Maui Surf

The Mental Game of Surfing

August 23, 2012, 5:20 PM HST
* Updated August 23, 5:39 PM
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Surf reporter Carlos Rock is an experienced surfing instructor who has been riding Maui’s waves his entire life.

By Carlos Rock

In the sport of surfing as well as many other activities, your head needs to be there with you in order to perform well.

The mind is a very powerful thing. It can determine whether you will have one of the worst sessions ever, or the best session.

With surfing the best way to learn is by doing. By telling your body what to do on a wave and repeating those same movements until your surfing looks smooth and polished.

Trying to get in the right headspace before a session will improve your surfing. Photo: A. Live


A calm mind will produce drastic results out in the surf. It is very counter-productive to take your problems with you out into the water. The ocean is a place where surfers can temporarily let go of all the hardships and troubles that are unique to our lives – work, relationships, or just plain having a bad day.


If you clear your headspace prior to paddling out, your sessions and surfing will improve tremendously. Proper concentration and breathing are key components to achieving this and it is important for every surfer to practice these things.

-Steady deep breathing will help slow your mind and keep you in the present where it needs to be in order to progress and eventually excel in this sport.

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-Concentrate on the task you are about to perform. Concentrate on telling your body to move this way and that and you will see results quickly.

-Repetition of these tasks and maneuvers will help you get better. For example, depending on the conditions, make it a goal to do 10 of each maneuver in a single session.

The better you surf, the better you feel. Confidence also goes a long way.

However, all of these things (breathing, concentration, and repetition) are all rooted in the mind. Having a strong mind is half of the battle sometimes.

Surfer showing complete dedication and bravado. Photo: Brian Howell

Most people tend to be their own biggest critic and beat themselves up if they are not having a good session, but by changing that mindset to a more positive and clear way of thinking, surf sessions get better. And from there you can apply this same technique to other parts of life that need focus and attention.

Remember, everyone is out there trying to get the biggest and best wave, so share with your fellow surfers. It ruins the fun for everyone else if only one person is getting the best waves. Surfing is really a give and take sport. The ocean has a reward system for these random acts.

Call it karma or good deeds, but you will get another wave, a bigger and better wave than you could imagine. However, it comes in time. It could happen in the same session or in future sessions, but you will know when it does and it is your job to recognize it. The main thing is to be patient as the ocean churns out more – as Maui surfer Clay Marzo put it – “Toys from God.”

Just watch the way Clay surfs and try to imagine his way of thinking during every session and on every wave, before and after every air, air reverse, layback throw tail, and insane barrel, to get a sense of how important mindset is when surfing.

Clay Marzo surfs 100% every time. Is it any wonder why he can throw hacks like this in between barrels, airs, and throw tails? Photo: Dooma

He’s in it 100%. Shouldn’t you be?


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