Pressure: it's not easy to be the number 1 surfer in the world

Time is running out. The surfer in the red jersey needs a perfect 10 to clinch his maiden world tour title. So, what do you know about high-performance surfing under pressure?

They say it's all in the mind, but our bodies often rule over our brains. We need to go; we must score; it's our last chance; it has to be perfect.

Tension plays a critical role in high-performance surfing. When you're surfing the heat of your life, your brain works like a surfer on a deep barrel.

All efforts are focused on getting out untouched, on successfully accomplishing your goal - much like an animal in survival mode.

Pressure is part of the competition, and learning how to deal with pressure should play a part in the daily training of a professional surfer.

Usually, surf coaches end up playing the role of psychologists, but it shouldn't be this way.

"Pressure is often experienced as a compelling or constraining influence on the mind or an urgent demand that must be met.

Pressure is a feeling that is created by ourselves when we react to particular events or situations", writes Michelle Paccagnella, author of a paper study published in Sports Coach by the Australian Sports Commission.

Interestingly, surfers feel pressure to perform well, but they don't usually understand where that pressure comes from.

In fact, there are multiple sources; parental expectations, one's own desired results, other people's expectations (surf coaches, family, friends), media constraints, fans, and so on.

Pressure can also be originated by immaterial phenomenon - how well prepared the surfer feels, the perceived importance of the performance, anticipated degree of difficulty, (lack of) self-confidence, repeated errors, testing new surfboards and maneuvers, etc.

"Pressure isn't something that happens to us - it is something that is manufactured by our own thinking. It doesn't have a form, a color, or a smell. Pressure is simply how we perceive the situation we are in. Pressure is an illusion!" adds Paccagnella.

No Pressure

When a professional surfer needs to win the last event of the season to be crowned world surfing champion, he should embed a few thoughts for himself:

  1. Pressure only exists if you are concerned about the outcome. The first and final heats of the season are exactly the same. Nothing changes the way you surf but you. Train your mind to stay in the present;
  2. Learn to practice at the same level you compete at. Learn to train as you mean to play;
  3. Pressure situations require enhanced communication. Talk to yourself with ease. Let the other relaxed surfer in yourself help you make decisions;
  4. Never, ever give in. Maintain commitment and desire in the face of adversity;
  5. Keep focused when paddling for your favorite waves, and believe in your potential with maximum dedication;
  6. Slow down. Even though you may feel under time constraints. It's better to slow down and get it right than to rush it and make an error;
  7. Practice mindfulness. No negative thoughts. Think positively. You will do it;
  8. Share your feelings with friends and close supporters;
  9. Strive for excellence, not perfection;
  10. Have good error recovery strategies. Transform your muck-ups into useful, real-time advantages. What can you make better?;
  11. Identify the actions/skills that suffer most when you are in a pressure situation. You've surfed many heats, so try to identify the most common mistakes and write down what you'll do to avoid and/or reduce them;

This sports pressure model is based on the principle that a situation changes, and it ignites a mental response.

During this change, you experience unusual emotional and physical responses, which translate to actions, and then consequences.

Discover 10 details that matter in surfing, take a look at advanced surfing tips and techniques, learn the best heat tactics in surfing, and improve your surfing skills with a surf coach.

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