Whether you’ve got a fear of surfing, sharks or big waves, the best thing you can do to conquer your fear is to spend more time in and around the ocean, surfing waves.
It seems counterintuitive and for lots of people, that’s going to seem like a big leap so let’s look at how you can work up to conquering your fear of surfing with actionable takeaways.
How to get over a fear of surfing
So how can you start working towards getting in the ocean and catching your first wave?
Get comfortable in the ocean
By spending time in and around the water you’ll slowly build your comfort levels.
Initially, you can start out in small waves in the 1-2ft range.
Start by wading out and letting the waves crash onto you, only go as deep as you’re comfortable and always head to a lifeguard beach.
Try to get a feel for how waves push you and how you can dive underneath them to escape the worst of the wave’s impact.
Once you’ve got familiarised with small waves you can start to swim in larger waves and even begin to intentionally let waves break on you to get used to the feeling of being tumbled around underwater.
*Pro tip – Always do this at a beach with a sand bottom, avoid rocky patches or reefs.
Set measurable surfing goals
Surfing goals help you measure your success, achieving each consecutive step will do wonders for your confidence and work towards conquering your fear of surfing.
Your goals can be as simple or complex as you like, some easy ways to start would be:
- Wave count (how many waves you catch in a single session)
- Time spent surfing
- The size of the wave you surfed
As you achieve each goal and ‘level up’ you’ll slowly build your confidence in and around the surf.
Talk about your fears
Not acknowledging your fears isn’t helpful if you want to try and tackle them.
Talking with friends family or fellow surfers about your surfing fears is going to help you try to break down exactly what it is that scares you so you can begin to work on it.
Understand that fear of the ocean is natural
The ocean isn’t a normal environment for human beings and a fear of being in the water is somewhat primal for humans (potentially due to the historical risk of large predators in fresh water and oceans).
In fact our fear of the deep dark waters goes back thousands of years.
Thassalaphobia is a fear of large bodies of water, the word comes from two Greek words: “thalassa” (meaning “sea”) and “phobos” (meaning “fear”).
Try a wave pool
Wave pools are a very recent addition to surfing, starting with Wavegarden and followed by many others like Kelly’s Wave Ranch and Waco Surf.
Wave pools can mitigate and sometimes remove a lot of the fear people have about surfing.
You can see the floor of the pool, the waters crystal clear (but sometimes chilly) and its organised mechanical waves make it easy to predict what’s going to happen.
How to overcome the fear of surfing big waves
For lots of people, their fear of surfing actually comes down to a fear of large waves.
Fear of big waves is completely natural, tons of water are moving around with some serious force and the possibility of a serious injury or drowning is definitely real.
But with the right approach, training and mindset you can overcome these concerns and tackle large waves with a safe and calculated approach.
Work on your breathing
When waves get larger everything gets longer, the paddle outs, the waves and most importantly the hold downs (the amount of time spent under the water while you’re ducking waves).
This makes proper breathing technique and a good lung capacity virtually mandatory for tackling the big stuff.
Breath-holding can be approached in lots of different ways but I recommend investigating how other professional big wave surfers train for the rigours of gigantic waves.
Master your local surf spots
When you’re just starting out with your fear of surfing big waves I really recommend identifying a local surf spot that can hold large swells.
This will let you really learn the mechanics of a specific surf spot, where to sit in the lineup, how the waves break and how other surfers are approaching the waves.
How to get over a fear of sharks while surfing
Fear of sharks when you’re surfing is natural, we’re in their domain and they are one of the ocean’s most effective apex predators.
But is this fear warranted? Let’s take a look at the stats and some ways you can reduce the risk of a potential run-in with a shark while you surf.
Understand the statistics
In 2022 there were a total of 91 shark attacks across the globe with 9 fatalities (it’s important to note that these are just reported attacks and there may be a small number of unreported incidents).
Compared to the planet’s population this really puts into perspective how small the chances are of being attacked by a shark.
Wear a shark repellant
A Magnetic Shark Repellent works by creating a magnet field that overwhelms a sharks’ electroreceptors causing considerable discomfort.
The bracelet has a 1-2 metre range at which sharks will turn and vacate the area to avoid the unpleasant sensation.
Having a shark repelllant bracelet could help give you the piece of mind you want if you’re worried about sharks when you’re out in the surf.
Avoid surf spots where you could run into sharks
If the thought of sharks is stopping you from getting in the ocean to surf then the best thing you can do is surf spots with no sharks.
Surfing the UK there’s really no risk from sharks at all and large swathes of Europe have little to no reported shark attacks.
Some of the worst locations for shark attacks include:
- Reunion Island
- South Africa
You can learn more about the link between surfing and sharks in our deep dive.
Commonly asked questions about surfing and fear
What is the fear of waves known as?
Cymophobia is a fear of waves. It can cause dizziness and vertigo and normally effects people that rarely enter the ocean.
Why is a fear of surfing relatively common?
Surfing isn’t a very natural past time, you’re riding walls of water in an alien environment and the majority of people will experience some nervousness when they’re out surfing.
Surfing is without doubt a scary sport, you’re in an alien environment with forces of nature that are completely outside of your control.
But with the right approach, time in the water and determination nearly anyone can enjoy surfing and playing in the waves.
Don’t miss our other surfing guides packed full of fascinating insights into surfing and the culture that surrounds it.