by George Cronin (Georgina) - Surf Worthy designer and co-owner
Let me start by saying I am by no means a “big wave surfer”. For me this means the heroes who are tackling 30ft face waves when Jaws kicks off, or riding the infamous Nazare. Or Mavericks.
Obviously, size depends on your comfort level. But all the advice I’m giving here, applies to anyone at any level, going for that next step up.
Some people consider double overhead (2 x your height) a big wave, and I do too. Certainly gets the adrenalin pumping, can give you a nasty beating, and for sure in this size you need your wits about you, courage and a certain amount of skill.
My biggest waves to date have been triple overhead (about 17ft face waves), and this has only been three times so far. But each of those times has a good story!
So here they are - my top tips for taking a step up to bigger waves:
1. Know your wave.
If you're paddling out to a wave you don't know well, and it's a big day you're not going to know what’s underneath you, i.e. rocks, reef, etc . Or exactly where the peak/take-off section is. This can make it more dangerous and make you lose confidence. A wave you know well is easier to adjust yourself to for a bigger day.
2. An old saying in surfing: If it doesn't feel right, don’t paddle out.
If you're too scared, you won't be launching yourself into the wave like you should be, and pulling out at the last second can be more dangerous than taking the wave! You risk going over the falls and/or losing your board underneath you, potentially smacking into another surfer, dragging you over or snapping your leash. A bit out of your comfort zone is OK, but too much, (scared shitless!) wont get you any waves.
3. Get used to surfing a certain sized wave.
Once you get used to surfing a certain sized wave, then step up a foot or so. So if you're confident at Uluwatu on an Indo 4ft day*, then you'll feel more prepared on a 5 foot day. This way, when you see the waves, your brain is telling you: "OK this looks familiar. It's a bit bigger than I'm used to, but not insanely different. (I CAN DO THIS!!)".
Use the same wave indicators online so you can say: "ok, magicseaweed says this is 5ft, 15 second wave, and I know what that looked like out there." So next time when you check the swell report, you have a good idea of what to expect. Then you are mentally prepared pre-session as well.
*A little note: Different countries measure (and label) waves differently. For example, in the UK a 4 foot wave refers to the face of the wave, but in Indonesia, Australia and Hawaii, a ‘4 foot wave’ is measured from the back, so this could turn out to be a 7-8 foot face.
4. Have the right size board for the wave.
This obviously depends on the size of YOU as well, and what you're comfortable with, and your budget! But if you fancy stepping up to bigger waves and making it a regular thing where you live, and the swell is pumping consistently 5+ft (more than head height) waves, then you should look into a bit more length and volume to your stick.
For example: The other day I was riding at Uluwatu, Bali on a 5-6ft wave with some double overhead size on my 5,10ft pin tail, 18 ½ wide, 2 1/3 thick. I was doing sketchy vertical take-offs thinking, this is just ridiculous! So now I’m testing out a 6,3ft gun style which I used to be very comfortable riding in the past for such size waves. Even a nice 6,6ft all-rounder should nudge you into the wave a hair second before the Niagara Falls moment!
5. Quit while you're ahead.
If you've caught 2 or 3 waves out of your comfort zone, and all the time the adrenalin has been pumping, call it a day before you're suddenly too tired to take off or paddle in. Because that again is the dangerous part. Always keep a little fuel in the tank in case of surprise big sets, rogue monsters or currents, etc. So you can get back in safely. That way too, you've had a good session and you know it's all achievable for next time.
6. Surf with a friend
If possible, surf with a friend, someone who is used to bigger size or very familiar with the wave. This way, you look out for each other. But, if he/she is a crazy big wave rider, make sure they don't push you into anything too extreme, or over your level.
A little added confidence boost from a mate could be just the ticket for gearing you on.
7. Build your confidence and practice holding your breath under water.
Any breath-hold, free-diving training you do will be helpful for the mental preparation to cope with wave hold downs. Not only the mental preparation, but the physical aspects of what happens to your body when you’re holding your breath under water. A little snorkelling fun or skin diving will also help you feel more comfortable under water.
Or if you're serious about it then go do a free-diving course somewhere, and learn from a professional. (Breath-hold diving can be serious when pushing yourself because of shallow water black outs. So anything involving the mammalian reflex techniques should be done under professional instruction).
8. Don't give yourself a hard time.
You'll get there eventually. A little step up at a time.
If you go way too big, too soon and get so scared or injured, it'll take much longer to build back your confidence, than if you get a bit scared and worked over, but still managed to hold your shit together in waves a bit bigger than you're comfortable in.
9. Make sure your clothes stay on!
(Shameless self-promotion - but it's true!}
You have enough to worry about with big waves without having to deal with your clothes being ripped off. Timing is everything in surfing. So that's why (obviously) we recommend a Surf Worthy bikini. We've tested it in double overhead wipeouts. Seriously... executing an important duck dive and a lightning fast recovery after a wipeout, before the entire set lands on top of you, does not need to be made harder or more dramatised by re-dressing yourself each time!
After years of rubbish in-water clothing, I suddenly had so much more time and confidence to take on much harsher waves wearing my bikini, because I no longer needed to worry about my clothes.
Remember to read the waves, heighten your awareness, and keep having fun! Otherwise it's not worth it 😊