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My Surf Post On Reddit Caught Flak: Here’s My Response

In response to the overwhelming criticism I received from posting an article outlining tactics to help new surfers surf when the waves are too big for their skill level

November 18, 2017-5 min read

I’m writing this because my blog post will live on but the criticism on Reddit will fade away. Other people will read my post and probably have some of the same thoughts so let me clarify a few things...

Original Post

Reddit Thread

Let's get into it...

This is like saying you shouldn’t drink alcohol until you’re 21. Sound advice, but more than a few are going to completely ignore it. Therefore, for those that are going to ignore it there should be something to help guide them through the experience. 

At the same time if you go out alone and get into trouble other people are going to have to help you out. That is selfish. With that in mind, if you do not have full confidence that you can get back to shore under your own power should things get ugly do not go out.

The situation down here is pretty reasonable. It’s not storm surf. The period is between 12–17 seconds. It’s not a shallow break. It’s not a long distance break. There aren’t many rips. If worse came to worse you could get back to shore by belly riding white wash within 30 seconds. Pick your surf spot carefully when the waves feel uncomfortably big for you. Make sure you can get back to shore under your own power.

I did the typical Google search when I got to Bali looking for what I wrote — some pointers on dealing with surf that’s too big as a beginner. No such thing existed. There were plenty of forums that said stay out of the water but again, that’s obviously not advice everyone will take, myself included. That’s why I wrote the piece.

First, the surf for the first 10 days I was here was never below 5–8ft on the forecast. The typical day was 6–9ft, one day was 7–11. Hence, a consistent 5–11. That’s apparently normal on the west coast of Indonesia.

Second, the “good” surfers do not sit further inside. This may be beach specific but on the beginner-heavy beach that I went to most often this is how things always lined up. Since most beginners begin on a beginner friendly beach it seems plausible that this situation would repeat itself at beginner friendly beaches around the world.

Every time a set comes in there’s a whole swath of people that get chewed up by sitting too close to the beach. It’s not the experienced group, it’s the new people. The experienced ones might be on the inside or edges of the people that are further out, but they aren’t dealing with the 6ft waves breaking in front of them on a 6–9 day.

The people that are sitting in are too afraid to go out all the way. I get it, it can be scary out there. But it’s a critical mistake. All day they’ll be flailing in white wash, surf boards rocketing vertical out of the water.

Deeper water channels are great if you’re headed out in a very defined break and you know what to look for. Having written that 15 sessions in the technique was still a little alien. Even when I did start to notice them they are only available on certain tides and give no certainty of a clean ride out. They’re just the best bet.

I’m not going to advise a new surfer to hop into a rip. 95/100 new surfers won’t be able to accurately identify a rip. Plus they bring their own dangers. There aren’t many, but even I have limits on encouraging risky behavior.

I did not intend to give the impression that I was riding 8, 9, 10, 11ft waves after being on a board for 10 sessions. Not at all and I wasn’t. 

Instead we have to look at the way a wave forecast works. A forecast of 6–9ft will produce more than half of its waves at heights of less than 6ft. 6–9ft is the top third wave height of all waves forecast to break in a given area for a specified period of time. 

That means that there are plenty of 3, 4, 5, 6, 7ft waves to hop onto. Yes I have ridden 6/7ft waves. I have not ridden the biggest waves when the forecast is 5–8ft. So I have not ridden an 8/9ft wave or anything taller. The title of the post was purposely written to avoid that confusion:

“The Beginner Surfers Guide To Surfing In Waves That Are Too Big”

Not…

“The Beginner Surfers Guide To Surfing Waves That Are Too Big”

I suppose there are other ways the title could have been worded but the intent was not to convey a beginner surfer could ride big waves.

Where I’m talking about is not a shallow reef break. Let’s use common sense people. Stay away from shallow reefs when you’re just getting started. That’s one of the major dangers when surfing. Where¹ I’m surfing there is some reef near the point but there’s also plenty of sandy bottom around it. The only time you’d come in contact with the reef is from being too far inside at low tide.

. . .


In all I stand by what I wrote. After all the flak and the significant downvoting I was wondering if maybe I actually was full of shit. But that morning I went out and took an extra 20 minutes, sat down on the beach, and surveyed what was going on in the water. It was exactly like I wrote it. I followed my own instructions that day and every day since with good success. 

I️ think the true advice here is to push one’s limit but not by too much, and obviously optimal equipment and general fitness helps immensely 

— thankyouredditors

I agree. You need to be in good physical condition. This isn’t a guide for Joe SweatsWhenHeWalks but for people that are physically comfortable in taxing environments. Optimal equipment, definitely. But I say push your limits hard². As humans we tend to underestimate what we’re capable of. Go for more than you think you’re capable of. Understand the risks, make backups plans, be aware, go bigger.



¹Batu Bolong, Echo Beach

²This, of course, assumes some things. You’re a strong swimmer, you can read water, etc. Whenever taking outsized risks you should have a strong foundation that you can fall back on. If you don’t know the rules of basketball you shouldn’t go join the Saturday pickup game. Learn the rules first. Common sense stuff. 

© 2019 Phil Andrews