnG51PGt

I focus's picture
I focus's picture
I focus Saturday, 12 Nov 2022 at 4:38pm

Yep, local 70 year old still riding5'11".

bbbird's picture
bbbird's picture
bbbird Monday, 14 Nov 2022 at 10:16pm

above Proctor model is 6'9" x 22" x 3 5/16th"
good design & foam is your friend

shraz's picture
shraz's picture
shraz Thursday, 17 Nov 2022 at 10:02pm

Tried mals, mini-mals, 10ft supertankers etc, can’t do ‘em. Bit of extra volume is all you need as you age and the shape just depends on the day. Just get in if you can!

mickseq's picture
mickseq's picture
mickseq Thursday, 17 Nov 2022 at 10:13pm

maybe you should consider your weighted towards the ground.

You come out of uterus, but your destination is down, Weighted down.

you "punch fit" until you cant, like swinging an imaginary axe at an invisible tree. Have you seen these people? difficult. I guess.,

mickseq's picture
mickseq's picture
mickseq Thursday, 17 Nov 2022 at 10:45pm

well, consider for a minute that the universe is infinite, and you are encapsulated in that infinity, where does your happiness lie, and also your conscious madness please, as you cant have one without the other, so dont pick and choose like cheese and biscuits . it must be like a front and a back, the inseparable, the tide and the water.

mickseq's picture
mickseq's picture
mickseq Thursday, 17 Nov 2022 at 10:45pm

and on and on

icandig's picture
icandig's picture
icandig Friday, 18 Nov 2022 at 1:55pm

But is there a front and back in infinite? Where does infinite start? Is it just an imagination with no boundaries. Maybe if you consider that infinite is perhaps a loop, then front becomes back and vice versa. I dunno, I'm not a scientist or physicist. You may have just ruined my weekend.

FriarTuck's picture
FriarTuck's picture
FriarTuck Saturday, 12 Nov 2022 at 1:29pm

6"9 is a mini mal lol ^^

hamishbro's picture
hamishbro's picture
hamishbro Saturday, 12 Nov 2022 at 3:11pm

Improvement to me means having the confidence and experience to ride bigger and better waves. I don’t care if I go straight. That’s good surfing, being able to put yourself in the spot repeatedly to get memorable rides.
That’s what I teach my kids who don’t have the luxury of being fully fledged groms.
Turns are only a means to put yourself in the most intense section of the wave, or make use of it for fun. Doesn’t need to be the most critical turn to do so.
On that score, anyone can get better.
Of course, having the right (volume and length) board, staying strong enough to pop up with confidence and fit enough to paddle are essential pre requisites for this, but semi attainable in the gym.
Being a gun surfer is not.
Of course, a good surfer would probably look at me and laugh and say I’m wasting half of the sections.
But I’m on the wave. That’s all that matters

jordanddisch's picture
jordanddisch's picture
jordanddisch Saturday, 12 Nov 2022 at 3:46pm

Have defo improved since I started surfing at 19 (now turning 30). Improved the most when I moved to Costa Rica where it was way more constistent (and warm) then East coast NSW. Then after moving back improved more when I started filming myself. Thats the only way to really know if your improving in skill.

velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno Saturday, 12 Nov 2022 at 4:57pm

Everyone reading: switch your stance. Then watch yourself improve greatly, and quickly; and learn some things to take back to your original stance.

My best adult improvement began when I started drawing stick figures (fairly detailed) surfing waves and broke down the biomechanics, then went out and did it.

bluediamond's picture
bluediamond's picture
bluediamond Sunday, 13 Nov 2022 at 1:54pm

That's awesome VJ and completely out of left field!
Agreed on the switch stance too. A quick and easy reset to make surfing your normal stance feel alot more open and natural.

velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno Sunday, 13 Nov 2022 at 5:05pm

I was inspired by Rosco's cartoons from back in the day on the Margs coast, they were dreamlike.

If you've ever taught a relative like a nephew or niece how to surf, at some point you watch them and see that tips, or board changes, can really work and you can take that back to your own surfing, too. Give back and get back.

I'm a terrible goofy foot, takeoffs are sketchy, bottom turns ok, top turns a bit weird, surprisingly good grabrail backhand - but I reckon I can ride hollow lines in the bottom of the wave/tubes better that way, just read the wave better. Next step would be to mirror the good bits on the normal side.

bluediamond's picture
bluediamond's picture
bluediamond Sunday, 13 Nov 2022 at 8:37pm

Yeah that's sick VJ. Amazing how the brain works. As has been mentioned above, the power of visualization and the effect it has on muscle and mind.
And as for teaching someone to surf, i hear ya on that one. Have taught literally thousands of people to surf and you're right, tis amazing what you pick up. I didn't realise how much i used to use my back arm as an anchor slowing me down til i realised i was telling beginners to keep their arms forward. Duh!! haha.
Sick you can bust out a goofy grabrail. When you think about it, our bodies are shaped to do completely different things on a wave depending on if we're going forehand or backhand so to change that up completely makes it not twice as hard, but 4x harder (i think.....my maths generally sucks). It's always fun seeing people cringe when you catch a wave switchfoot.

udo's picture
udo's picture
udo Saturday, 12 Nov 2022 at 6:53pm

I think i need to Surf Backdoor with Pops Ho
and Sunset with Allen Sarlo........Island Bay you coming

Island Bay's picture
Island Bay's picture
Island Bay Sunday, 13 Nov 2022 at 4:31am

Yes!
Nice size waves, warm water, and a big yellow Rawson.

Josh1500's picture
Josh1500's picture
Josh1500 Sunday, 13 Nov 2022 at 3:40am

I think you can improve if you want to learn, you really have to want to learn to improve and to pay the price.. for most of us, that will never transpire beyond what we can afford financially and physically. I started to skateboard at about 5 or 6 years old and street skated for 20 years, started to surf at 10 or 11, on and off, mostly skateboarding and body surfing, to get better at turns, i watched clips in slow motion, where are the arms, the feet, where is the centre of gravity positioned through the turn. I wanted to figure it out and i wrote it all down so i could do different variations of the same turn. I trained my body to handle the waves, the board, the gravitational forces.. i had a passion for improving. But it wasnt easy riding the worst surfboards money could buy, half sanded and waterlogged duds that were passed on at a much lower price.
I went to snowboarding a few times, back to skateboarding, and then back to surfing after recovering from several fractures and broken bones. I've had some serious surfing injuries both in water with flying out of control boards and out of the water on the shoreline and on reefs and rocks etc.. ive never had a surf lesson, i taught myself but ive only wanted to ride waves how they feel they should be ridden so mostly i learnt enough to know how to ride a wave in a few different waves given the chance, but ... most of us these days will never even get to ride a decent wave. The surf has become so crowded that you're better off going for a skate and imagining you're on a wave. Most of us will never even aquire a surfboard that will be refined enough to improve your wave riding ability they are made so quickly these days, and built so durable that most boards will last a long time and thats about all. They will probably outlast your body due to hips, pelvis, knee, back and ankle injuries sustained trying to perform on a non performance sled made quickly in bulk in a large factory..you will want to turn left and the board will not like it thus causing you to fall and the next wave you will trim frantically on every single wave you drop in on someone on, in between physio and doctor, and surgeon appointments..
I'm not saying improving is impossible, but for most people, they will always be a learner even after 25 years of surfing every day.

Unless..they ..really.. want to improve.
And even then, you may only get to a level where you can surf pretty good, but you'll probably never get any waves to yourself unless you surf some remote spot in a jungle somewhere on a year long surf trip.
If by improving its meant to be more of an acceptance thing of limitations in improving then most will improve and be known in the water as the talkative surf enthusiast who knows only one turn and therefore can ride sideways blindfolded and imagining a combination of turns to do on a wave is the furthest thing from the mind, they'd rather talk about improving than actually think about it. This is still probably classed as improving in surfing and is becoming the accepted norm in most surfing circles.
But yeah, i've travelled the world surfing different waves, made my own boards and figured out why boards work and why they dont even when they look like they should.
I'm not saying this to sell myself out or make anything known or unknown, all i am saying is it is close to impossible to become really good at anything close to resembling high performance surfing for most of us, as most dont have the money, the time, the patience, the obsessive compulsion, the drive, the intrinsic motivation, the support, the belief, the determination, the strength, the creativity, the flexibility, the freedom, or the desire to improve at surfing.
And even if we tried hard to change that for 20 years and then focused really hard on surfing only. Even then, you would probably need to be super connected in the surf industry and have an elite coach to get to a competent semi pro level of surfing in a short period of time, and then you might still be stuck with the cant find a magic board dilemma unless you can learn to shape and refine something that works to figure out how micro subtleties can affect your surfing in different types of surf.
My hope is that we can all keep learning and somehow get some decent waves in amongst the busy traffic jammed waves..
Or pick up a cruiser skateboard and chill out to some tunes.. who knows, might even figure out a new type of surf manouvre or style that makes it even more fun for the rider and everyone in the water..

frog's picture
frog's picture
frog Sunday, 13 Nov 2022 at 8:38am

I did my best under the lip slip into the tube takeoffs in my mid 50s at a right in the Ments. Warm water. Fit. Predictable wave. It just clicked.

Back home, I get flashes of that new skill occasionally but mostly it faded away as my fitness level is just a few notches lower and the opportunities to try it are rare.

Improve till about 20 years of age.
Then short term improvements for most are drawn back by mean reversion. Especially if access to quality uncrowded waves is limited.

mixie six's picture
mixie six's picture
mixie six Monday, 14 Nov 2022 at 7:56am

51 now, started surfing at 17 on Goldie/Straddie area til about 26, shit happened and off and on til 48 and back into it full on since then. Took a solid year to get back to where I was. Living permanently in Philippines now, surf season on from about September to March/April. Heaps of good waves in Philippines if you know where to go. Biggest problem I find is if you go away from the "tourist breaks" there's no one else out. And when it's solid 6'+ reef or point and there's no emergency services and locals can't even swim, well..have to keep your wits about you, but that's how it is. Some days I see it big and perfect at some secret spot, but no one around for miles, no one out, and I take a pass, cos if I DO get into trouble I am well and truly screwed. Ride a 36L 6'4" off the shelf T&C Flux and a 34L 6'3" T&C custom Sidewinder with super light and strong blank and glassing, one of those "magic boards". Easy to lose surf fitness in off season, so I build it back up on the Flux and then bring out the Sidewinder and the fun really begins. I don't ride a mid length thing or boards "to make things easier". I make myself able to surf my high performance boards. Every time I go out I make a conscious effort and focus on trying something new, refine what I already know, get those fins digging harder at higher speed, throwing more spray. Still got many many years of this to go, no thoughts of slowing down, just going harder, haha. Lucky to have always been strong and fit, that won't change for many years yet either. Getting back into surfing fulltime is like finding that amazing woman you lost in your foolish younger years because you took her for granted, then you find her again and she's more beautiful than ever haha. The stoke for surfing is more fierce than ever, maybe cos one day it WILL end , so I just go full tilt while I am able. And yeah, I'm a better surfer now than I ever was, and in 5 years time will be even better. Fully focus on each wave to improve, and you will. Nailing moves never gets old :) Each time I go out I just want to smash it, not piss around "trimming the nose" or whatever.......explosive surfing is the way to go.

drodders's picture
drodders's picture
drodders Monday, 14 Nov 2022 at 8:05am

Be open minded to surfboard choice and riding a surf skate, get a lesson or two from a coach, in my mid 40s the difference was noticeable.

I think there is a lot of room for us punters to improve, if you’re awesome at 20 it’s harder, lucky I’m a punter,

dandandan's picture
dandandan's picture
dandandan Monday, 14 Nov 2022 at 8:46am

There's been discussions about it before, but money will increasingly factor into how well you end up surfing. Living near the coast, going on surf trips to better waves - some people can only dream of such things, whereas some groms are living that life from the day they were born thanks to the huge wealth of their parents. I didn't start surfing until I was old enough to drive, and had saved up enough money working at Maccas to buy a car, a board, and finally a wetsuit. Being raised inland by a single mum, the idea that she could buy me all those things and drive me down the coast was completely unimaginable.

When it comes to my own surfing, it's much like you've said: the right board, a good level of fitness, and time in the water will see my surfing improve to a point. It's less the honing of new skills, but the sharpening of an existing fluency. Things that I might need to occasionally think about when I'm surfing poorly just seem to happen naturally. Floaters, deep turns that shoot you around sections, delayed bottom turns, unexpected cover ups, elegantly flicking off the back with my eyes set on the horizon looking for the next wave - there's a range of things that will feel forced and rushed when I'm out of rhythm, and will feel like a natural extension of myself when I'm surfing well. It's that feeling I'm most interested in.

centralcoaster's picture
centralcoaster's picture
centralcoaster Saturday, 19 Nov 2022 at 9:12am

Even someone over 50 could improve if they had one coaching lesson per month for a year,provided they didn't have any major injuries and reasonable fitness level.
It would help weed out any bad habits and introduce a better way of doing things.

centralcoaster's picture
centralcoaster's picture
centralcoaster Saturday, 19 Nov 2022 at 9:15am

I should also mention that while it is necessary to have some great boards in your quiver,always updating when the latest model comes out is too expensive and nowhere near effective as having a good coach you could talk things over with and get feedback from.

spenderggg's picture
spenderggg's picture
spenderggg Thursday, 1 Dec 2022 at 10:54pm

I believe it’s spelt ‘smivvy.’
UTFS