Watching Surf Videos – Can it benefit the surfer?

BeachComputingCan you improve your surfing simply by watching surf videos? By the amount of videos being watched, it seems that most surfers believe this is probably true. And it can, but there is more to this story.

In a July 2014 article in Surfing Magazine, there is a piece on the ability of people to learn by simply watching a skill.  Specifically in this case, watching surf videos. It explains recently published research from California where dancers simply watched a video demonstration of dance routines. “They discovered enhanced brain stimulation to this neural network in the subjects, indicating that both subtle and complex athletic skills can be acquired by observation without the benefit of immediate physical practice”.

This reinforces well documented research in the sport science literature that in fact, you can enhance performances simply from watching others perform, as well as “seeing yourself” perform using mental rehearsal techniques.

The article goes on to say Kelly Slater and Josh Kerr can learn by watching others. Kelly can “feel the rotations – where you have to push, where you have to lift”. Josh watches others and observes “ where he looks, turns his head, points his shoulders”. If these guys are benefitting, you must be able to as well. Right?

On reading the article I felt that the author was almost there in getting the message across that you can benefit from watching surf videos and it can turn you into a better surfer. But he didn’t mention that taking the recognized movements you learned from the videos needs to be coupled with simulating the movements physically to learn them and use them when surfing.

It shouldn’t be forgotten that Kelly and Josh are at the very pinnacle of the surfing population and they may be able to incorporate new skills into their repertoire simply by just observing. This matches one of the facts about talent. Talent can lean new skills quickly, and this ability is a known predictor of future success. For example, when coaching Sally Fitzgibbons a number of years ago, her ability to learn new technical skills was better than any other female surfer I have coached. She learned quickly and it is no surprise to me where she currently ranks on the world stage.

This ability however is not something the average surfer has. Learning new skills for them is a process, where they need to:Screen Shot 2014-07-08 at 11.05.11 AM

1.     observe and understand the movement,

2.    simulate the action,

3.    and focus on a skill with intent to incorporate it into their repertoire.

You can add mental rehearsal before hitting the water, but those rehearsals must have movement for them to be effective. This is why simulation training is so beneficial to surfers when improving their performances. They can “feel” the correct movements of their body through simulation, and with that feel comes quicker adaptation and incorporation into their performances.

So if you want to use surf videos to do more than just psyche you up for your next surf – slow-mo the skills you observe to get a sense of the movements being used, simulate those movements before hitting the water, and maintain your focus while in the water. Doing so will allow you to become better faster. Something we would all want to be able to do.

Martin Dunn can help surfers transform their surfing faster, by pinpointing where and how their surfing can be improved through video analysis. Check out his video review service at:

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