5 Reasons Why Surf Comps Are Good For Beginners

First published on FiveFortySurf on January 6, 2014.

This January, I celebrated my first year of surfing back at the beach break that started it all. While waiting for the next set to roll into the lineup, I looked back at some of the moments that led to this milestone. I went on an average of 3 surf trips a month (that’s almost every weekend!), discovered more than 10 new surf spots from Luzon to Mindanao to Indonesia, made more than 100 new friends, broke 1 board, and joined 4 novice competitions. Yes, I’ve turned mad with ambition and I couldn’t feel less proud.

Winning is made sweeter by making champion friendships! With Carla Rowland at the 1st Philippine Wahine Classic. Photo by Ian Zamora.

Winning is made sweeter by making champion friendships! With Carla Rowland at the 1st Philippine Wahine Classic. Photo by Ian Zamora.

While most of my fellow surf newbies are as ecstatic as I am about surfing on any given weekend, not all of them are as enthusiastic about joining beginner competitions. I know that the idea of surfing competitively can be daunting, especially when you’ve only begun to flex your surf muscles. Why compete when you can barely stay balanced on your board?

And yet I’ve found the experience of falling, failing and looking foolish to be incredibly rewarding. Here are five reasons why joining competitions can be great for surfers of any skill level.

1.    Compete with yourself.

Paddling hard with Mylene Dizon and Bianca Arambulo at the Maui and Sons Surf Kalikasan surfing competition. Photo by Miccah Doctolero.

Paddling hard with Mylene Dizon and Bianca Arambulo at the Maui and Sons Surf Kalikasan surfing competition. Photo by Miccah Doctolero.

The best way to overcome your fear of losing is to understand and accept that there will always be a surfer out there better than you. Once you are okay with this, you’ll learn that the point of competitions isn’t beating others—it’s about besting yourself. Once that green flag is raised, you aim to improve your every wave. The drive to progress becomes more palpable, more real, when a timer is ticking versus bobbing around when you’re free surfing.

In surf competitions, you’re surfing against your best self.

2.    Fall in love with looking foolish.

Learning from, and laughing with the best: Wahine champs Daisy Valdez and Winnie Fuller gave me tips on how to handle myself during a heat! Photo by Harold Crisostomo. 

Learning from, and laughing with the best: Wahine champs Daisy Valdez and Winnie Fuller gave me tips on how to handle myself during a heat! Photo by Harold Crisostomo. 

There is no way around it—you are going to have to look downright silly and stupid before you start looking worthy of a surf video. There is no shortcut to style and skill. So talk to your ego and your expectations. Tell it that only when you’ve conquered the fear of looking bad will surfing start to feel good.

3.   Surfing solo, almost.

Getting up close and personal with the Point at the Rimat ti Amianan surf competition in La Union. Photo by Reynald Kulot Liwarin.

Getting up close and personal with the Point at the Rimat ti Amianan surf competition in La Union. Photo by Reynald Kulot Liwarin.

Almost everyone I talk to has a love-hate relationship with Monaliza Point in San Juan, La Union because it’s a beautiful break with a crazy crowd. During a heat, you get to surf that right-hander with only two or three other people. That’s a quick victory right there even if you don’t advance to the next round.

4.    Teach yourself the technicalities.

While good surfing will always be subjective, at least know how a high-scoring ride looks like to the judges. What does it mean to surf traditional or classic, compared to high performance surfing? What does a perfect 10 look like? What counts as interference? When you keep these technical guidelines in mind, you’d improve your free surfing because you’d know what to do and when to do it, and when not to do it at all.

5.   Build friendships, not rivalries. 

Surfing reveals character. If you are the type of person who turns bitter after losing, then maybe surfing isn’t for you. I’m thankful to have made so many friends because of time in the water, and some of the closest friends I’ve made are those I’ve competed in heats with. No one knows how nervous and afraid you can get more than those who’ve experienced it too. So surf together, not against each other.

Nevertheless, it isn’t a surf competition without a winner. But who really wins—the one who makes the podium or the one who goes home with conquered fears and an improved self-image? Or maybe the question is, if you join a surf comp, can you really lose?