Words by Mat Arney & Images courtesy of Surfer Magazine, A Rose Beyond The Thames & Stafford/SPL/Transworld Surf
Your comfort zone has a lot to answer for. How many times, for instance, has your alarm clock gone off in the dark of the early morning only for you to roll over and opt to remain in the warm cocoon of your bed rather than getting up and going out to check the waves? How often have you spent some time sat just a little way off on the shoulder at a new spot because the take-off on the peak looks a bit full-on, only to watch the rotation of surfers sat just up from you get barrel after perfect barrel? It happens. All of us, at some stage in our never-ending journey of learning to become a more accomplished surfer, have spent a bit of time occupying our comfort zone whilst gazing wishfully at “the next step”.
Photo: Surfer Magazine
Moving out of your comfort zone is one of those metaphors (which in many cases is used as a learning model, questionably so in some cases) encountered regularly in the realms of business, sport and personal development. The comfort zone is defined, by the Oxford English Dictionary, as being both “a situation where one feels safe or at ease” and “a settled method of working that requires little effort and yields only barely acceptable results”. Your comfort zone could therefore be labeled as a barrier to improvement and also to new and exciting experiences. Moving beyond your comfort zone involves putting yourself in a situation that elicits feelings of stress or anxiety, with the idea being that when you subsequently experience success you reset your preconceived limits of your ability and the activity that previously scared you now excites you – and eventually becomes normal. The key with this approach is to push those limits in achievable steps; steps in which your perception of the risk places the task or activity as being more difficult or insurmountable than it actually is. Just don’t skip the growth/learning zone and jump straight from the comfort zone to the panic zone. To put this in a surfing context, it might mean going from only ever having surfed chest high waves at your local beach, to paddling out and catching a few when a bigger swell hits and it is a little bit overhead. Waiting for that bigger swell and driving up the road to surf a reef break for the first time could well land you smack in the middle of your panic zone, a place where you don’t want to be.
Photo: A Rose Beyond The Thames
There are academics who put forward compelling and peer reviewed cases (based on the outdoor adventure and education profession) for not using stress to facilitate learning or growth, but instead encourage appropriate risk taking and a learning environment based on intrinsic motivations. So in light of this, let’s move away from looking at the comfort zone (and stepping outside of it) as a metaphor for pushing and improving your surfing. Let’s look at it very literally in the context of your physical comfort and how sometimes there is great reward in getting a little bit cold and wet. Next time you set your alarm early for a dawn surf check consider that the best wave you’ve ever ridden could be waiting for you with the sunrise; swing your legs out of bed.
Photo: Matt Keenan by Stafford/SPL/Transworld Surf
Wetsuit technology means that snow only really stops trains these days, not your ability to enjoy the waves. And, if you’re hesitating because you don’t fancy getting changed beside your car in the wind and the rain then consider how many fellow surfers are, at that precise moment, staring longingly at a web cam or surf report on their office computer screen. The discomfort of being temporarily cold or wet pales in comparison to the feeling of watching the sun rise form the line-up or laying into a solid turn and throwing up a sheet of spray. You’re unlikely to get back to the beach regretting your decision to go for a few waves, so why not leave “comfort” temporarily behind for those few seconds it takes to get out of bed or pull on a wet wetsuit?