Nick Carroll: How to Cope With Suddenly Not Being Able to Surf

2 Apr 2020 4 Share

Nick Carroll

Senior Writer

Photo: Papajones/CW User Photo Gallery

Photo: Papajones/CW User Photo Gallery


THE PLAGUE DESCENDS – An Ongoing Series on How the Pandemic Affects Our Coastal Surfing Lives

Richy Bennett, surfing’s best known psychologist, gives us a few ideas about how to cope with the moment

The first shock of the plague has passed, and the hard realities are beginning to hit.

Big surf companies are having to let people go in serious numbers. Small surf businesses are closed or fighting to stay afloat.

It’s not about toilet paper any more, it’s about your job, your rent, your mortgage.

And about whether you can go surfing at all.

A lot of change in a very short time, some of it pretty threatening — especially if you rely on surfing and/or socialising to keep your head above water, so to speak.

How do we cope with those rugs being pulled out?

Richy Bennett is the author of The Surfers Mind: the complete practical guide to surf psychology. Published in 2004, it’s really still the only book of its kind. CW called Rich to see if he could shed some light on the psychology of this weird moment.

Rich lives in the Torquay area, where he surfs and runs his professional practice along with some mindfulness and meditation sessions. For now, the pro work is being done by video link. “I feel really good,” he confessed. “I live a simple life so doing the basics of daily self-care comes naturally and staying healthy means I can stay available to help others.”

Has the demand for a psychologist’s services gone up at this time? “What I have noticed is a small drop in people accessing help, which is understandable because the initial shock drives people to respond to their immediate survival needs first. People also tend to address their psychological needs later and this will most likely be when the social restrictions are beginning to bite.”

The most common restriction to our surfing habits comes through injury. In his early 20s, Rich was out of the water with elbow and wrist injuries for almost a year. He was told by a doc that he’d never surf again, and recalls thinking, ”No way, that is not my future!”

“It was the start of my recovery,” he says. “I think everyone can relate to that experience, having surfing taken away for a while through injury. The key is to accept responsibility for your reality and regain command of your healing to return to the water.”

But this feels different. We’re being asked to change habits, some of which we’ve evolved unthinkingly. People are kicking at the situation, struggling with being driven toward change. Resisting the process, says Rich, will inevitably lead to unhappiness. “Surfing and friends are wonderful, however when you are attached to surfing or people for your happiness you are basically at their mercy as no wave or person is in your control. Plus love and control do not exist in the same space so to truly love and enjoy surfing and friends we must cultivate our own inner happiness and freely share the overflow in our surfing and social experiences.”

Rich suggests thinking of habit change the way you think of changing a physical skill. “Body is guru for mind, so to change movement patterns of mind such as attitudes or beliefs we must follow the same process as for changing movement patterns of body, and the key is repetition. For example, if a surf coach suggests more bend in your knees to improve your cutback’s you must repeatedly practice practice practice the new technique so that soon it will become second nature. 

However in the beginning it may feel very awkward and you may fall more often than you did with the old technique. So you must believe in the efficacy of the new technique and persist with right practice. This is where people often come unstuck with changing mental habits. We can feel very vulnerable and uncomfortable, especially when the challenges are high such as the current changes to our daily life. So as for physical movement, you must believe in the efficacy and persist with your new attitudes or beliefs to ensure they become second nature and better serve your mental health and potential in the present reality.

Rich draws parallels with an interview he did with Rob Bain for The Surfers Mind. Bainy spoke about the struggle he went through, ending his pro surfing career and moving on to a different life. He had to learn consciously not to pine too much for the wild life of a travelling pro, and to develop a true appreciation for what he had right there in front of him: a good job, a loving wife and family, and a certain amount of freedom to surf.

“There’s another quote from Kelly about the importance of the present moment when surfing Pipeline” says Rich. “Kelly shares that if you’re fully in the moment on takeoff then you’re giving yourself the best chance to make the wave as well as the best chance of dealing with the wipeout if you don’t make it.

“On the other side how often have you seen someone doing something to help themselves in the surf when they’re in a panic? With focus out of the moment they run out of energy and air very quickly. The person who can maintain focus in the present moment will maintain composure and so have plenty of energy and air available, and for much longer.

“Ironically we are completely vulnerable in the ocean and have no control at all over the waves, though one of the things we love most about surfing is that spontaneity and how it naturally brings you into the present moment.”

I point out that he’s hit on a great paradox in the sport. Being comfortable with sudden change — with the unknown and uncertain, the wave that moves differently, the freak set — is a basic surfing skill, a mindset any good surfer learns to relish. Yet the culture arising from it is notoriously hidebound and resistant to change of any kind.

Rich starts laughing: “Well that’s a whole different conversation.”

And yet change is being forced on that culture as well. He acknowledges it’ll be a weird time in Torquay this Easter. No Bells contest, for the first time in 59 years. “A lot of people down here rely on this contest. It brings a lot of energy to the town for everyone, especially the grommets who look forward to maybe surfing with their heroes at Rincon or somewhere.”

But he also says: “There’s lots of silver linings. For example the current social distancing laws create the opportunity to shift daily focus from self interests to serving the greater good, to align oneself with the divine purpose of every sentient being.” 

“What silver linings will (the WSL) see in it? Maybe this is a blessing in disguise. It’s given them a whole lot of time out of nowhere just to build on what they’re doing well and think about what they can do better. This is true for all of us, we all have a space to appreciate and evolve, to ride the wave of change.”

More Coastalwatch COVID-19 Coverage

28 MAR 2020
Nick Carroll: We Asked a Scientist, Is Surfing Safe From COVID-19?

We don't have any idea yet...

27 MAR 2020
Nick Carroll: Surf School's Out

With the steady closure of many surf schools thanks to COVID-19, Australian surfing approaches a state it’s never experienced.

25 MAR 2020
– Nick Carroll: How are the Boardmakers Coping?

They’re Small Businesses, and They’re as Grass-Roots as It Gets

24 MAR 2020
Nick Carroll: WTF, Closed Beaches?

THE PLAGUE DESCENDS – An Ongoing Series on How the Pandemic Affects Our Coastal Surfing Lives 

19 MAR 2020
How Surfers Around the World Are Doing Amid COVID-19

What’s it like right now being a surfer in Spain, Bali, The Ments?

17 MAR 2020
– Bells Is Off For Easter! WSL Shuts Down the Tour Until at Least June 2020

CTs, QSs either cancelled or postponed…

13 MAR 2020
Nick Carroll: The World's Ending

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13 MAR 2020
– Breaking: The WSL Has Cancelled All Events in March, including the First Leg of the Championship Tour

The Corona Pro Gold Coast is a No

12 MAR 2020
Nick Carroll: How the Surfing World’s Responding to COVID-19

“Nobody knows what’s down the track with this.”

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