CSC + RDA March Retreat Recap

Ocean lovers! 

I have been back from Costa Rica going on 72 hours now and am still replaying all of the amazing rides and meals and waterfall jumps in my head. The second inaugural CSC + RDA surf retreat was a total smash hit. We were blessed with plentiful swell and gorgeous weather. We stayed on the video and everyone saw dramatic improvement. After this retreat I feel now, more than ever, that hiring a coach is the only way to fast track your surfing. All the pros have them, why not people who are just starting out? Some of the people on this retreat have only been surfing since August and October 2015 and are now dropping into overhead (for them) waves with style. It's truly impressive. Below is a highlight reel followed by a few more words: 

There are many highlights in this video, but I have to say that Beni's wave at Pavones — the long left pictured in the screen saver — is one of the best waves I have ever seen a beginning/intermediate surfer ride. Working with back siders, it is imperative to make sure that head and shoulders are turned down the line and opened up to the wave face. The grab rail technique is not always necessary but it is a good skill to have in one's arsenal to help manage the drop and pull the rail into the water. There's a nice close up of Beni using this technique in the GoPro footage of the wave we shared at a secret spot near the Rancho towards the end of the video. That wave is hilarious because she kept looking back at me and I had to keep pointing to the shoulder so that she would turn her head to make the wave. I must admit that I cannot take full credit for Beni's success. She has a naturally quick pop up that she has honed at a variety of surf camps and schools around the world. This is simply more to the point that new surfers who seek out instruction improve more quickly than those that don't. 

I like to think, however, that starting with a technique like ours gives one an even faster advantage than the other techniques. Helena, Mariza, and Christina are all perfect examples. Helena has been surfing with me since August and Mariza since October 2015; and Christina only started during the first retreat in January 2016. Both Mariza and Helena are taking off at the peak and managing really tricky drops with style. In one day Christina went from a labored pop up with a little too much bend at the waist to a fast pop up with the weight shifted back over her right foot. Beyond particulars, all these women absolutely charged. The waves were not small during this retreat and everyone came to the table ready to play. Unfortunately Mariza and Christina had to leave this trip early before we got all the insane left handers, which is why we only see Beni and Helena towards the end of the video. 

The other people in the video, Bryan and Juan, were there to help Andrew and I out with camp particulars and lineup safety. Juan is a very competent bodyboarder from Puerto Rico who has also been learning to surf since working with Andrew. He in fact got the best stand up wave of his life on this trip and was invaluable when it came to preparing meals and logging footage. Bryan has been surfing for 5+ years. He is one of the heads of the NY Surfing Buddies meetup group and is a general good vibing frother who has has gotten into shaping his own alaia surfboards with the help of Jon Wegener. I was particularly glad Bry brought the alaia because I got some of my best waves of the trip on it. I put one particularly long one in the video. The alaia is all about picking the right wave and being in position. It takes so much energy to swim that piece of wood around a lineup, so you don't want to kill yourself going for bad waves. I saw Bry have some particularly masochistic alaia sessions where he went for a lot of closeouts or sectioning waves. He has seen the video and knows that he needs to work on patience. The upside to Bryan's impatience is that he is just so stoked to surf. Beyond his surfing stoke, Bryan brought a lighthearted presence to the retreat and made some of the best and most creative margaritas any of us have ever had. He also did some really valuable filming and commentary for our spoof reel. 

Moving towards heavy video review has made a huge difference both in my teaching style and in the students' improvement. We did not miss one wave on video all trip and people could take what they were seeing — the good, the bad, and the ugly — and improve upon it the next day. Plus we got really good at improv commentary which made the nightly video reviews as entertaining as they were educational. A spoof Youtube channel or Instagram may result . . . . 

I know that in this age of internet ADD I am supposed to only provide videos that are 3 minutes and under, but we got so much good footage that 7 min 30 secs was the best I could do on this one. The waves we scored were so long and I wanted to highlight that our crew were getting 30 sec plus rides. You put five of those on a video and that's 2.5 minutes long already with none of the fun lifestyle stuff, which I think adds so much flavor and depth to what we do down there. I cannot express in words how great it feels to swim in a cool freshwater waterfall pool after surfing all day. Definitely a top 5 life experience. 

We're in the early phases of planning our future retreats for 2016 and 2017. Until the dates are up, please feel free to email about Conatus-style lessons and mini retreats in Costa Rica. Andrew is down there and he has all the skills and video equipment necessary to help out 1-3 people at a time. We are also gearing up for the New York season, which is soon to be upon us. I am starting to book up for when the water gets warmer, so make sure you get on the schedule asap. I'm also solidifying some great plans for CSC mini excursions to RI, LI, and NJ for the summer. And don't forget that Chris is out in Montauk if you need lessons out there. 

I am really stoked that CSC is growing organically and finding its niche in the flourishing surf community. For those that have believed in us and continue to, I thank you with all of my heart. Hopefully we'll see you in New York or Costa Rica soon! 

Committing to the Vertical

Hi Everyone! Looks like I've slipped up on my goal to blog once a week. Well a lot has been going on here at Conatus headquarters, not least of which has been teaching surfing every day of the week. We've had some great windswell pulses through the end of July into the start of August. Monday was the biggest I've seen Rockaway in a long time. It made for challenging conditions for one of my bravest students, but he handled it like a champ and even managed to drop into some solid four foot waves. It's all about patience and enjoying the adrenaline that fear produces.

I have been focusing a lot on the idea of "committing to the vertical" lately. It is very common for beginning and even intermediate surfers to shy away from the takeoff by standing up too early or not paddling hard enough in the first place. It's scary to all of a sudden be almost upside down, but what is crucial is that this verticality provides you the space to get your feet under your arms in a more fluid manner. Standing at this moment also puts the weight into the center/back of the board and aids in managing the drop and picking a clean line down the face. But even if you do not manage to get to your feet you have to commit to this vertical moment usually just to catch the wave. For some softer, spilling, mushy waves you'll have the luxury of just planing forward and in these cases I have been recommending that you get the board going down the line in the "upward dog" position, which is half way between standing and laying down. What is key here is that you're not doing this at the bottom of the wave. If you're down there it's too late for you to get across. You must go to the side at the top and from the beginning. This, like committing to the vertical drop, requires a lot of timing and positioning. You need to move yourself to the apex of the peak -- the point of most power -- to enable an easy entry. Sounds simple but it takes a lot of work and requires that ever-important paddling foundation. 

Another thing I mentioned to a student this week, is that sometimes gifting yourself surfy treats is a good way to stay amped for your next time out. This could be a short john wetsuit (or any wetsuit really), a surf dvd, a bikini, a bar of wax, a magazine or book, just anything surf related. You can get stuff like this online or at a local shop and this kind of contribution to your surf 401K, if you will, will pad your stoke and keep you anxious to get out again. 

On my end, when not taking off under the lip, I'm trying to commit to the drop a little bit more in growing my business. This week and next I will roll out/ announce Conatus Surf Club lessons in Montauk with Chris Blotiau (if you're interested right now simply email me about setting something up out there) and Conatus Surf Club retreats in Costa Rica for this winter (Dec/Jan) at Rancho Diandrew. I'm really excited about both of these growth opportunities, which ultimately stem from a desire to provide intensive surf training experiences for those who are serious and keen about their surfing journey. I will have blog posts about both of them very soon. 

This weekend it looks like we have another run of fun summer surf and fine weather. Remember to both commit to the vertical and stay safe! 

Happy New Year!

I’ve been on a long blogging hiatus over here at Conatus Surf Club. Winter. Holidays. PhD catch up. Lack of gumption. Surfing. Excuse time over. Just wanted to pop in to let you know all is alive and well here. We had a stellar first season* operating in New York. Lots of happy clients. Lots of improvement. Got some new equipment. Especially excited about the Malwitz Surfboards 8’8” egg—perfect for smaller people and advanced beginners. Tried a bunch of different wetsuit brands. At this very moment Ripcurl and Nineplus are out in front and Billabong is at the bottom of the pile. In pure surfing terms, we had a pretty killer fall here on the East Coast. Gonzalo was by far the swell of the season, producing perfect barreling waves in New Jersey two days in a row. Certainly expert only stuff, as is the case in any hurricane swell situation, but there were plenty of small perfect fall days to be had too.

And now we’re in the real thick of winter. Winter storm Juno just passed through and by the looks of it some truly diehard winter surfers seriously scored some epic blizzard barrels. I scored too, but not here on the East Coast. A week before the storm, I flew to CA to my hometown and break to spend quality time with my family and friends. I surfed every day and worked on papers every night. My dad got some great shots of my friends and I, a few of which are posted below. In the next few weeks I plan to post some more pics, a little video I made, a book review, and updates about what to expect in the upcoming season.

Cruising through the pocket on an old school single fin.   Photo: Richard Mattison

Cruising through the pocket on an old school single fin. 

Photo: Richard Mattison

Layback lookback.  Photo: Richard Mattison

Layback lookback.

Photo: Richard Mattison

*As many know, I’ve been teaching lessons for quite some time, but this was the first season I’ve done so under the official name Conatus Surf Club. It was also the first year of this website.

Surf Fitness

After lessons and paddle camps a lot of people have been asking, “How do I train for surfing when I can’t get to the beach?” Personally, I’ve never been one to go to the gym to work out. Surfing has been my exercise for the majority of my life. But as I get older I’m learning that surfing alone is not enough to stave off injuries. In fact, I’m finding that surfing, if not augmented by other wellness and fitness practices, can be the cause of a variety of joint and tendon injuries, mostly to the knees, hips, and shoulders.

These days there isn’t a pro surfer without a personal trainer or who has not designed his or her own surf-focused personal fitness regime. Just follow the top 49 pro surfers on Instagram. Kelly Slater posts pics of his largely plant-based diet; Sally Fitzgibbons documents her runs; and it’s not uncommon to see pics of indoor training facilities by shredders like Courtney Conlogue and Nat Young. Everyone in the surf world has caught the fitness bug. Being fit, flexible, and mindful helps you avoid injuries and surf better, at any level.

There are many upshots to this new trend, but I think one of the best is that these pros and their trainers are coming up with a variety of surf specific practices that a lot of other people in the fitness and wellness industry are blind to. And they’re creating videos and apps so that the rest of us have access to this information.

Here are my top two favorite surf exercises*, with links to some surf-focused fitness sites:

  1. Holding “plank.” This is the basic pose in Vinyasa Yoga between Downward Dog and Upward Dog (via the pushup) where you’re holding your body like a “plank”. It can be done on your hands or forearms. The goal is to get your body in as straight a line as possible without sagging or arching your lower back and butt. This activates your whole core and works on both your front and back abs. The back abs are crucial for all things surfing—paddling, popping up, duckdiving/turtling, sitting on the board, and riding the wave. Do plank multiple times a day and see how long you can hold it. Men’s Journal has an article on plank here. Another useful link from Greatist is available here.  


  2. Surfer pop-ups or surfer burpees. Practicing the pop up (or glide-up as the case may be) at home can fast track your surfing success. Top surfing fitness pros agree that surfers of any ability level can always improve in this area. Simply lay down on the floor, put your hands in pushup/pop up position (thumbs pointed towards nipples, index finger pointed straight forward) and pull/push/twist yourself into your surfing stance (right foot forward for goofies and left foot forward for regulars). Start with 10 a day and move up to 20 or 30. Also good to do in front of a mirror to check hand and foot placement.


Wes Berg and Joel Parkinson’s Pro Surf Training

Johnny Gannon and Taj Burrow’s Surf Fitness TV

Paul Hiniker and Taylor Knox’s Surf Fit

Rochelle Ballard’s Surf Into Yoga

How to Stay Fit on Surfer Magazine

Kai “Borg” Garcia’s Volcom Training Program,
and Kai on getting and staying clean (pretty inspiring)

Chris Mills the Surf Strength Coach and an article in the Inertia on surf shoulders

I also recommend the videos by Beach Body (P90X and T25, etc.). You have to be careful with these, though, because they're intensive and you can get injured without proper supervision.

*No matter what your regime, it's important to get in a least one session with a personal trainer or yoga instructor to make sure that you're doing the exercises properly. Find out your particular weak spots and go easy.

New beginnings... again

First of all, welcome to the new site and the new blog! I'm excited about the official launch of Conatus Surf Club as private lesson and coaching business and as a brand. I would not be able to do it without the amazing support from my family, friends, and current and former students. Thanks to you all for believing in my vision and keep the stoke alive and burning. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I am very grateful that I have kept surfing in focus over all of these years. There were times when I was bewildered with the surf industry and with trying to fit myself into it, but that didn't stop me from honing this passion I have for teaching people how to surf and for making inroads towards a more flourishing and inclusive surf community.

New connections and collaborations are around every corner. Take for example the weekend of April 26-27. I surfed with my friend, Ben, on Saturday—small, clean offshore little peelers. Ben's a classically trained musician who has fronted a shoegaze band and he also djs. On our ride to the beach we chatted about possible soundtracks for surf videos and how to get cheap shipping on California boards—you use Amtrak! Who knew? Ben apparently.

The lesson on Sunday was fantastic. Better waves than Saturday actually. The weather was in the high 60s, the sun was out again, and the wind had that sweet NW flow that NY loves. My student, let’s call her F, arrived with her husband. He took photos on the beach while she learned the fundamentals of surfing out in the water. F caught three waves to the beach and everybody had a great time.

After the lesson, I got to surf/shoot photos with a talented kid from Crete named Manny. We'd met through a mutual surf friend named Sam, a hard charging goofyfoot fond of Stoker V-Machines from Cape Cod. Manny took the A-train and met me at 69th Street. The lineup had cleared out and there were still a few fun peaks pumping in from the leftover windswell. Manny shot for about 30 minutes with both film and digital and then came out and glided a few. Dude has a knack for timing, light, and riding backwards. On the way back we swapped zany surf stories. Check some of Manny’s choice shots here and expect more of his snaps in the future. Follow him on Instagram: @manny_mandog.