Rough surf: surfers must have an exit plan in case conditions change for the worse | Photo: Shutterstock

The ocean is in constant change and mutation, and sometimes, the conditions make it difficult to get back to terra firma. Here's how surfers can return to shore safely when waves get bigger.

One of the secrets of surfing is to be prepared for the unexpected and always be aware of your surroundings while in the water.

And if you're a surfer, you must be ready to adapt to the given conditions.

A lot can happen in 60, 90, or 120 minutes, especially if you're a surfer who enjoys and feels comfortable in challenging waves.

From the moment you paddle out to the time you paddle in, several weather and ocean variables shift or even change dramatically, including:

  • Swell size and period;
  • Wind speed and direction;
  • Tide;
  • Currents;
  • Water depth;
  • Wave breaking pattern;
  • Take-off spot;
  • Air and water temperature;

On top of these ever-changing conditions, after a while, your energy and confidence levels are not the same either.

And whatever happens, you still need gas in the tank to return to shore.

However, this certainty occasionally meets unexpected opponents, making getting back to land almost impossible.

So, what should you do when you're exhausted, and the waves seem part of a conspiracy to hit you on the head?

What do you do when all you want is to step on the sand, and you're caught inside close to rocks, cliffs, or breakwaters?

What can you do in heavy surf if your leash breaks?

There is no perfect plan to escape the power of the ocean, but there are certainly some strategies you could adopt to get out of the water quickly before episodes of cymophobia trigger your brain.

The goal is to avoid remaining in a fight-or-flight dilemma for too long.

Paddling in: the best way to get back to shore is to catch a wave | Photo: Shutterstock

1. Catch a Wave

It might sound counter-productive, but the best way to return to the beach is to catch a wave, no matter how big it is.

So, if you feel you're too tired to battle the currents or swim in, try your luck with the upcoming set.

Rips and sometimes channels can be the worst place to be when it's time to get back to shore.

You can be there for a while to catch your breath and think about your exit plan. But it is usually not a waterway to the beach.

2. Get a Whitewater Ride

If catching a big wave is out of the question, there's a similar yet somehow painful alternative.

Try getting yourself in the impact zone, a few feet or meters from the area where the lip of the wave is falling.

The trick is to harness the energy of the whitewater and get you moving toward land.

3. Ask for Help

We all have our pain points. If we can longer paddle in, ask for help.

It's OK not to be OK, and you should definitely put your life at risk just because you don't want to lose your pride.

If you need help, get help. Talk to your fellow surfers in the lineup or wave your arms to let people know on land that you're in distress.

4. Rest, Relax, and Try Again

If none of the above tactics work for you, then it's time to regain self-control and try to swim in or surf a wave straight to the shore.

Sit on your surfboard, take a series of deep breaths, and relax your mind.

Think that you've already been in similar situations, and everything went well. Remember that the more relaxed you are, the better decisions you make.

When collected and rested, you might be able to point your surfboard toward the beach and ride a wave to liberation.

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