By: Jordan Johnson
Going into the open ocean, every time is different. Being a safe surfer can be the difference between life and death. There is a wide range of risks that surfers take which means they often place themselves in precarious positions in the ocean. You can significantly reduce those risks by using caution. All levels of surfers use common sense, awareness and education to reduce the hazards associated with entering the ocean. Being a safe surfer may not be the “cool” thing, but it is more cool than losing your life.
Most beginner surfers normally do not think about the risks of handling their boards in the water. However, if you are able to keep hold of your board while in the water you can be a safe surfer to not only yourself, but to the other surfers around you. Beginners tend to let go of their board when fear takes over from the overwhelming size of a oncoming wave. The ocean and waves are unpredictable and can wash your board into another surfer, or back onto you.
When debating oncoming waves, keep the board to the outer side of your body. This prevents the oncoming waves from pushing up the board and hitting your face, what many surfers learn very quickly in their beginner days.
Sometimes it is inevitable that you will lose control of your board. If you fall off your board, protect your head with your arms. This will prevent you from getting hit by the nose, tail, or by a fin. If your board gets away from you, and other surfers are nearby call out “BOARD” to let others know there is a loose board in the water.
Most beginner surfers do not know what reef breaks are, but every safe surfer knows the dos and don’ts. First, a reef break is anywhere you surf where there is not sand. This could be as the name implies, reefs, or it could be rocks, boulders and even a ship wrecks.
It is important to know what lies beneath the water when you are surfing. You can then be more aware of how you need to land if you wipe out. We always recommend protecting your head. This is even more true when you are surfing at a reef break.
One positive element of surfing on a reef break is that the waves are predictable. The waves generally peak in the same places. Since the bottom of the ocean is fixed at one place, the waves break in the same place. When the bottom is sandy, it is constantly moving.
This pushes the sand in various places and then in turn makes the waves break in different places. Make sure to do your research before you get into the water to know what the ocean floor conditions are before you get in.
You were probably wondering why shark safety wasn’t at the top of our list of the 5 ways to be a safe surfer? It’s simple, people associate sharks with surfing. However, it is still important to know that sharks are a hazard to any surfer.
Before you get into the water. Look for a shark flag. It is normally black with an outline of a shark in white. That means there are sharks just off the coast. DO NOT GO IN. If there is not a flag, there is still a risk of sharks in the water. Do not go into the water if you are bleeding. Sharks are able to smell your blood and will curiously investigate.
Try not to surf on a beach near a river mouth. Sharks prey come near the river mouth and go from the open ocean to the brackish water. Sharks use this area as a feeding zone. They might mistake you as prey.
In the event that you do see a shark, DO NOT PANIC. Even experienced surfers find themselves panicking when faced with a shark. Sharks are not looking to eat surfers. They are curious animals. Sharks want to know what the strange thing is in the water. Simply get on your board and put both of your feet and arms away from the edge. Generally, sharks get board and swim away. Then cautiously get back to shore and warn the life guard and other surfers.
Each time a surfer gets into the water, the rip current conditions are different to the last. Whether you are a beginner surfer, or experienced, it is important to take the rip current conditions into consideration when getting into the water. Rip currents form when waves break. The water is pushed up the beach shore and then quickly pulled back into the sea. The current can be consistent, or can happen intermittently. It is very hard for even the most experienced of surfers to swim against the rip.
If you find yourself caught in a rip current, the first thing to do is not to panic. Most surfers and swimmers panic and swim against the current. By swimming against the current, you are not gaining any ground and are wasting energy. It is best to swim parallel to the shore.
Rips are perpendicular to the shore, so by swimming parallel you are able to swim out of the rip. You should remember that it might seem like you are still being pulled out to sea, and you may be. However, you will eventually get out of the rip and be able to swim back to shore. You can be a safe surfer, by being able to know how to escape rips.
Know Your Limits
Starting to learn to surf, you realize very quickly there is a difference between being fit and being surf fit. The muscles that you work out when you surf are different to the ones you might work out at the gym. Be sure to take breaks when your muscles get tired. It is important to give them breaks as they are not use to being worked.
Strong swimmers may think they have the upper-hand. Not true. The ocean waters are ever changing. You can be fine one minute and then be struggling the next. If you feel tired, come ashore. Make sure to have snacks and drink a lot of water. Your body is sweating, even if the water is cold. If you do not hydrate you can get cramps.