ONE: ALWAYS, ALWAYS DUCKDIVE TO THE INSIDE OF THE SURFER ON THE WAVE: This is absolute Don’t Be a Kook 101, but it is harder to practice than you think. If you are paddling out and see someone taking off on a wave, you should paddle towards where the wave is breaking and away from where they will be surfing the wave (the shoulder). The problem people have here is that they naturally want to paddle towards the shoulder to avoid the more powerful part of the broken wave. The surfer who is catching the wave is using all his or her might to throw their entire body weight down the face of the wave and towards the shoulder at that moment. If you paddle towards the shoulder and in front of that surfer, there’s a good chance his or her fins will run right over a part of your body.
TWO: DON’T BE A DEER IN THE HEADLIGHTS
I definitely can recall more than a few times I’ve locked eyes with the surfer on the wave, frozen in fear and then braced for impact. Impact was what I got. Try to give other surfers their space and be as far inside as you can of their wave. If you see someone coming towards you, keep moving.
THREE: GET OUT OF THE IMPACT ZONE, PART 1
Don’t sit too far inside or in the impact zone: Depending on your break, you may sit outside or way outside or a bit inside but be wary of sitting too close to the shore. First of all, you are more likely to get smashed on the head by sets and second of all, you may be sitting in a position that gives you very little time to get out of the way of other surfers. From my days surfing a reef like Windansea, I know a lot of hot shot groms and younger rippers would catch great waves on the inside but for me as an intermediate surfer, the inside was a death zone. You had set waves bashing you and old guys on big boards riding waves over your head at light speed from the outside. The inside was a no go. Be aware of your positioning in relation to the waves and other surfers.
FOUR: GET OUT OF THE IMPACT ZONE, PART 2:
As soon as you jump or fall off the wave, get back on your board and start paddling. You catch a nice wave, do a turn and then the section closes out and you fall off your board. Do not float around in the impact zone and count the clouds in the sky. Get back on your board as quick as possible and paddle back outside. Not only will this prevent you from getting worked over and over by the sets in the impact zone, it will remove you from the exact area where other surfers are taking off and riding waves.
FIVE: BE AWARE OF “WEAKEST LINKS” IN THE WATER
I know that’s a bit mean and that we’ve all started somewhere but be aware of people who look dangerous. You can spot them by their paddling, their board positioning and by their failure to catch waves. Know who is going to throw their board into you before that big set comes. Avoid dangerous surfers from the get-go.
SIX: PRACTICE SAFE SURFING
Always know you ability and check the conditions before you go: If you are not comfortable surfing certain conditions, don’t go out. Being ill-prepared for a session is a sure way to put yourself in danger.