The Merits of Being an Aggressive Surfer

In my post for Surfd.com, I answered some questions about surfing that I wished people had told me earlier on when I began. I offered advice such as not going for a shortboard too quickly, and following the instructions of surfers when they tell you to paddle in, because they have your best interest in mind.

Aggressive Surfers or Aggressive People

The piece opens with my advice on the differences between being an aggressive surfer (which I think is a good thing) compared to being an aggressive person who surfs. I made this distinction because I wanted to remind people aggression isn’t inherently a bad thing. Where and to whom we direct our aggression, and the ways we express it, is usually the problem.

Self-Imposed Norms

I wish I realized that difference sooner. As a female surfer, I already worry that I’m not supposed to act too macho. Part of the assumed surfer code is often that because I am a girl, people (guys) will be nicer to me in the line-up. For the longest time, I thought that being a female surfer (not including the pros and groms and shredders, just an average surfer) meant being deferential and sweet, smiley and happy.

Perception Management

There have been some sessions when I wanted to yell at people because I was so angry at their behavior, yet I said nothing. Instead I smiled, or stayed silent, paddling away and doing my own thing, or laughing it off. I was so concerned with becoming an aggro and aggressive person that people would judge, that I went in the complete opposite direction.

On several occasions, I’ve laughed about being burned even though I was deeper, apologized when it was unnecessary, and backed off of waves because I didn’t want to seem too intense.

The Stereotypical Aggro Surfer

It took me a long time to realize there are two types of surfing aggression. The first is our standard, scary surfer stereotype. It’s the surfer in the water ready to start a fight over practically anything. These are the surfers who are territorial and edgy, looking to attack anyone they think does not belong or is in their way. Instead of helping people who shouldn’t be out there, they yell at them and terrorize them, or physically hurt them.

An Alternative

Then there is the healthy type of aggression, the one I didn’t realize is completely acceptable and totally different from the former: the focused, driven, and active aggressive surfer.

These aggressive surfers are the ones always paddling, searching the horizon for the set waves, and hunting for the best take-off spot. For them, aggression is about catching waves and improving, learning the ocean and being vigilant. Their aggression is born of a desire to surf well and surf confidently, without being concerned about trivial things like whether they know who everyone in the line-up is and who should or shouldn’t be out there.

I was so afraid to be the first that I stopped being the second, as well. I would sit on the shoulder of the waves, waiting to catch the smaller ones that no one wanted, being polite as often as I could. On multiple waves in my life, I’ve had someone take off in front of me, and instead of yelling the standard, “Ho!” indicating for them to back off my wave, I simply assumed they were better than me, or that I shouldn’t get upset about one little wave.

Balance Kindness with Seriousness

And we shouldn’t (in this case, should is fitting) get upset, as surfers, about every single wave. We don’t need to start hunting down people who cut us off, or yelling at people because they are new.

But, to get better, you also must be aggressive. You must fight for yourself in the water, not against others, but on your own behalf. Becoming more skilled and knowledgeable means being more competitive and concentrating harder during your sessions. An aggressive surfer will improve, while an aggressive person who surfs is just a jerk on some foam.

Anger and Confrontation

In my life, I’ve always shied away from aggression and confrontation. Devin might think I’m lying, but I generally avoid conflict as much as possible. I used to assume that other people were right, and I was most likely wrong. Or, I would be quiet, bottling up my anger until I couldn’t contain it any longer, inevitably unleashing it on someone else or myself.

As I’ve learned that conflict and communication are valuable tools for improving relationships, I’ve started to see that aggression can be a valuable tool for surfing.

How Aggression Helps Me

Being a more aggressive surfer in the water means I paddle out to the peaks harder and faster. It means I am constantly searching for waves, whether they are smaller inside waves or larger ones coming in from the outside. Although I don’t always go for them, I have a new mentality.

My old mentality was that surfing should just be fun, only, and that since I’m a girl I have to be deferential. After all, I’m not as good as some of the surfers out in the water, so why should I paddle for the best waves?

Improvements

Just as conflict acts to teach us more about our relationships and how we can grow, being an aggressive surfer has taught me how to get better, how to surf harder and more competitively. Sometimes, you have to fake it until you make it with surfing, and pushing myself to be more assertive in the line-up has also buoyed my confidence.

Confidence

I taught myself confidence. When I’d walk into a room and feel scared to death, I’d tell myself,

‘I’m not afraid of anybody.’

And people believed me. You’ve got to teach yourself to take over the world.”

-Priyanka Chopra

Because when I get into the mind-set of asserting myself on waves, I surf differently. I know that I deserve to be on a wave because I have the better positioning, and that I put in the effort and forethought to get there. There are plenty of times when I still back off, but I know I’m getting stronger and more decisive in my surfing each time I paddle more forcefully for waves.

Earning My Waves

Being aggressive doesn’t have to mean all those terrible things I used to think it meant, and it’s an incredibly empowering way to be out in the ocean. When I act with confidence and assertiveness, I feel that much more in control and capable of my surfing. Plus, I’m not sitting there wondering whether I only got a wave because someone was being nice and let me go. I know I earned it, and it feels good knowing I pushed myself just a little further out of my comfort zone.

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