How years of surfing in Scotland made me a better overall athlete.

I remember in 2016, I was at the Scottish National Junior Championships in Thurso. I stood on the headland, clutching my surfboard, absolutely petrified as I watched ‘mountains’ of water appearing on the horizon and then crashing into the reef. It quickly became my time to paddle out through the ‘Sh*t Pipe’ – a name for the channel that you paddle through to get to the line-up (not the most appealing name I must say).

I have never been so nervous in my life, sitting in the cold dark Scottish water awaiting the next ‘set’ of waves. As I sat, it was so peaceful, there were no sounds but the faint sound of the spectators on the shoreline – there was nothing but water in front of me. In Thurso, you are at the top of the United Kingdom, the closest land mass is Iceland, so it feels very oppressive – you feel powerless. It quickly hits you that in this world, mother nature is always in control and when we are in the water, we are in her territory.

When the first set of waves finally arrived, I could not believe the size, immense ‘giants’ that you have to be extremely careful around. When you fall off one of these waves, you tend to lose all control of your body and you are thrown deep under the water – you begin to not know what is up or down anymore. When this happens the fear you feel is overwhelming – all you want is to reach the surface and take that breathe that your body is craving.

Until the wave decides to let you go, you have to find a way to control your fear and relax. That level of fear featured a few times over the course of the years that I was an active surfer in Scotland. However, there were some benefits. So, how has years of surfing contributed to my overall athletic performance?

Well, I found that during my ultra-endurance challenges I had a great ability to control my mind. Now, I tried to figure out why I had this because I knew it was not just ‘talent’ or a ‘gift’. After extensive thinking I put it down to years of surfing. 

Being able to control your emotions and get comfortable in the water is vital for survival in dangerous situations. Ultra-endurance (although prolonged) is very similar, your body and mind start to fight back telling you to stop – and the only way to complete your goal is to quiet your mind.

Surfing taught me a great lesson on how to quiet my mind in distressful situations, which I have been able to use for ultra-endurance and therefore, have been able to complete challenges of that nature. I have also found that the ability to quiet your mind and allow what is meant for you to take course, and once the wave passes, you can breathe again.

What has sport taught you?  

Thanks for reading! 🙂

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