Getting Started Tips
Surf Better With the New Surf Scientist: Mike Facchin
Interview from John
We're excited to announce a new member to the SurfScience.com team. Michael Facchin had contacted me a few months ago looking to contribute to our knowledge base. He had a lot of great ideas and interesting insight into the science of surfing, which would be a great resource to the Surf Science community. In fact we shared many of the same values and what the core of Surf Science should be.
Most importantly, his objective was to very clearly help surfers understand surfing better and to help them improve their overall surf experience.
I flew out to meet Michael in Korea. He is currently teaching Biology and living in Korea. To my dismay I didn't think there was another person who was as passionate as Greg and I about the surfing experience. We shared many of the same frustrations about not having solid resources and mentors out there to help us improve our surfing abilities. When I met Michael, I instantly felt that he was a genuine guy who is not only just passionate about surfing but experiencing life and traveling the world much like myself.
I still remember when Mike first introduced himself to me as a "World Traveling Surfing Biology Teacher".
Today, I'm stoked to introduce him to you as a new Surf Science editor.
Let's get introduced, and stick around 'til the end to find out the exact, actionable steps he took to improve his surfing.
So tell me about when you first started to surf. How did you learn, and what was your support system like?
I still remember the moment when I caught my first wave. I had been trying for literally months. May, June, July, August..heading out to the beach in Central Jersey every weekend. I started surfing, or should I say, trying to surf, when I was in college.
What started as a group endeavor quickly dissolved into a solo-mission. My friends, who were just as frustrated as I was, gave up quickly.
Now on your own, did you get an instructor?
I had no link to an instructor, and none of my other friends at the time surfed. Thinking back to my "smack the surface of the water with both arms at the same time" paddling technique, I can remember how challenging and difficult it was. We didn't know how to paddle out, or duck dive. When I finally started to get close, I remember pearling literally 50 waves in a row. I just couldn't get it - no matter how many times I watched that youtube video of the pro's do it like second nature.
So plenty of painful memories during your learning stage?
Absolutely, I remember Hurricane season one summer. The waves were pumping. Maybe 15 foot faces. It was my first experience with getting rag-dolled underwater in the Atlantic washing machine. I had no idea what to do during my first memorable wipe-out, and I really wish someone had passed along some of this vital information.
Where did you get your first surfboard?
Craigslist. As a beginner, who didn't know what to look for, I wish I had some help. I think of that board now, and cringe at the water damage it had. I remember when I first picked up a non-damaged board. My first board felt like it was made of bricks.
What kept you going during this lengthy learning period?
So months went by. With my used, beat-up board from Craigslist, I was several 100 bucks down the tube, still unable to stand up, and my friends were abandoning our surf dreams, how did I feel?
As motivated as ever. I loved surfing from day one. And when I eventually did catch that first wave, it made every single wipe out I had beforehand worth it.
For me, surfing is more than riding a wave. Jamail Yogis said it best in Saltwater Buddha, most of life is not riding waves, it's paddling out - the tough stuff. And if you can get to a point where you can love paddling out as much as riding a wave, well then, you're one of the lucky ones.
Thinking back to those months of trying to surf, and then eventually having things click, I have a huge enthusiasm for helping other people along on their journey. Since learning to surf, I've met incredible people, traveled to awesome locations, and I'm 100% confident that surfing has made my life better.
Okay so, meat and potatoes time - what 5 things did you do to improve your surfing?
1. Fixed my mindset AKA Enjoy the paddle out.
-Think surfing is awesome
Riding waves. Huge aerials. Hear the cheers from the beach. Sign autographs on the way out. Quit my job and join the pro-circuit. Grab lunch with Kelly Slater.
When I first started surfing, I wasn't in touch with reality. I wanted huge results right away. It was as if I wanted my Ph.D in surfing before my high school diploma.
Once I started to accept that it's OKAY to be a beginner surfer, I started to enjoy surfing so much more - even if I wasn't on a wave yet. As with most things in life, if you are spinning your wheels in the mud, you're going to get burnt out. Instead, work with what you have (not what you don't have), and grow from there.
My father always told me: "Anything easy is not worthwhile, and anything worthwhile is not easy".
You may not want to hear this, but when you first start surfing, it's going to take both physical and mental energy. As with anything, there is a learning phase, and it's okay to be in that learning phase. Surround yourself with encouraging vibes, stop gritting your teeth, and start enjoying the journey. After I fixed my mindset, getting better at surfing become a much more tangible process. Enjoy the paddle out, and know that slowly and surely, you're getting better - and remember that it's okay to ask questions - everyone was a beginner once.
2. Focus on Fundamentals
If you're like me, then your first surfing experience went like this:
Surfing is tough. Well, let me correct that. Surfing can be tough when you forget to learn the fundamentals. Build a strong foundation and the rest will follow.
What fundamentals really helped you when you were surfing?
Paddling. I still remember my first paddle out. Smacking the water over and over again. I was wasting a ton of energy and it certainly wasn't fun getting exhausted as people flew right by me on their boards.
Balance. Surfing requires a lot of it. I actually started doing yoga around the same time as I was starting to surf - and I've been doing it ever since.
One yoga pose that really improves your core balance is boat pose.
Start in the whitewater - there is no shame in it! Trying to start in the line up is like playing chess against grand masters, losing every game, and getting discouraged that you're not getting any better. If you start in the line-up, it's very likely that you won't be able to catch anything, and if you do, you might wipe out, or even worse, accidentally cut another surfer off - which brings up the next fundamental:
Surf Etiquette. Knowing what not to do is important when you're in the ocean. Just like learning driving laws, you should learn some basic surfing laws. Don't drop in on someone who already caught a wave. For an experienced surfer, it's second nature, for a beginner, getting evil stares can be enough to ruin your current surf session and the next.
3. Find a better board
The only reason I picked up my first board was because I thought it was the only board within my price range. Turns out, I was too heavy for the board and the board was too thin and too narrow.
Take the time to find the right board for your size and experience level. Do some research before you make that first purchase, and it will pay off immediately.
Pro Tip: Surf Scientists can help you find the perfect board for you with the help of the Surf Science SurfBoard Match Quiz.
4. Use flat spells as an opportunity to improve your paddle-out.
With any surf session, you'll spend most of the time paddling. If you can have really strong, really efficient paddling, it will keep you feeling energized. That means more energy devoted towards actual surfing, and more time in the water. Treat it just like a real workout.
If you can't make it to the beach, you can still strengthen your paddling muscles. Try doing a normal pushup, except when your chest is off the ground, round out your shoulders.
5. Record yourself surfing.
When is the next set coming? Am I paddling out in the right spot? Did it start paddling soon enough for the wave? Should I focus more on my balance? There is a surprising amount of things that can impact your surfing. And missing any one of them can be the difference between an awesome session and one where you couldn't catch a wave.
Ask a friend to video tape your surfing. Even if you're learning, it will help tremendously.
For me, once I recorded my surfing, I instantly became more confident and aware of my surfing. For example, I remember watching the video of me trying my first few bottom turns a dozen times. My form was way off, and I never would have known unless I video taped.
What do you hope to accomplish here at Surf Science?
My goal at Surf Science is a simple one: Help others along their journey to surf.
Complete the sentence: Learning to surf….
Is a great metaphor for life. If you can survive the tough stuff, then awesome things await.