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The Mental Side of Winning

mental strategy to win surfing

You’re not a newb anymore. You worked hard on your skills, spent loads of time in the water, tested your equipment, and secured a sponsor. Now you’re bringing your act to the competition circuit for the public to see, but you’re just not maximizing your skill or achieving the results you expected. Like high profile athletes of any sport, skill level is not holding you back. The problem may lie in your mental preparation for the heat and your attitude in the water. SurfScience knows you’re good enough to put on a show, so let’s explore how you can win more heats.


According to Dr. Mike Martin, Head of Performance Psychology at the Australian Institute of Sport, very rarely is it a question of skill. Dr. Martin works with Olympic medalists, World Champions and World Record holders from over 40 sports. He has also been a surf coach for 20 years and coached the winning team three straight years at the Australian National Championships. Since the early 1980s Martin has worked with WCT, WQS and Pro Junior surfers to develop heat winning strategies.


“I was a frustrated coach,” tells Martin.  “Even though we had a lot of success, a lot of the athletes I was coaching who had tons of talent, in terms of physical skills, we not converting in competition. I asked myself how I could become a better coach. That’s what led me to sports psychology.”


Focus on the present


It’s very important not to dwell on past surfing mistakes or future implications of the heat. Let errors go and think about what you need to execute on the next wave. Don’t think beyond the next wave and try to calculate point standings, either. Both the past and the future are big distractions.


“The biggest thing I find is that the athlete’s head is not always where the body is,” explains Dr. Martin.  “Often times surfers are thinking about mistakes they just made: a wave they fell off or they chose the wrong wave in the set. Or their head may be in the future. He might be thinking if he gets through this heat then he has enough points to make the national team. The problem with that is they’re not really concentrating on doing what they’re supposed to be doing right then in the water. It’s a real challenge to be present-focused and thinking about the strategies you need to put together to make it happen.”


Focus on the positives


A surfer in a good mood will be in a better state of mind and perform better than someone harboring negative thoughts. Dr. Martin reminds us there is only one winner of a competition, so it is important to reinforce yourself and have fun while it’s happening. If you catch one wave and do one good turn, then think about that turn: the way it felt as the board rushed around, the way the spray came off the back as you hit the lip, how you turned your body, and think about enjoying it again. Dr. Martin tells us that if you’re enjoying it and having fun by focusing on the positives, then you will never walk away disappointed.


“If you’re in a good mood you increase the likelihood of you surfing well”, says Dr. Martin. “At the end of the day you don’t have any control over who wins the event. You can surf against guys who are absolutely on fire. Sometimes their best is better than your best. Focus on one good turn, and then on the next wave maybe you do another two good turns, so now you have three good turns. You keep focusing on those positives and enjoying how you’re surfing.”


Be consistent in your preparation


One of the easiest ways to improve is to consistently do the same things before getting in the water. Your physical and mental preparation are key to your success. Are you doing the same stretches before the competition? Are you going through the same wave observation? Do you know where the main peak is? Where is the backup peak? You need to have consistent preparation before going to battle to feel both physically and mentally sharp.


“If you want to build some consistency with your surfing, then one of the first things you need to do is be consistent!" exclaims Martin.  "It sounds like a truism, but the reality is you need to have a consistent physical and mental preparation strategy before you get in the water. Physically you’re ready, mentally you’re ready. That allows you to start to see the fruits of your surfing coming to life during that session.”




surfsuccess.com martin

Dr. Martin started SurfSuccess.com three years ago as a guide to structuring thoughts while in competition. Subscription to the site gives you the tools needed to develop your own strategies. The site offers proven methods that are usually confirmed only through years of trial and error. The core product is his Six Steps to Surfing Success, but he also has scores of interviews, tips, tricks, and strategies to help you develop focus and confidence.


“SurfSuccess.com is everything you need to get on top of the mental side of your surfing," says Martin.  "It allows you to put strategies into action in the heat. I’ve broken it down into an easy to fire method that allows surfers to develop their contest thinking and surfing.”




Staying mentally sharp during a surf heat is difficult due to the down time between sets. Time offers an opportunity for an athlete to contemplate past mistakes or calculate future scenarios. Stop this mind chatter and concentrate on the present task. Nothing else matters. When you do have some success, remember the feel of it. Focusing on these positives will create a brighter attitude in the water and breed more success. Lastly, once you find a pre-competition routine you like, be consistent with it. You can’t always control what happens in the water so control what you can. It starts before you ever hit the water.


Read more about Dr. Mike Martin and his service at SurfSuccess.com.

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