Surfing tip – Count your downtime


This surf tip is about staying relaxed and conserving your energy in the whitewater of a breaking wave and timing your return to the world of air, light, and sound that lies maddeningly close to the surging foam.

Beginners might not need this tip, but for beginners that venture out to the set waves, it might help them stay relaxed in the washing cycle. Some experts don’t do this, but might someday be in a situation where it could benefit them.

When a wave breaks, air mixes with the water creating aerated foamy whitewater. Whitewater is hard to exert force against – its not as solid as green” water, so flail your arms and legs as you will, you don’t get the purchase and power to paddle yourself where you want to go. The whitewater of a large crashing wave is swirling around really fast with a lot of force behind it, so even though you can’t swim in it, it will toss you around like a rag doll.

At first this can be alarming, and the natural reaction is to struggle always for the surface or at least stability even as you are being tumbled are uncertain which way is up. Once you get used to it, you realize if you have pitched your board clear and feel tension on the leash or are keeping hold of it, this seemingly violent ride is harmless. As long as you don’t hit something else, the foam can toss you as it will, although in larger waves, you may want curl up in a ball.

You may catch a current of foam going down. Don’t swim against it. If you feel like the current is stable enough to swim where you want, you can swim with it and get out sooner.

While you are staying relaxed, curling into a ball, maybe swimming with a current a little, you will probably notice yourself running out of air and pretty soon you will feel a strong urge to fight hard to swim to the surface. Remember foam is a formidable foe. You don’t want to fight it if you don’t have to.

If you are caught inside and see the wave coming, you may be able to time it just right and take three big deep breaths right before the wave hits. Under ideal circumstances, you might be able to hold your breath 2 minutes. The first time I got a good tumble in whitewater it was probably 10 seconds, but it feels like a minute, especially if you are scared and flailing in the foam like I was.

Once you realize the foam won’t hurt you but wasting energy could, its easy to stay relaxed and, if you have a chance to catch a deep breath, stay under for as long as 20 seconds after the wave hits.

You want to wait until the foam has dissipated so you can have an easy swim to the surface, but you don’t want to wait until another wave comes and you have a new foam ball to deal with.

That is where counting your downtime comes in. The swells that produce surfing waves are wave forms, and like any other wave form, have periods. The period is the time between peaks. Larger swells in Jaco and Hermosa and other beaches near our hotel in Jaco have periods ranging from 16 to 20 seconds.

You can check our surf forecast page and see the period of the swells currently creating our waves in Jaco. When you go surfing, you can count seconds between peaks to observe the actual period during your session.

Once you know the period, you can subtract a few seconds to swim to the surface (which can vary from 1 second to 6 seconds if you get driven really far down) and a second or two at the surface to catch your breath. Now you know how many second to stay relaxed before starting to swim for the surface in time to catch a breath and duck the next wave.

Whether you are a beginner or an itermediate or an expert, I think its safe to say you might not ever need this technique. On the other hand, if the day comes when you do, you will be glad you practiced it, and it can help you be more relaxed and efficient in your surfing.

Whatever you do, remember surfing is something we do for fun. If you are not having fun, take the pressure off and enjoy your time in the ocean, and don’t be scared to listen to your sensible land dwelling mammal instincts if they tell you today will be more fun watching from the shore or playing in the whitewater than getting in over your head in the lineup.

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