On Surfing And Superstition
What makes surfers feel lucky? We asked Stab Premium readers and they answered.
There is science behind “feeling lucky”.
In last weeks’s episode of The Pick Up, Presented by Vans, the Pros divulged their closest held surfing superstitions. Mason Ho’s answer was unsurprisingly titillating. We wanted now, however, to illuminate the superstitions of surfing’s proletariat — our beloved Stab Premium readers.
Some psychologists conclude that superstitions arise from our connecting two “co-occurring but non-related events.” The snootiest dictionary definition of “superstition” reads: “A notion maintained despite evidence to the contrary”.
The word “evidence” here I assume refers to the irrefutable scientific fact that someone is insane for “maintaining the notion.”
However, the kind of “evidence” I’m more concerned with here is the fact that I surf better if my leash is velcroed neat and flush and if I listen to Grateful Dead (Eyes of the World, Red Rocks 1978 live album) before I paddle out.
To explore surfing and superstition properly, we need to simply agree: confidence leads to better surfing. So, if a superstition lends confidence in the water, it serves our purposes and should be examined. Scientific evidence to the contrary be damned.
We asked Stab Premium readers to send us — confession style — their closest held surfing superstitions as part of Joyride: The Channel Islands Neck Beard 3 a few months ago. Every superstitious believer who sent in a response was then eligible for a shot at winning a brand new CI Neck Beard 3, as chosen by Joyride chauffeur, Mikey C.
I’ll be naming (first) names here — but there’s nothing to be ashamed of. Four out of five professional athletes report engaging with at least one superstitious behavior prior to performance.
Now, some of these could be classified by the picky as “phenomena” or “placebos”. But today, we’re counting them as superstitions, and acknowledging their merit. We received muchísimas responses, so I decided to distill them into two categories: Most Common and Least Common — aka weirdest.
Excrement: “The centre cannot hold.” wrote the poet Yeats. It’s not holding. Everyone is having pre-surf poop issues. The most common response of them all was that if one does not produce a bowel movement before a morning surf, then chaos will ensue.
Many lamented the Catch-22 surfers face when preparing for a morning surf. Many of us need caffeine to muster the energy to get to the water, but the same compound that catalyzes a good surf, catalyzes digestion. Soon after coffee consumption, one must make a decision — the dreaded aqua-deuce (if water temps allow) or a sprint to the dungeon-like public bathroom.
The winner — Lucas from Encinitas — won partly due to his positive spin on the pooperstition: “I’ve pooped in the ocean a non-negligible amount of times because the waves were so good I didn’t want to paddle in. So now if the waves are good and big, I chug as much coffee as possible before surfing and avoid the bathroom because I hope it gets to that point where it becomes one of my handful of memorable “shit” sessions. I’m also convinced it distracts me enough to surf better.”
Don’t worry — peeing was also brought up, many are afraid to turn the faucet on, as a set usually appears right at the point of no return.
Wax: The Silver Medal goes to wax superstitions. There were diverse beliefs and traditions. The most common however was properly summed up by Devon from the UK: “No matter how grippy my wax may be, if waxing my board isn’t the last thing I do before leaving my car and running down the beach, I’ll have a shit surf.”
Another popular response was the “wax on top of the foot” trick. This is one I’ll never relinquish myself. I’ve never surfed Lowers without doing it. If I don’t, the pesky cobblestone slime will foil my first wave, every time.
Intercourse: “We shall abolish the orgasm.” The Party declares in Orwell’s 1984. I had to read some truly obscene entries here. Let this suffice: Many, many of you mentioned that sexual satisfaction prior to surfing (even the night before) results in a worse surf session.
Music: Many of you agreed that the kind of music that you listen to pre-surf dictates the tone of your session — especially the last song, as it’s most likely to be lodged inside your cranium whilst you’re in the water (George, from New Zealand, prefers Nas).
“Down-The-Beach Syndrome”: The best peak will always be found where you are not. It’s not a mirage, it’s an immutable law.
Sitting with your feet on the board if “shark senses” tingle: This won’t help. The shark will kill you. But I also do it.
Least Common (Weirdest):
Evil types of cars in the lot: Two types of cars were designated as bad juju to see in the sacred lot — Subaru Outbacks and Toyota Tacomas. Maybe they are impending signs of gentrification? Like Scouts sent out to survey enemy territory?
However, Grant from Santa Cruz said that if there were three Tacomas in the lot (no more, no less) then it’s a good omen and would be a good session.
Tide curse: Dan — a marine biologist and science journalist from San Francisco — observed that for 10 minutes at peak high or low tide, the waves seem to go flat. He’s repeatedly asked Scripps Institute about it but they’ve denied it. Big Tide never reveals its trade secrets.
Best surfing happens after not surfing for a while: Only one person mentioned this one. But I’m including it because I’ve noticed it too (and have heard others say it). Sometimes, time off does something good for your surfing. A fresher body? A Renewed approach? Who knows.
Circle of wax on the nose for the “big toe”: This one stupefied me. Taylor from San Diego sent in this: “I always wax a small circle about 3-6 inches from the nose of my step-ups. Reasoning: “For the big toe” as one of my old surf buddies taught me years ago. Now, if I don’t wax in that little circle I feel like I’ve cursed my session and won’t get barreled.
Given the photo that was sent in, the only way I see this functioning beyond a superstition is, maybe, if someone is backside barrel-riding and places their front foot way up for stylistic purposes and uses the toe as a sort of joystick. Questionable at best.
Conclusion: “Confidence is your goal this year, ok?” I overheard a mother say to her pre-teen son on a popular beach trail this week, as their family walked single-file back to a rented Honda Odyssey. They were almost certainly from out of state (the Sketchers, military-style haircuts, and football jerseys indicated Illinois, maybe Ohio?).
The son hung his head and shuffled his feet and said “O.K”.
A scientific study conducted by The American Economic Review sought out to find if “having biased perceptions increases welfare during performance.” They explained “biased perceptions” to mean confidence people have about their own attributes that are false. They used math — so much math.
The study concluded: “Our view is that it is reasonable to expect that…agents that hold up optimistic beliefs will derive greater welfare from being optimistic than they derive from being correct.”
So, wax strong in your superstition — true or not.
In terms of wave riding, If it increases confidence in your abilities, you’re better off deluding yourself than you are being reasonable.
Just please don’t poop in your wetsuit.
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