What is Surfing?

    Surfing is an ancient extreme sports. no one is really sure when exactly it had started. It was first observed by Euroeans in 18th century in Tahiti. The locals were, probably, surfing even earlier but this was the first documented sighting. The boards were 15ft long made out off wood.

    In the beginning of the 20th century surfing was brought to the beaches of US. The next leap in popularity was in the jolly 50′s when the boards took a shorter and more agile shape.

    There is not much to explain about surfing- take your board, jump in the water and hit the waves. As for equipment, for this extreme sport all you need is a board (maybe a wetsuit) and thanks to that surfing is one of the cheapest sports there is.

    Without going into the physics of hydrodynamics let’s just say that there is water movement towards the shore line which can be generated by wind, seismic event or by the gravitational pull of the moon. When the water mass is moving over a shallow bottom the bottom part of the water mass slows down by the friction of the water up on the bottom while the top continues at the same speed, causing the wave to tip forward and at about a critical value of 1/7 ratio the wave brakes down.

    There are many kinds of wave breaks. A breach break occurs when waves break on a sandy seabed close to the shore. A reef break takes place over a rocky seabed or a reef. A point break happens when a wave hits rocks jutting out from the coastline. Then there is a shore break where a wave breaks directly on the steep shore. In short, every break is different because of the different conditions at the different sites around the world.

    The basic idea is to catch the wave on its rising stage by paddling while lying down on the board. Than, as soon as the wave starts to drive you with it, to stand up on your feet and maneuver down and away from the part of the wave which has broken down. You’ll go inside the wave, ride up, down and to the side of it while trying to perform tricks or just to survive if it is a big one.

    Some breaks form a topping which closes the wave as it breaks, creating what is called ”a barrel”. Then you’ll have the opportunity to surf inside the barrel, completely surrounded by water, that is, if you are good enough.

    The size of the wave is measured on the back side from the water surface to the top of the wave. You can catch waves from about 3ft (90cm). An optimum size for surfing begins at about 5ft (1.5m) and goes up to 16ft (5m). The perfect size is very personal, most of the surfers will end up preferring something in between.

    Or as some big wave surfer once remarked, “waves are not measured in feet and inches, but in increments of fear”.

    Now, lets speak about Big wave surfing. By definition, Big wave surfing means surfing on the wave which is at least 20ft (6.1m) high. Big wave surfing evolved as people began to try riding larger and larger waves.But the problem is that a really big wave travels too fast for a human to paddle in. The big leap forward occurred when tow-in surfing was born. A surfer is towed into a breaking wave by a partner driving a Jet Ski with an attached tow-line.

    The boards also underwent some changes. They became longer and narrower, foot stripes have been added since lying on the board is no longer necessary. Today Big wave tow-in surfers ride waves up to 70ft (21m).

    However, paddle-in is still being used in Big wave surfing. Paddle-in surfers can go up to 53ft (16m) without any external help but their own muscles.

    What’s extreme about it?

    Surfing for itself is not an extreme sport unless you make one. As long as you stay on the small waves in a nice safe spot there is nothing extreme about it. It is when you go on big waves at dangerous spots with shallow reef breaks it becomes extreme.

    The adrenaline rush out of surfing comes out of the satisfaction of hitting a perfect wave, the perfect barrel, the perfect trick and getting out safely. There are competitive sides to this extreme sport but because there is no direct competition between the surfers and you perform your abilities in front of a judge, there is not a lot of adrenaline boost from being in a competition in comparison to just surfing on your own or with your friends. The adrenaline rush will disappear if you surf the same condition over and over as your brain will get use to the drops, surfing while standing, controlling yourself in side a barrel and ect. But the beauty of wave surfing is that there are no two condition alike, every day, every spot and every season will produce a different wave even if its in the slightest way. And the other thing is that There will be always another spot, a bigger wave and some new and aggressive trick you can learn.

    Big wave surfing is a whole new extreme experience.There is no tricks, your single purpose is to survive the drop and try your best to escape the furry of thousands gallons of water crashing behind you. This is the most extreme form of this extreme sport. You will never get used to this adrenaline hitting you as hard as it can. Maybe if you will ride a 78ft (24m) twice before lunchtime every day of the week for a year, then maybe just maybe your brain will get used to it and the adrenaline rush disappear. There are only few surfers who do big wave surfing and they are far from achieving this so let’s just say that the adrenaline in this sport is endless if you have the guts.


    How dangerous is it?

    First lets distinguish between regular surfing and Big wave surfing. Classic wave surfing can be very safe with zero chance of getting killed or even getting injured or it can be very dangerous up to a good chance of dying. Its all comes down to the conditions you are surfing in, your surfing abilities and physical strength level. For example if you will try to go surf in a spot with waves too high for your physical and surfing abilities you could drown and even die. But as long as you keep the safety margins and respect the sea you will be probably safe with low chances of injury and almost zero chances of death.

    The severe injuries and death can occur from: drowning after getting hit by multiple waves that are big enough to keep you under the surface until you sallow water and suffocate, from hitting a rocky sharp bottom (at a shallow reef break for example) or a rocky shore line. The last hazard is a shark attack, most of the good surfing spots around the world are in the ocean and thus are exposed to shark attacks. Even thou there are many ocean spots that has almost zero chance for this to happen and altogether the chances for a shark attack are extremely low.

    Sharks will usually attack from beneath, mistaking the surfer with an injured animal. Mostly after the first grab they will let you go. Again you can chose to minimize this danger if you stay away from beaches with known shark sightings.

    Now lets take most of the dangers in surfing and multiply them- Big wave surfing can get extremely dangerous even if you are strong and well trained, it is suicidal if you are not. After falling from those waves you can get up to 50ft (15m) beneath the surface while tumbling and losing orientation of what side is up, then you have only tenth of a seconds to reach air before the next wave strikes. This extreme sport is one of the most extreme activities that you can do and is extremely dangerous even for expert surfers. It is not surprising that there are only few people around the world that dare to challenge this.


    How to start?

    Obviously it would be very hard to start surfing if you live in the middle of the desert or up in the snowy mountains. But if you have a shore line with some good spots, all you need is a cheap board and you are ready to go (best spots are ocean spots).

    It’s preferable to surf in the ocean, but if all you have is the local sea, you can start in it for lack of anything better and taking some surfing vacations every now and then. Surfing is not as easy as it looks in videos.

    In the beginning you will suffer, especially if you are out of shape. Initially you’ll only be able to slide down the wave without even standing. Later on you will learn to stand up after the wave breaks and finally before it breaks allowing you to make the drop standing and maneuver yourself on the wave to the side of it, then after some time you will be able to perform some tricks, staing on the wave longer and longer and go on bigger and bigger waves.

    It will take time, training a lot of falling and swallowing water. But if you do want to participate in any extreme sport, hard work that comes from pure passion is the only way to go.