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It struck me today, how little time i actually spend surfing. By that i mean, sure i spend large parts of my life thinking (obsessing if you ask my wife) about riding different waves or different boards.

waiting1I spend hours checking online forecasts, webcams, swell models, wind models, tide times, discussion boards, blogs.I put miles on the clock driving to beaches, sometimes at leisure, sometimes stressing to squeeze a quick shot of stoke into a boring work day.

There’s plenty of time spent shooting the breeze with fellow locals – who scored where, who’s ripping, who’s riding what. The minutes hurriedly shivering in and out of wetsuits or leisurely changing in the sun, depending on the season, mount up as the months pass by.

Sometimes it’s a ten minute walk to the waters edge, sometimes a ten minute paddle out, dodging cold mountains of churning whitewater to finally make it out to the lineup. Then waiting, waiting for the set, waiting for your turn  (honestly!) jockeying for position.
But if you think about how much time you spend actually stood up riding waves, it’s not very long at all. It’s almost a depressingly short length of time, if you think about it too much. There can’t be many pastimes where that is the case. I mean the footballer spends ninety minutes playing a game and the swimmer doesn’t just spend time floating in the deep end (though there are always ladies of a certain age cluttering up any pool for whom talking & floating seems to qualify as excercise!)
Yet perhaps that is part of the draw, the reason surfing grabs you and i by the very core of our being and wont let go. Forces us to plan, sacrifice, risk career and relationship for just one more fix, one more perfect wave, one more glimpse of the ecstasy.
I’m confident that not one of you reading this would say it wasn’t worth it, that the stoke doesn’t measure up to the commitment. Yet we all know people who don’t get it, who would find it amusing that you might try and surf more than once a day, or even every day. Those for whom the joy of trim holds no attraction, have no interest in finding their limits and pushing them further.
We can stay smug in our secret, knowing we are part of the “us”, feel sympathy for “them” for they are missing out.

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  • I am a longtime reader of Drift magazine, a piece of online surfing literature that far out does its counterparts 100 fold, and i am also what you may consider a surfing academic after studying Surf Science and Technology for three years at University and therefore i was very interested to read the above article in the Drift magazine blog. Perhaps my interest was attracted to this blog article more then others due to the fact that i took part in a study that set out to discover the percentage of time spent surfing (riding waves). To be fair, who could blame me for taking part in the study, free travel to and from the beach, a good day out with friends and i have to go surfing for coursework! Who in their right mind would say no?

    Any way one of my fellow students who was writing up the piece of coursework about the time spent actually upright on a board rather then getting battered on the paddle out was working on the basis of a test that had been carried out by a scientist who is one of the foremost thinkers in the world of surfing, a man who goes by the name of Alberto Mendez-Villanueva. The experiments that Mr. Mendez-Villanueva carried out were done on world-class professional surfers during competition periods, he categorized the different parts of surfing into; paddling, stationary, miscellaneous (falling off and being underwater!) and wive riding, and he found that paddling dominates the act of surfing with 51% of it being either paddling in, paddling out, going for a wave or paddling for position etc. 42% of surfing is being stationary and doing nothing at all, just hanging about staring into the horizon! 2% of a surfers time is spent looking at fish, checking the sea bed for gold and getting back on his board, which means that a surfer spends the monumentally tiny amount of 4% of his entire surfing experience actually riding a wave. Okay, i realise that Mendez-Villanueva did this test with world-class professional surfers and very few of us could actually call ourselves that, but the study i took part in which used strictly recreational surfers found strikingly similar results except perhaps a little more on the old miscellaneous section, but the point is that the time spent riding waves still came out to an average of 4%, which is awesome as it makes you feel really good knowing that you spend the same percentage of time riding a wave as Kelly Slater!

    You can also find out a bit of information on the Alberto Mendez-Villanueva test “Activity Profile of World-Class Professional Surfers During Competition: A Case Study” at

  • Ados

    Good article, very very true, I think about it too much too!
    And really interesting post by Richard too, thanks for that! (Personally I suspect I’d be lucky to hit 4% to be honest… )


  • walrus

    I remember a day surfing with my son when i paddled out into a semi-crowded line-up, rode one very nice wave and then paddled out and just sat there Zenning out on the sea birds, dolphins jumping, sunshine on the clouds and the crowd riding waves, etc—after about 25 minutes, my son (at this time 17 years old) paddled over and asked what was wrong? I replied, “nothing, just sittin’ and surfin'”. after about an hour i rode another really nice wave and got out of the water—it was one of my rather nice sessions. i’m still not sure he understands yet—but, he’s getting closer….