In this episode, I got to talk to an amazing big wave surfer from Torquay, Australia—Jeff Rowley.
Jeff has been surfing big waves for 23 years, including paddling on the biggest days at Peahi on Maui and Cloudbreak in Fiji.
Jeff started the website paddleinmastery.com, an online learning platform dedicated to helping surfers of all skill levels take their big wave surfing to the next level.
His first online course, The Breath Hold Blueprint, teaches surfers of any level how to safely increase their breath hold, giving them the freedom to ride any wave they want to. It’s an online breath hold training system where surfers can learn to hold their breath for up to 5-minutes in 27 days.
And great news to all our listeners! You can get Jeff's The Breath Hold Blueprint course at 25% OFF by visiting this link.
Social Media Profiles:
- Website: https://paddleinmastery.com/
- IG: https://www.instagram.com/jeff_rowley/
- YT: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCnrEQ_3_aP0VdGWdM4lERgQ
Topics We Discussed:
- Big waves? Big Cajones?
- How did you get into big wave surfing?
- Why do you surf big waves?
- What’s the biggest wave you ever surfed?
- Toe-in big wave surfing vs. paddle in—what do you say?
- How do you figure out what the right board is?
- Let talk about your course and learning how to breathe correctly—what was the inspiration for creating that course?
- What is the number one biggest mistake people make?
- What will surfers learn from the course?
- Where can they sign up?
- Wim Hof?
- What is the best wave you have surfed?
- Your favorite surf trip?
- Did we miss anything?
Saltwater High! Today, I want to introduce Jeff Rowley, big wave surfer extraordinaire. What's up, Jeff?
Hey, Derek. How are you?
I'm good, bro. I'm really good. We had a conversation yesterday, and I was really excited about today's podcast because I feel like we're made from the same ilk. Your ilk is probably just a little bigger, your cojones are probably a little bigger than mine. But other than that, I think the same surfing ilk.
Yeah, I think so. We definitely got saltwater running through our blood, eh?
Yeah. I was checking out some of your photos on the Instagram page. Bro! I had no idea who I was talking to yesterday. Some of those sick waves!
Yeah, thanks, mate. There's a few good ones from what we got on a Cloudbreak, big Cloudbreak, probably some big Jaws.
Cloudbreak, Hawaii, yeah. Cool.
So I've spent quite a bit of time over on Maui, paddling into Jaws and Cloudbreak is my other favorite, one of my three. I've got kind of three favorite waves in the world—Jaws, Cloudbreak, and then one of my spots back here in Victoria, one of my home spots.
Very cool. And so, what was it that drew you to big wave surfing? Was it kind of this thing that you were progressing and you just wanted more and more and more of? So kind of give us your journey.
Sure. So a little bit about me more recently. A few years ago, I was a member of the Big Wave World Tour. I've been a Billabong XXL 'Ride of the Year' finalist from waves that I've caught at Jaws. Some of the biggest swells paddled at Jaws and definitely Cloudbreak in Fiji, I haven't missed one of those. And I've been right there in the water alongside guys that have caught biggest wave world records, ride of the years, biggest tube, I was literally in the line up meters away from them when they caught that wave. So that's been sort of the last 10, 15 years of my life. But basically, I've been surfing big waves for about the last 23 years since I was 18. I'm 41 now and I live in Torquay in Australia. And that's where Bells Beach is if anyone is not familiar where that is. I know you're familiar with it, Derek. You've been to Bells.
Yeah. Shout out to Bells, bro. Yeah. Bells is, by far, one of my all-time favorite waves on the planet and I can't wait to go back and have you hold my hand in some bigger waves when I get down there.
Yeah, that'd be awesome. That'd be really good. So, I was fortunate. I grew up in a surf shop. My dad was a surfboard shaper in town Anglesea and, yeah, I grew up on the floor, the showroom floor of the surf shop, and in his shaping bay. So surfing was in my blood from really young age. And obviously, my dad did it. But I wasn't always into surfing big waves. I wasn't. It didn't come naturally to me. When I was super little, somewhere around the age of 4, we had a boating accident where we lived, Point Roadknight. And what happened was, my dad was taking my brother, my sister and myself, I got an older sister and a younger brother who were really young. And my dad was taking us fishing. And it was high tide and so there was a little shore break about 2 feet, like about waist-high, something like that. And another person offered to push the boat in so dad could get in and start the boat. But when my dad jumped in to start the boat, so we were all sitting in the boat, and then the set wave came to the shore break and this guy just turned on his heels and ran away. And the boat drifted.
Yeah, the boat went sideways and the boat wouldn't start straight away as boats back then, you have to strike [inaudible 00:04:09] we know not to do. And the boat actually got flipped. So we capsized it in the shore break and we all got thrown out, gear everywhere. And that was super traumatic for me at the time and affected me all the way up until, all the way even through high school. I was really scared of what I called or anything, really. Even in high school, I wouldn't surf waves basically. I wouldn't go out over 5 foot. I wanted to and I saw everyone else doing it. But there was just this thing holding me back. And even if I tried, I would get like I used to, I did high school on the Gold Coast, at Burleigh Heads. And when a big swell came, 6 foot or something, I would paddle out with my friends in school and I'd get halfway out and then there'd be a lull in the waves. I'd see it coming and I would just stop paddling and go back in.
So that all just came from me having that bad experience as a child really.
And then when I finished high school, I moved back to Victoria. And actually, one time, I was taking a vacation back down to Victoria and I went surfing down near Johanna, which is a pretty famous surfing beach that we have here. And a car pulled up next to us. And I saw on the roof that 4 boards on each side or maybe 5 boards on each side of the car so like 10 boards total, everything from like 6'2 to 10' long, all stacked up in that sequence on the roof and I had like a 5'10 board back then as a kid. And I was like, "What are these guys doing with this stuff at the same beach that I'm with this tiny little thing? What goes on here?"
And so that was my sort of first exposure to it. And I, basically, was just fascinated with bigger waves. But I was completely held back and terrified by it. And then when I finished high school, I moved from the Gold Coast back to Victoria. And my friends were all into surfing like 8-foot waves at that time. And they were like 7'8, 9'8. And that was sort of well outside of what I was capable of. I was terrified of it. But because I was in a circle with them and I was really competitive with those guys, I started going out a little bit and yeah, just got a little bit of experience in that. And from there I had a pretty steep, a really steep increase in the wave heights that I went out over the next year or two. I ran into one or two people that had a big impression on my surfing at that time. And a friend, Dave, actually invited me to go surf this wave down the coast. Kind of where I am is if I compare it to where you are, you're near Rincon if I remember it right?
Yeah, I'm 20 minutes away.
Yeah. So we've got a big waves spot. You know how you can drive down Tequila's at Todos and that's a few hours away, right?
Yeah, Killers is yeah, it's couple hours away, yeah.
Yeah, so we've got a place relatively like that. It's about 2 hours away. It's got really big waves. And so I got an invite to go there and had a really good time and yeah, kind of just escalated pretty quickly from there.
There must have been a moment where that trauma that you had from childhood, you either cracked through it or I don't know, do you remember a particular moment or was it something that just kind of gradually dropped away or?
Yeah, I remember a particular moment when I went out in solid 8 to 10-foot surf and I had a big board and I was at a place, I was actually at Bells and someone showed me how to get out to the waves without getting cleaned up, without getting caught inside. And so they put me on the right equipment, they showed me how to do it, how to paddle out there, they showed me where to sit and catch a wave. And I went out there and basically caught a set wave right away and was on the right gear, the right timing. And it all went so well. And I got this amazing feeling and I got that addictive rush that you get from taking off in a big wave and the feeling of the power and the bigger board and the speed. And I end up catching half a dozen waves in that session. And I really discovered the love of doing it. And like hey, this is not meant to be this traumatic, painful picture that everyone sort of or I had in my head about tumbling underwater and just a nightmare of a time surfing big waves. It's meant to be this beautiful thing that you're out there, experiencing nature, and you're getting as close as you can to this amazing force of nature. And you're tapping into it and just feeling it without letting it break on your head and you feel the full force of it.
So that was a moment for me, for sure.
So preparation or also I guess the right knowledge, right? Having a good kind of, maybe mentor at that time and being on the right gear.
There must have been some—you must have had something—this kind of courage that overpowered the fear, right? Or I don't know how to put it.
Yeah, I had a drive to want to do it and I guess I was probably competitive but I always felt like I wanted to do it, and growing up, I was fascinated by looking at the pictures of guys surfing big waves, that sort of thing. So I wanted to know what it was about. And I've always enjoyed the progressive side about surfing, about trying to push your performance and to challenge yourself and to go further for sure. How did you learn to surf, Derek? So what age did you start surfing?
So I started like 9, 10, around there. And I actually grew up with my grandparents, so I didn't have any kind of first-generation mentors. But I had a good buddy, my buddy David Miller, shout out to Dave, I'm sure he's going to listen to this, and he had a neighbor or something who had a big brother who had a board. I'll never forget the board—Crazyhorse was the name of the board. And it was a single fin, but I just knew as soon as I got that thing in the water, I'd never had felt anything like it. I played sports growing up, too, and was always super active and athletic. But there was something about surfing, even to this day, dude, I feel there's something that it gives me that nothing else in life does. And I think you just said it. It's something about being connected to nature in a way or I call it dancing the force of nature, right, with the wave. You're moving with the earth essentially on a wave. That's energy being transformed through the water, right? And you're moving on that.
Yeah, it's all energy and vibrations and you're tapping into that. You're feeling the energy and it's definitely, it's transferring through you. It literally is, scientifically, it's transferring through you because as a wave lifts you up and down, the wave's expending energy on lifting you, and that is the force against you going up and down. So it's yeah, you're feeling the energy and tapping into that. And as you know, a good surf will leave you buzzing for days, weeks, months.
Yeah, for sure. It's probably one of the only things I don't dream about. I rarely dream about surfing. I think because it's so present in my life. I think a lot of times when we dream, we're trying to work out issues or kind of psychological hurdles that we're trying to overcome or relationship difficulties, right? But I rarely dream about surfing because I think I have such a pure connection to it that it just doesn't need any attention.
Yeah, it's that one place where you can go and all those things you talked about, whether it builds relationships or right now, COVID, lockdowns, mental health, all those things, you go into water and you just forget everything. It just makes you so present, doesn't it? A little bit cliché, but you leave your worries on the sand. And it's never more so true than when the waves are big for you, no matter whatever size is big for you or big for me. Yeah, whatever size that is, then you definitely have to leave all your worries on the sand.
So that's a good question. Oh, sorry. Go ahead.
No, you go.
Oh, what is big for you? Like you said, where do you feel your, I don't know, where you're starting to push the limits of where you feel comfortable or maybe you feel comfortable in everything, I don't know. But like, if you say, "Okay, that's solid." Right?
How do you think about that?
Look, every time there's a big swell coming, I get butterflies. It doesn't matter. Yeah, I do. Even if I'm going to be surfing around home and it's going to be what I call 6 to 8 foot or if I'm going chasing waves and it's going to be 15 foot and we'll get to that in a minute. But I still get the butterflies and I'm sure you get that, do you? Did you get that?
Yeah, but for me, in terms of what do I call--I say, for example, I start wearing flotation when it gets to 10 feet.
So that's when I start taking it. That's when it's serious for me. And I'm married, I've got two young kids, so I've got a really strong, really good reasons to come home.
When it gets to 10 foot, I put on what they called the flotation system, the impact suit, it's called.
Okay and what is that? I don't even know what that looks like or how it works.
Yeah. So an impact suit, what it is, is it's a wetsuit. You can either wear one made of wetsuit material or there's a new one that's made out of Lycra by Rip Curl, but it's got padding, foam padding that floats. So it's basically like a buoyancy jacket, but it's designed for surfers and you can wear that underneath your wetsuit and it gives you flotation so that when you get pounded by a wave, you float to the surface much quicker. It makes sense?
So when the waves get to what I call 10 foot, I start wearing one of those. And then when it gets over 12 foot, I'll start wearing an inflation system. And what that is is that's a jacket that I have or a vest that can either, there's two types, one goes under a wetsuit, one goes on top, and that has CO2 cartridges that you can pull a cord and it inflates like a big airbag. And if you have a wipeout, you pull that cord underwater, it'll inflate and it'll bring you to the surface much faster, not instantly, but much faster than if you were not wearing one at all.
And have you ever had to pull it?
Yeah, I pull it regularly. Regularly.
Regularly, yeah. Regularly as in yeah, multiple, probably...
It's like I jumped out of a plane but I've never pulled the emergency chute.
Yeah. Probably a dozen times a year. Something like that.
Yeah. Okay, interesting. Yeah.
And so it's a good point. How did you get into bigger waves for yourself? Like how did you learn? So you didn't have a first-generation mentor as such that you had friends. What got you into bigger surf?
So a friend got me out to Killers. So a buddy of mine that he was a little older than me and he loved big surf. And he was like, "Dude." I've been going to Mexico since I was 5 years old. I just love Mexico and it's just a couple hours away. And so one time we were down on this trip surfing down in Mex, he's like, "Dude, the swells getting big, let's go to Killers." I was like, "Let's do it." This is actually the same guy that talked me into jumping out of airplanes, too, by the way. Steve DiPalma, my buddy that I grew up with.
Sounds like a good friend to have.
Yeah, super awesome guy, man. I just reconnected with him after 14 years last year and it was really good to see him. But, big waves, it's interesting because now and when I say big waves, for me, it's nothing like your big waves. I think like my big waves is double overhead, triple kind of. That's kind of where if I'm surfing. Around here, it doesn't get that big. But sometimes I do go up to San Francisco and surf Ocean Beach when it's pretty solid. And then when I'm traveling, if it's big, I will surf it, unless it's massive. I did go to Java to what's the left of Java. Oh, escapes me! Oh, where is it?
I haven't been up there.
Yeah. So in Indo. It'll come to me soon. And dude, it was so big and there were only two guys in the whole camp would even paddle out and I just couldn't do it. And I wasn't prepared.
Yeah, it wasn't that.
Sorry, it doesn't matter.
It'll come to me, it'll come to me. Yeah. But I think it's something you have to do intentionally. I wouldn't even know what boards to pick. For me, I've got a bunch of surfboards and I have a couple of guns that over the years I've acquired. And it seems like whenever I ride them, they're too big. Like I don't know, that's another question. How do you know what the right board is?
Yeah, for sure. That's a really good question. So there's a few things that was really interesting of what you just mentioned then, right? So one of the things is you said that you learned it by yourself, right? So have you ever found a big wave surfer and gone up to them, had the confidence to go and ask them for help? Like what size board should I ride today or anything like that?
Yeah, I don't really know any I would call big wave surfers.
Yeah, I don't. I don't know any.
And that's a good point. So for most people, we have to learn. I did too. We learned the hard way, right? Through trial and error. And it takes us a long time to get a lot of experience. And it's been 23 years of experience surfing bigger waves, 30, 35 years, or something surfing altogether to get to know what I know now and I've recognized that there's a divide and a disconnect between big wave surfers and kind of regular surfers. I do find that I get a lot of questions from people when I'm coming from a surf. Guys might come up to me and ask a couple of questions very shyly. But for most people, they don't have that exposure to a big wave surfer like what you just said. And you're certainly not going to just get on Instagram and go to your favorite big wave surfer and ask them, "Hey, I don't know what board to ride." There's a disconnect there, right? And so that's where I got the idea to build the website, my business, Paddle in Mastery.
And so the idea with that is that I'm trying to bridge that gap. I'm trying to get rid of that disconnect and the website's dedicated basically to anyone that wants to improve their surfing in bigger waves. And it doesn't have to be the biggest waves, it can be for anyone. But I'm trying to, I am breaking down that disconnect and making it so that you have a direct line to a big wave surfer and anywhere, wherever you are in the world, you're in California, I'm in Australia, someone else could be in the south of France, you can have a direct line to me. So you can send me an email straight away. And one degree of separation. It's not like through a friend of a friend of a friend or you heard a rumor. You can do it. If you have a question, you can just reach out through that website, straight to me, and I will answer it and hopefully, help you solve the problem so that you can progress to the next level and get what you want.
That's super valuable, bro. I love that.
Thank you. Yeah, it's really enjoyable for me to try and pass on some knowledge now the things that I've learned and help people, especially not spend 5 years like riding the wrong size board when we could solve that really quickly and change your life basically. So there's a couple of things from what you said, so it's really interesting. We were just talking about the wave size before and yesterday, I remember you mentioned to me about surfing somewhere, Bells maybe, 10 to 15 foot. And I'm just wondering what size, what wave scale do you typically use?
Yeah. So I think this is the other thing. We probably use different wave scales.
So I usually think about double overhead. So normal dude is 6 foot, so I would call that 12 foot. I know the Hawaiians measure things from the back, right? So I think Californians, Americans, let's just say Americans in general, measure things from the front. So when I'm calling a 12-foot wave, you're probably calling it a 6-foot wave. Right? Or something like that. Right?
Exactly right. Yeah. And so for people, if anyone's getting into surfing, it's really confusing when someone says the wave's 6 foot today. Is it double overhead? Is it head high or what is it? And that's one of those things that I'm trying to help people understand. So as we just touched on, there's 3 scales, right? So there's 3 scales in surfing or judging the waves. The first one is I call it the face height scale, which is also known as the Californian or the American scale. And I didn't come up with the names, that's just what they are.
Yeah. It's not called the Seppo scale?
No, no. It's mostly known as the face height scale, right?
So that's where someone's on a wave and it's as tall as their head, then the average person is 6 foot tall. So therefore it's a 6-foot wave. And that's probably what a lot of beginners and things will judge the wave height based on. But it's probably not what all surfers use for sure. There's a different scale. So the second scale being the Hawaiian scale, which is, sorry, it's known as the Hawaiian scale, it's just easier. Again, I didn't invent it, I don't know why it's the Hawaiian scale, it's just what it's called. But that's where a 6-foot wave like a wave that's head high is 3 foot. So it's basically half, right? And some people call it the back of the wave scale. But I go with the Hawaiian scale, and that's the one that I predominantly use. So if the wave realistically is 12 foot, but there's that other one scale that's universal and you mentioned that as well. And the universal is the overhead scale. So that's the one that's universal. It doesn't matter where you're from. And so, head high waves are always going to be head high. Someone takes a photo, looks at the beach and it's like the waves' head high. So one person can say, well, it's 6 foot, one person can say it's 3 foot, but we're all going to agree roughly that it's head high. Yeah? Then double overhead, which is two times head high. That's going to be 12 foot on the wave face Californian-American scale. And it's going to be 6 foot in the Hawaiian back of the wave scale. And then you keep going on from there. Triple four times overhead is going to be 24-foot face and it's going to be 12-foot Hawaiian. So it's really a key thing, especially for people that are new to surfing. There's actually three scales to judging the heights of the waves.
That's pretty cool. I didn't realize the third scale, which is probably the one I use the most, right? If I'm talking to my buddies, I'm like, "Oh, it's chest high, it's shoulder high." Right?
Overhead sets, bro!
So it's interesting, yeah.
Yeah. You can say, "Hey, it's 4 foot, man." And someone thinks it's like, "Oh, that's below my shoulder." And then if you reinforce it, "No, no it's overhead." They're like, "Oh, that's really good then."
Yeah, that's true.
And it's hard for someone if they're going to like you mentioned, you went to Bells, right? And then the guy said there's a big swell running so if someone says to you, "Oh, its 6 to 8 foot." And you get down there and you find it's 12 to 15 foot, you're going to be like, "Hang on, this guy lied to me."
Yeah, that's exactly what happened actually.
Yeah, it's exactly what happened. That's why I got the board I did when I was in the shop.
And so see, because you came to Bells, right, for a big swell, you told me yesterday. And you turn up a shop, you bought a wetsuit, and then what report did the guy give you?
He's like, "6 to 8." It's exactly what he said. I was like, "Oh, I'm going to ride like a 5'11. And that'll be perfect."
And then I got out there and I was like, "Oh, I could have used another foot at least."
So it's actually 12 to 15 on your scale, on a face scale, right?
Yeah. So one of the things that I do through Paddle in Mastery is I have some coaching, I help people online, coaching, etc., and building some courses. And so one of the things in there is, of course, you mentioned before about board size, what boards to choose. So, firstly, I've broken it down to three levels of big wave surfing, okay. So level one is for what I call 6 to 8-foot waves, which is your 12 to 15 foot. So you're talking two to two and a half times overhead. So that's the level one of big wave surfing. Level two is 8 to 10 foot. So you're looking at two and a half to three times overhead. And in level three big wave surfing is 10 to 12 foot, which is your three to four times overhead, your 20 to 25-foot Californian face size. So when you break it down into those 3 groups, then we can start to look at what are the tools, what are the training, what are the equipment, what do you need to do for level one? Where do you need to be at? You don't need to worry about the level three stuff yet because you're not going to go and tackle that. We want to just get you past the level one so you can go and do it safely, have a good time, not have that traumatic experience of being tumbled underwater and just never want to do it again. So, in terms of board size, well, what do you ride if it's at 12, 15 foot? If it's two double over here to two and a half times overhead?
I'm still on a shorter board. I don't like a lot of board. My normal go-to board is a 5'2, so I ride a Mini Simmons style kind of 5'2.
So when I get into the 6 plus range, I don't like anything, and this is for what I would call double overhead-ish surf like a 6'2, 6'4, but with more volume. I like a shorter board with more volume than I do a longer board, which doesn't make much sense I know. Because when, and you know more than this about this than me, when it's moving faster, you actually need the bigger board. And I know this in my head, but I like to turn, and it's really hard for me to turn on a bigger or anything over like a 6'5, dude, I can't turn it. I just can't turn it.
You probably start to sacrifice your paddle power, right? By riding a shorter board.
Yeah. So in that, see, in a 6 to 8-foot range, what we'd recommend someone that's doing, I'm sort of working through that level one section, is that you ride basically to get a pass, right? To get yourself confident in that level one of big wave surfing that you move up to your first semi-gun. Right? So and in that 6 to 8 foot or 12 to 15 foot on the face, double two and a half times overhead, we recommend adding a foot onto the length of your shortboard.
That kind of wave should put you in between..
6'6ish or 6'9.
..well, you're riding Mini Simmons, that's really small.
But I would say typically, it's between 7 to 8 foot.
Oh, it's that big. Okay, bro.
And so if you're riding in 6 to 8-foot waves, yeah, like as in 12 to 15 foot on the face size, and let's say you're new to it, right, like you've been surfing since you were 10 years of age. You've got a lot of surfing experience so you can break the rules, right?
So you've surfed Killers. And I can break the rules too. I've surfed really big waves so I can paddle out with you in 12 to 15 foot, two and a half times on a small board. Because we know the rules and we're choosing to break them. You know the rules that's why you like breaking the rules by riding a shorter, wider board. But for the average person, if they don't know that and they haven't had the experience before and they go into a surf shop and they talk to a salesperson who is interested in selling them a board, and they're like, "Hey, what board do I need?" They could basically be sold anything because the salesperson has got a vested interest in it. We're going to give them the help to say, "Hey, if you're going to surf those kind of waves, you need to be prepared. This is the board that you want to have. It should be a 7 to 8-foot longboard, basically about a foot longer." So shortboard for me, 6'2, like a regular performance shortboard, not a fish sort of thing. And then once again to that size waves, two and a half times overhead, I've got to move up to a semi-gun. So I ride about 7-foot long in that size set.
7 foot, okay.
Yeah, but between 7 and 8 foot.
Okay, and technically, why do we need that extra length?
We need extra length because when the waves get bigger, there's more power in the waves, there's more speed and there's a lot further distance for us to paddle usually. So a bigger board is going to help us to paddle faster. The board is a little bit more, it's more elongated. So the board, actually, is designed to handle the extra speed and the extra length will make the board do longer turns, which will help you go around sections further. So if you need to come around a section on a shoulder-high wave, the section might only be 20 feet long. Whereas if you want to come around a section in a wave that's two and a half times overhead, it could be really a long section. You've got a long way. So these boards are designed to handle the higher speeds and to go further in longer distances.
Interesting, yeah. Very cool.
So, and another thing is with what I can tell, it's really interesting that you said you like riding a shorter board in bigger waves, right?
What position do you find yourself in when you're sitting in the lineup? Where do you think you sit amongst the lineup when the waves are bigger?
Oh, I got to go as deep as possible.
I got to get right underneath the lip.
Okay, you nailed it. You nailed it right. So you've got to sit inside. So there's three roles that you can play when you're in a lineup. And I've broken them down and I call them as follows, right. You've got the bomber, the performer, and the scrapper.
I like it, I like it.
So the bomber is the guy that's sitting out the back further than anyone on the longest board and they're just sitting out there waiting for the biggest waves, right? And there's characteristics that go with that role. When you're the bomber, you're going to catch the least amount of waves, but you're going to be on the biggest and possibly the best waves. You're going to wait longer for a wave, but you're also going to be safer. Because you're waiting for the big ones, you're sitting further out. You're not going to get caught inside. The performer is the guy in the middle who's riding the right length board. Right? Just the average in the middle, perfect size board for that swell. He's going to sit in a normal takeoff zone, he'd be competing with the other guys for the regular size sets, he's going to get a higher wave count. He's not going to catch the biggest wave of the day, though, because that's going to break further out. He's going to have to get out of the way of that. But performer is the guy in the middle of the pack. Then as the third role, which is the scrapper. And that's exactly what I recognized it as soon as you told me that you're riding that small board, I knew that you like playing the scrapper role and that person is on the smallest board in the lineup. And the characteristics of that is is exactly what you described. You have to sit in close to where the breaking waves are, underneath the ledge, and underneath the lip of the wave. It forces you to take off light, right?
Frequently I get worked.
Yes, so it's actually harder. So you've got to be a better surfer. So you're a good surfer, Derek. If you enjoy doing that, you've got to be a really good surfer. You're going to do a lot more paddling, your heart rate's going to be a lot higher because you're going to get more set waves on the head, right? You're going to get all those big sets. People call them clean up sets. But those bigger sets will break on your head. So it's a more of a high-stress position. You'll probably get that mouse on a freeway feeling where you're sitting inside like, "Oh, my goodness, look what's coming."
Yeah, exactly. A lot of that happened at Bells. I saw those guys and I go, "What are those guys doing way out there?"
Then I knew when the sets came in. Oh, man!
So, on that same day, that's at 6 to 8-foot size, at 12 to 15-foot face, or two to two and a half times head high. I'm saying that the performer, the regular length ride is a 7 to 8-foot board, and that's going to be the right size. You are riding a 5'11 or something, that is so small out there that when I'm in the car park, if I pull up at the beach and there's a swell, I know just by what board you're waxing up in the car park, I know what role you're going to play, I know where you're going to sit in the lineup, and I know whether you're competing with me or not. And so if I see that you've got a 5'11 and I've got my 7'0, I'm going, "Great! He's not even looking at the same waves I'm looking at."
Yeah, you're just laughing.
No. You know your body's on the small boards, we're not looking at the same thing.
Yeah. I never thought about it like that. You taught me a lot already. I like it.
Cool. Well, it goes for other guys too. A lot of people when they're getting into bigger waves, they—I've spoken to people about this—we have this feeling of like "I don't want to ride a big board because I'm going to have to catch a big wave." And so they'd go, "I want to ride a small board in big waves, and then no one's going to force me to catch a big one." But what actually happens is you get into that scrapper role and you're forced to sit further in, you have to take more risks to try and get a wave, you'll be paddling inside in between the sets. And if you miss a wave and you turn around and there's a big clean up set and then you get it on the head and if those waves are big for you, then riding a smaller board is a really risky strategy. It's okay for you and for me if we know we've got the experience and we're deliberately breaking the rules, but for a person that doesn't have the experience, riding a small board in bigger surf is a really dangerous thing. And it's safer for them to play more of the bomber role, to ride a bit longer board, sit further out of harm's way and be able to pick their waves, right? So if you, for example, went more towards the 8-foot board and that's what you would have seen at Bells—a bunch of guys sitting out the back, further out, riding 8' or 8'6 boards and just picking off all the best sets, cherry-picking.
All the good ones, man. All the good ones.
Super good. Dude, you educated me. That's awesome. I love it.
Thank you. Well, that's just a few of the things that we can do through the website and through working with surfers. And I've got on the website there's an ask me anything, so if you or anyone is listening, it doesn't matter where you are in the world, you can ask me any question about surfing, no matter how sort of silly you think it seems. It's not silly. You can submit it there. It's free. And I answer it through a video, I do a video Q&A. And so I do like a monthly video, put it together with all the questions that I get.
Last month I had about 25 questions in the video and it's a video so I can go on as long as I want and give you a really detailed explanation to try and help you solve these problems. So yeah, that's the ask me anything that I have on there.
What was the inspiration for this project? I've always wondered why there weren't more surf coaches or mentors out there. So, what was the inspiration for this course?
So I've been helping people, and it's funny after I have a surf and even like whether it's in the supermarket or whether it's in the Torquay supermarket or whether it's in the car park after a surf, people do ask me questions. A lot of times those people I know a little bit until they've got the confidence to come up and ask me something, but I get asked a lot of questions and I get asked the same questions a lot of the time. And so I was like, well, it's not tiring to answer it because I'm so passionate about talking about surfing, but as I repeat myself a lot I'm like gosh, man I really need something where I can just answer this once and then just like, "Hey, you asked me this question. Go here, have a look at it and there's also the next 25 questions you're going to ask me as well are all there for you."
And so to be able to have that, to be able to pass that on. And then also I've got kids myself so I would like to be able to somehow extract the knowledge I've got and be able to pass it on to them, to the next generation. And that's where the first course that I've done is my breath training course called the Breath Hold Blueprint, and basically that's my online guided breath training course. Okay? So it's pretty much the first of its kind and it's targeted at surfers and it gives surfers, gives people yourself, Derek, myself, it's providing a straight line pathway from having a breath hold that we're not happy with and not feeling confident about to the breath hold of your dreams basically. So a little bit about breath holding, from my experience, what I found surfing and seeing those guys catching the biggest waves and getting all the records and all these, the best big wave surfers that I found, the most confident big wave surfers are the ones that have got the best breath hold. And that just seems to be it. They're just super confident. And I was at Jaws and I saw a friend of mine catch a wave that won the world record, in the end, it won the world record and he had a wipeout at the bottom. I saw the wave and I saw him get smoked at the bottom of this wave, right, and got absolutely pounded. And when he paddle back out, I asked him that wave was incredible and how was the wipeout? And he said to me, "Oh, It's fine. I just relaxed. And I went with it and it was all good." And I couldn't believe that. And then I found out later that he was a free diver. And so I actually got right into the exploration of free diving and free diving techniques and about how to hold your breath longer and in surfing for, well, the last ten years, pool-based breath training programs have been the most popular thing. And oh probably not the last 10 years now, it's the last 15 years. And so I've always been looking for a way to get an advantage, to get an edge on myself, to get better, improve. So I did a lot of these pool-based training programs. I traveled around Australia to attend seminars, I paid thousands of dollars on flights, courses to do these training programs. I used to travel around with me, even when I'd go to Hawaii, I'd bring a whole bag full of pool buoys and lane ropes and pool toys so that I could do this pool training whenever I went there, that it was supposed to make you a better big wave surfer. The problem that I found with them is that nobody else wanted to keep training with me, so it was really hard to get training partner. I got quite good, I thought I was quite good at some of the drills and I got a lot of confidence from it. But I couldn't get people to consistently train. And so I ended up having my wife become my training partner, my coach, basically. She was looking after me in the pool. So because it's quite dangerous to do breath holding in a pool. And most pools don't even want you to do it, flat out, not allowed to do it. So it's really hard to find a place to do it. But fortunately, I had my wife there with me, but when she became pregnant with our first child, she had to stop coming to the pool with me. So at first, I went, "Alright, I'm not going to do anything. I will stop doing this training. I will just go and swim some laps." But then after a little while, I was like, "Hey, I need to do some breath training." The waves are big. This is ridiculous. I was frustrated I couldn't get anyone to the train with. So I'm just going to start on a really low level that I know is safe for me. So I'm just going to start by swimming 25 meters underwater. It's a half-length Olympic pool. I'll just start doing that. I've never had a problem with that before. So I started doing those half lengths underwater and that was fine. So then I thought, well, let's just go a little bit more. My confidence started to grow.
Yeah. So I started building up towards two and then I was pushing that further and I was doing a two-minute static breath also. I'd just sit there underwater for two minutes and then I'd do two laps underwater, which is pretty long.
Except for one day, I did that. And as I was going along, I suffered what's called an LMC, which is a loss of motor control, and that's the first stage of blacking out.
Yeah, in a public pool. So I held my breath.
With nobody watching you, right?
Yeah, nobody watching me. And in the middle lane of a pool like an eight-lane pool, I'm in the middle lane, one of the middle lanes and I got about three quarters away along my lap on the water and the water was overhead deep. And I started to feel strange and funny. So I started surfacing and on the way up, my vision blurred, I got all shaky and I didn't really know what was going on, but I took a left turn and I came up and was all shaky. And this all happened very quickly. But I was all shaky and some survival mechanism kicked in to me where I just lunged out of the water. And fortunately, I landed on top of a lane rope and it basically hooked onto my arm. And that's what saved me from falling back into the water and drowning.
And I was sitting there, stuck on this lane rope and I didn't grab it with my hand. My hands weren't working. I wasn't thinking. It was like automatic.
Just instinct, yeah.
I just came out of the water and just landed on this lane rope and just locked onto it, basically, shaking. And after that happened, the only thought that I had was, "Oh, my God, I'm so embarrassed." I hope no one saw me. I was looking around, there is a lifeguard at the pool. I was like, "I hope they didn't see me, I hope I don't get kicked out of the pool, I don't get banned from swimming here. Oh my God. I don't want my wife to find out." That was my only thought. There was nothing else to it. I was just like, man, I was just embarrassed. And it was until sort of a few weeks later that I realized how close I had come to actually drowning in the pool and how many other people have drowned in swimming pools that were not as lucky as I was to have landed on a lane rope like that. And blacking out underwater is such a serious thing. Every life lost is a life wasted and it's a tragedy and it just shouldn't happen. And so it took me about another month to actually have this sink in. And then I finally realized, okay, I'm never doing this pool training again, okay? It's not safe unless you're under super safe conditions like you're in a freediving club and you've got trained people there that are watching you the whole time that know how to do rescues, know how to do freediving rescues, they know how to bring you back to consciousness, and they're watching you every second. Even your girlfriend being there, sitting there watching. That's not enough because if your girlfriend sorry, or your boyfriend or friend, anyone or your mom or your dad, because if they're on their phone, they're not looking, in a minute, you're gone.
You're done. So from that point onwards, I said, "I'm never doing this again and I'm finding another way." And that was when I went to Jaws and the penny started to drop as hearing this stuff about free divers. So I got right into the science, the physics, the techniques of freediving, explored that, went right down the rabbit hole. I still do it to this day. And this is five to six years ago now. And I went way down this rabbit hole for about six months to educate myself. And it just kept sinking in on how lucky that I had been and how to change this. And what I learned was there is a technique to train your breath hold safely and do it at home. You don't actually need to do it in water and that you can safely increase your breath hold on your own and you don't need to go into a pool, okay? And so I started, I was determined to get myself a really good breath hold. I had about a one minute fifteen breath hold at the time and my dream was to get to five minutes. I was like, "These guys have five-minute breath holds, why can't I do it?" So that was where I wanted to get. So I started stitching together everything that I learned, everything that I had discovered along the way and piecing it together and building my own course so that I could take myself through it. And I built the course. And the first time that I did it, I went from one minute fifteen at the start and I got to four minutes fifteen after three minutes. Sorry, three weeks. Three weeks, sorry.
Three weeks, yeah.
After three weeks of training. So I'd completely transformed my breath hold.
Yeah. So I more than tripled my breath hold in that time. Then I started to share the course with some friends and say "Hey, don't do this pool stuff, just do this safely at home." And they started doing it and getting similar results themselves by doing it, getting up to the four-minute mark or just over, and gaining a lot more confidence. And so what I realized and what I got from it is that having a long breath hold gives you freedom in the surf. And it gives me the freedom to know that I can hold my breath longer than a wave can hold me down for. So therefore I can go out and catch any wave that I really set my mind to. Now you have to have all the other pieces in place. You've got to be fit, you've got to know to surf, you've got to have the right equipment, etc. But we're taking one piece off the board. We're like breath holding is no longer a problem. That piece is coming off the board. So there's less pieces of the puzzle that we have to solve.
Very cool, man.
So, yeah, that's where it is.
Did you get to five?
Yeah. Five-minute breath hold now.
Thanks. Yeah, I'm so happy the first time I hit that number. It feels like it was a milestone in my life and I've got further to go. I'm going to take it further soon. But what I've developed with the course is the way that surfers can, see, you don't want to keep peak breath hold year-round. It's like anyone for the Olympics or any super high-level sports person, you don't stay at your peak year-round. You have to train it up and down.
And so I've developed a system for surfers how you can train this really hard in the off-season and it only takes 30 minutes a day, roundabout. You can train it for a couple of weeks in the off-season. Get your breath hold to the best place that it's ever been. Then you can take it right off and you can hold a maintenance level throughout the season.
Aha, very cool.
And then when you see a big swell coming, you've got a system of how you can ramp it up. You like going down holidays to Mexico, right?
Surf trips. If you know when you're going to go, you can do a week or two weeks of this training beforehand, just the same as if you would go to the swimming pool.
Swimming prep. Yeah.
Exactly. And you'll have your breath hold primed at a really good level that again, same as with the surfboards, I've benchmarked levels of breath holding depending on the size of waves that you want to surf.
If that makes sense.
A surfer that wants to surf in 6 to 8-foot waves goes, "I don't need a five-minute breath hold." And you're right. But there is a level of breath holding that will make you really comfortable for those double to double overhead-size waves. And you can train yourself to hit that level, same way you can train yourself in the swimming pool to be swim-fit enough. Not everyone needs to swim five miles, but two miles or one and a half miles is probably good enough, if that makes sense.
Or you can impress your bros on a flat day and just stay under the water for five minutes. That'd be fun too.
Yeah. Hey, how long can you hold your breath for, Derek?
I've been studying the Wim Hof method for a couple of years now. I've kind of gone up and down but I got up to a couple of minutes and I have done some pool training like two and a half lanes. It was kind of where I was. But I've never done it regularly. It's kind of like in the summer when it's hot, when I probably don't need it at all, just because I want to train. But I would love to have something that like you said that I could train because for us, usually, the big waves are only October to February. The rest of the year, it's never going to get that big unless I'm traveling somewhere, right? Which I do. But, for around here, there's a definite season when it's really only big December to February-ish. So I love the idea of having some kind of baseline and then ramping it up. Because we all know now two, three weeks out.
Yeah, in the pre-season.
Yeah. Two, three weeks out if the swells come in or if you're going on a trip, right? Yeah, dude. And who doesn't want to just have that skill set in their back pocket, whether you're surfing super big surf or not. I think, knowing that you can breathe in a whole down because dude, I'm telling you, it doesn't have to be that big to get held down, like depending on the spot if you're at a river mouth or something that has what we're talking about just funky trenches. You could get pushed into a trench over a reef or you just never know. I think it's a skill set every surfer should have. Whatever size wave you're surfing, it's a good skill set. That's the way I would put it.
You made a really good point there, that any wave can catch you by surprise and hold you down. And there's two main skills that you need to learn to develop a really long breath hold, okay. So the first one is your CO2 tolerance. So when we hold our breath, we use oxygen, but we also have CO2 build-up in our bloodstream and the CO2 build-up is what gives us the urge to breathe, right? And so that's when you're holding your breath and it starts getting really uncomfortable, like "I need to breathe, I need to breathe." And you get really uncomfortable. You can get diaphragm contractions, little spasms down there in the muscles underneath your ribcage, which are really uncomfortable and very quite confronting to someone that's not used to that. And so if you are in double overhead waves and you got held down and pounded and you're getting these contractions and spasms and you feel like you're desperate for a breath, that's because you're not used to the CO2 build-up. And we train that through the course. So the first part of the course is what we call CO2 tolerance training. And that's designed to make you get comfortable being uncomfortable.
So shorter exercises, shorter breath holds. It's all guided, the course. And that's kind of the secret sauce behind it. You said I guide you through every minute of every breath hold, the whole course.
There's 176 breath holds in the course.
You're guided through every one of those. So CO2 tolerance is what you do in the first two weeks of the course and then the second half is relaxation. So once you become tolerant to the carbon dioxide, you get used to it, and you know what the symptoms of it are, you know how your body responds. And then you get, kind of like getting a splinter. If you have a splinter in your finger, we know what's going to happen now and still happens. Your fingers are going to throb, you pull it out, it's going to be sore for an hour after then you forget about it. It's the same thing with that being uncomfortable from CO2. Your body is going to go through things the first time it happens to you like to a child with a splinter is this traumatic experience. But once you've been through a lot through training, you become familiar with it and then you get comfortable with it and then you learn how to just keep holding your breath. So the uncomfortable feeling is going to happen, but you don't let that stop you from holding your breath. And the second part is relaxation. So the second two weeks of the course is O2 relaxation training, and those are the longer breath holds. That's when we really start to increase the time length of the breath holds so that you are now going out into kind of like uncharted waters for you. It's like you're a spaceship heading off into space and you've got to come back to Earth at some stage, but how far out into space can you get and still make it back to Earth? So those are the O2, they're the long breath holds. That's what they feel like. So we take you further and further into these longer breath holds and again, the secret sauce is that you're guided through them. So I've been there before, I'm going to give you words, you're going to hear my words that are going to relax you and reassure you on this journey out and back again. And then you'll get used to having these longer breath holds.
What happens is when you take that practice and you're going to surf and you get held down, you'll find that you instantly click back into this training and think like you're training, okay, I'm just going to relax. And then you hear my voice and the instructions that I've given you to run through and I put you on this little pathway. And you won't even be a quarter of the way along the pathway and you'll be back on the surface again.
Nice! So you'll be with us in the future, perpetually in a big wave surfing. Your voice to be there like, oh, you'd be like underwater going, "Where's Jeff? Oh, wait there he is. There he is."
He's saying just relax, telling you you're fine. You got plenty of oxygen and all those kind of things.
I love that. I love that.
Hey, so I got a little challenge for you. How long do you think you can hold your breath for? What do you reckon right now?
Right now? Oh, dude! Are you serious? You're going to put me on the spot?
Yeah, just for fun.
Fuck. I don't know. A minute and a half.
Yeah. Let's try it. Yeah?
Let's try it. All right, so I've got my little time here. I'll give us about, so I'll guide you up to it so I won't just hit the stop button and throw you out.
Right, right. Oh, guided. I like that.
Yeah, we'll do it in about a minute's time and we don't do anything fancy.
Already getting nervous.
Unbutton your pants, if you want to or wear anything that will make you feel comfortable.
Dude, I'm not even wearing pants. It's COVID, bro. Just got my shirt on.
So don't change your breathing right now. Don't start hyperventilating or anything like that. And hyperventilating is where you're using more oxygen than you need to.
Exactly. Basically, all I want you to do is in about 20 seconds you're going to take two breaths. So one inhale, one big inhale, one full exhale, and then one full inhale again. And then hold your breath when I say hold, okay? And I'll just time it and you just hold your breath. Just close your eyes, hold your breath as long as you can. This is probably going to be the most silent minute and a half ever in podcast history.
That's good. If you hear me drop on the floor, you know I had one of those moments.
Okay. All right.
Yeah. Two inhales; inhale, exhale, inhale. About five seconds each. So we'll go in about, so you're going to hold your breath in fifteen seconds from now. So inhale, exhale.
My heart's beating.
And now just inhale and hold this time. And hold. So, just relax. Try and swallow and guide the air down deep into your diaphragm. Relax the muscles in your chest. Relax your shoulders. And starting down at your toes, relax all your toes. And keep relaxing through all your body parts from your toes upwards.
Oh, I can't take it anymore.
That's pretty good.
Oh shit, dude. I totally had performance anxiety, bro. Felt like I was 16 again, naked with some chick.
That was good. So you're like bang on a minute right there.
Look, you did really well. And considering I put you on the spot and got you to do it right away, right?
You put me on the spot. I like it. I'm training for our next talk. I'm training.
So based on that initial test, that's one of the first things that we do in the course, it's like the first kind of lesson. We go through that test and then I do a thing we call the crystal ball, right. And so the crystal ball is just based on how you performed in that initial untrained breath hold, just on the spot. We give you a reading of what your potential for just the first time going through the course would be. So you're in that one-minute range and you could times up by about three. So you should definitely see a result of three minutes the first time that you go through the course, meaning the first couple of weeks that you go through it, right? That's by no means your capacity, your maximum, anything like that. If you go through the course again, you'll get a lot further for sure. If someone gets more like a minute and a half, you'll be able to get closer to four minutes. And if you can do two minutes just off the bat, then you get closer to getting to the five-minute mark just the first time that you go through the course. So and bear in mind that we did just spring that on you right here.
Dude, I can do five minutes. I know I can.
Yeah. And it's interesting, like the things that you felt. You said about anxiety or anything like that and you had some thoughts coming into your head while you're holding your breath.
Oh yeah, totally. I was like, "I can do better than this. Just relax." Yeah, it was interesting.
And it got really uncomfortable at the end?
Yeah, it got really uncomfortable at the end for sure, yeah. I thought I could do a lot better. It's always that beat yourself up because you want to do the best you can do. And then something like holding your breath, you can't fake, right? It's either in or not, right?
Yeah. And so if when you're doing that, especially when you get to the long breath holds, it's the programming of our life, it's the stress of our day, what's happened to us beforehand, those kind of voices that start to play into your head when you start to get into a longer breath hold. And if you get to a breath hold you've never done before, if you get to two and a half or three minutes, then you're going to start questioning yourself. It can be like, "Oh, this is dangerous. I shouldn't do this".
And when you have that little thought comes into your head, that one thought becomes fear, that fear makes your heart rate go up, your heart rate makes you burn more oxygen. You get more, you start to sweat and get uncomfortable, and then you're going to give up on the breath hold. You're going to stop, right? And so that's what kind of holds us back. And when you do the course, the Breath Hold Blueprint, the idea is, is that you've got my voice there guiding you through it so that you're hearing positive reinforcement that's coming to you before the negatives do. So when we're getting further into it and you're out in a distance that you've never done before, you're going to hear me say, "You have so much oxygen." And you repeat it in your own mind. "I have so much oxygen." So you're telling yourself this overriding positive programming and that's like the secret sauce to do it, because if you get a stopwatch, it's very hard to sit down yourself and just try and encourage yourself to get to five minutes. With this course, I'm there with you guiding through every breath hold, giving you that coaching. And that's the same thing that would happen if you went and spent a thousand dollars for a one-day course with a free diver who would get in the pool with you. Literally, what they do is they sit beside you as you're holding your breath and they whisper these words into your head—"Relax your body, stay calm. You have plenty of oxygen. You're doing really good." So I'm giving you that here through this guided training. And instead of having it for one day, though, you've got lifetime access to it.
And you can train year round and you can train it for swells, you can train it for surf holidays. And it doesn't matter whether you're at level one, two, or three big wave surfer, it's still going to be really beneficial for you. Yeah, so that's what it's all about.
Amazing, bro. I love it. I'm going to take it myself. I'm in, I'm in.
Let's do it. Let's do it.
Let's get you on it.
So I want to take the course and then I want us to do another podcast and then we'll do like a post-podcast and we'll do it live and we'll see how long I can hold my breath.
A hundred percent. That'll be really interested to see. That's amazing, that'll be really good.
Yeah. So where can people find the course if they're interested?
Sure. So you'll be able to post a link?
So the breath hold course is the Breath Hold Blueprint. You should find the link that you guys are going to post below or next to this video on your website, right?
Where will that be?
That will be at wavetribe.com and it'll also be on all of the podcasting, wherever you listen to this podcast, which are a ton of distribution points. That'll be in the show notes. So we'll put it in the show notes and on the site. Then, of course, you can go directly after hearing this podcast. You're going to be so stoked. You just want to get it right now. I want get it right now. So just go to the site and get it.
Yeah, check it out. And so I'm going to make an offer, too, for anyone that listens to your podcast, the Saltwater High podcast, you can have it for 25% off.
You'll only find that here through the links that Derek's going to provide you there. And just for listening and sitting through this podcast with us.
Very cool, man. Super appreciate it. I already learned so much. I'm going to get some bigger boards out. I'm going to be the...
I'm going to be the bomber, dude. I'm want to be that guy. I'm going to trade the position from the scrambler what was it?
Scrapper, yeah. Scrapper to the bomber. Yeah, I love that. I'm going to add a foot to my board.
You can mix it up. You can do all three of them.
Yeah. Yeah, dude. I love it. Very cool.
Well, thank you so much.
Dude, this has been amazing. I feel like this podcast alone, people are already going to learn so much about big wave surfing in your life and the course, which sounds amazing. And like I said, I'm going to take the course and we'll come back, we'll do a post-interview, and yeah, tell everyone what it's like.
Awesome, Derek. Thanks for having me. I'm super grateful for that opportunity.
Me too, brother man. Will see you in Bells.