Guest BlogsOvercoming Imposter Syndrome in the Surf 

-Words by Emma Bukowski
entrepreneur emma bukowski surfing a longboard as seen from behind the wave

I can’t be the only one that daydreams of being effortlessly good at things - the ultimate “cool girl fantasy” - whether it’s dropping into a skate bowl, speaking another language fluently, or nose riding - the activity itself is inconsequential. But the reality is, for every moment that someone appears effortlessly good at something, there have been a million moments where they failed and got back up again that you didn’t see.

Success is Built from Failures, So Why are We Afraid to Fail in Public?

There’s a persistent embarrassment that comes with learning something new. The phrase “don’t watch while I’m learning” resonates with many for a reason. As a female surfer who started in her mid-twenties, I often feel out of place when it comes to paddling out to the lineup.

Familiar doubts circle, “What if I paddle for this wave and miss it? If I can’t surf this as well as the surfer next to me, do I really deserve priority even if I’m in the better spot? I should just let the better surfers take the set waves, I can just surf the small ones on the inside.”

I watch the same fears play out in front of me with other intermediate surfers. I see them consistently hesitant to take waves or defer to more assertive male surfers. I see the same thoughts cross their minds that cross my own.

We are our own worst critics, and the recurrent thought that plagues me is this:

“I feel like I am not a good enough surfer to have my own surf bikini brand.”

emma bukowski, founder of noserider surf club, carrying her surfboard down the beach

We All Have Imposter Syndrome So Let’s Be Imposters Together

I’ve seen the excitement in people’s eyes when I tell them about my active surfwear brand. I even have my little script prepped for whenever someone asks “are you good at surfing?”

I tell them, “in order to design the best surf suit that stays on your body, you actually have to be the one that falls the most, not the best surfer - it's called research and development.”

Which to be fair, isn’t wrong!

noserider surf club founder emma bukowski surfing in indonesia

A big reason why I started Noserider Surf Club and made my first few pieces was simply so I could have bikinis that I felt confident and comfortable surfing in - which meant something that would stay on while I was learning how to surf no matter how many times I wiped out. I’ve come a long way from those early days, but even with my experience now, there is still the fear of being told I don’t belong.

But something really incredible happened when I shared publicly, from my Noserider Instagram account, that I as the brand owner struggled with imposter syndrome - the messages started pouring in. I wasn’t alone. Other surfers and brand owners shared their own experiences with imposter syndrome.

Here’s How I Overcame My Imposter Syndrome in the Water

If you’re wondering how I finally overcame my imposter syndrome in the water, the answer is, I didn’t!

Instead, I learned how to calm myself down when I started feeling anxious in the lineup - I learned how to be with that feeling of “not being good enough,” to surrender to it, and then let it go. Knowing that if the feeling comes back, I can repeat this process.

One of my surf mentors, Dana from DanceLightly, really focused on mindset with us on one of her surf retreats. Imposter syndrome is mental - it holds us back and it's up to us to not take the bait. We worked on our mindset with journal prompts, cold exposure, sharing stories, and more.

woman surfing in indonesia wearing a noserider surf club bikini

Bring a Friend, Failing is More Fun with Company

There are still times when I can’t help but feel the disparity in my experience next to those lucky enough to grow up on a surfboard. But as a close friend recently reminded me, Van Gogh didn’t start painting until he was 27. Comparison is an easy trap to fall into, but ultimately a waste of our time.

So I’ve been consciously making the effort to talk to myself with kindness and remind myself it’s okay to be learning. Every failure, every setback is an experience. Every wipeout is a lesson. After all, the best surfers aren’t the most skilled, they’re the ones having fun.

The best advice I can give you is to bring a friend out to the lineup, failing is more fun with company. Plus, when you catch your perfect wave, it’s nice to have an eye witness.

silhouetted woman surfing in indonesia

I dreamed about surfing for years before I got on a board. I imagined my dream island life, surrounded by friends who love to surf, being minutes from the beach and waking up everyday excited to work.

But nowhere in my dream life was being the best surfer or even being a good surfer – it was just to surf - to do it because it brought me joy.

Don’t get me wrong, I still have to fight the urge to meet people's compliments with caveats or self-criticisms. As if by downplaying my success, people will take me more seriously. But as another friend of mine says, “you’re never going to win at the humble Olympics.”

So I challenge you - go for that wave. Get in the lineup with the old mates. Claim your wave, not because you’re the most skilled in the lineup but because you’re daring enough to try. Embrace your wipeouts with confidence. You’re where countless others have been and where many more will be in years to come.

The message is clear: You belong here.