The fear of wiping out – the hold down

You know that feeling when a set wave comes, you paddle to get out back in time and you realize its going to break right on you? Or when you thought you’d just make the takeoff on that bigger than your comfort zone wave, but in stead you go over the falls? That moment when you know what’s about to happen, there’s no way out, and you feel the fear in every cell of your body?


Fear of the unknown is the greatest fear, which is why in horror movies we get plenty of time to imagine what the scary thing is before we see it. When a big wave is about to eat us, our imagination starts going through the worst case scenarios, informing us there is a chance we’ll be held under longer than we can manage. Or hit the reef. Or loose our board. It will also draw to our attention to previous scary experiences, just to remind us that there’s a chance we’re about to experience it all over again. Or maybe something even worse.


Your brain is programmed to keep you safe and it will automatically provide you with worst case scenarios to prepare you and stop you from doing something potentially harmful to yourself. It causes you to be naturally scared of situations that may threaten your survival.


Your body reacts to fear by preparing for “fight or flight”. It releases adrenaline that increases your heart rate and breathing to provide more oxygen to the muscles in preparation to run or defend yourself. In this state you consume more oxygen than normal, which in most cases isn’t a problem because you can always top up your oxygen by drawing a new breath. It’s pretty awesome that your body does this and in most dangerous situations the “supernatural” powers that come from this extra boost of oxygen will help you out, but when you’re about to be held under water by a wave, it’s the opposite of what you need. Preparing to hold your breath you want your pulse to slow down to reduce your oxygen consumption. After all, there is no use in fighting a wipe out, and you definitely can’t run away from it.


A hold down rarely lasts more than a few seconds, even if it feels like minutes, and if you stay calm, you can hold your breath way longer than that. Understanding this, you will see that what is dangerous is your fear and your body’s physical reaction to it, not the hold down itself (unless you’re surfing Teahupo, and if so, we want to hear your mental strategies!).


Actually, you can hold your breath way longer than you think! If you know what your body is really capable of in terms of breath holds, it will be a lot easier to control your fear of wiping out. If you want to know more about the physical aspects of breath holds and your body’s capabilities, check out this blog post


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