Training For Big Wave Surfing - Andrew Cotton
There is no denying the dedication and preparation required in making an extreme sport like big wave surfing possible, no matter how effortless professional surfers make it look.
Based in North Devon, not far from dryrobe® HQ, big wave charger and dryrobe® Ambassador Andrew Cotton dedicates his time to vigorous training in order to improve his chances of catching that one epic wave.
From taking up foiling to develop stamina to mastering breathing techniques for a calmer mindset, ‘Cotty’ is always searching and working to improve his achievements on big waves.
In a recent chat with us, Cotty shares what goes on behind the scenes when he’s not surfing epic waves in Nazaré, Portugal. We talk about the importance of preparation out of the water, maintaining a calm mindset and what the role of fear is in big wave surfing.
How has your training developed over the years as you have advanced as a big wave surfer and what have you found to be the most effective way to improve your technique?
Every year I'm looking to improve in every aspect. That's not just improving my fitness, but it's improving my safety and my equipment. That can be down to board design, to the latest inflatable vest, experimenting with cross training and spending more time in the water - trying to foil, or paddle different boards. It all goes back to just trying to be that little bit fitter to squeeze out one more wave on the day when the waves are big and you need to be fit enough.
With all the training you can do, nothing beats time in the water. Whether it's foiling, paddling, longboard, shortboards, whatever it is, it's being surf fit and ready and being able to surf for as long as possible when the waves are big.
What has had the biggest impact when taking your surfing to the next level?
One thing that I think has made the biggest difference in my surfing would be mindset and accessing that calm mindset through breathing. It's just really simple nasal breathing, some of the most basic things have had the biggest impact on my mindset as well as keeping me calm and focused.
What mindset do you have when approaching big waves and what do you want to achieve from it on the day?
My approach is very calculated, I don't want hundreds of waves on the biggest days, I just want the biggest wave.
So it comes with calculation, trying to be in rhythm with the ocean, working in a good team and picking your moment. But when you do get on those waves, everything's committed - there's no half measures on those waves, it’s full commitment.
For me, it's never been about getting 20 waves. It's always been about getting that one, the one best wave or the one biggest wave.
How does preparation out of the water affect your time in the water, and what impact does it have for you mentally?
I've got a saying that in surfing there are so many unknown elements that can go against you and so many things that you can't control - like waves and swells and storms are so unpredictable.
So you can't control the weather, but it's like giving yourself the best chance possible in controlling the things that you can control. And those are things like your equipment, your safety, your fitness- these are all things that you can control. So putting 120% into those things off the water gives you so much more confidence when you're in the water.
If the waves are big and it's the swell of the year, knowing that you've done all those little things definitely gives me the edge.
Has fear factor ever been an issue for you and how have you overcome it?
Fear is really, really good. It keeps you sharp, it keeps you motivated, it keeps you safe. It sounds cliche, but it's like ‘embrace the fear’. You recognise it and you have to feel that - it's healthy.
I see it but I always like to push it, and it never puts me off doing something, but it definitely keeps you safe and it definitely keeps you sharp.
In recent years, you’ve got into foiling. How has foiling helped you progress when training and why do you do it?
I think coming from a surf background and then stepping into a completely new discipline has been really humbling. It's good to learn something new and like progressing with surfing, progress is always slow but you always feel like you get that a little bit better just at that right time when you're about to sack it off.
Even though the North Atlantic big wave season is from October through to March, in the off season it's super important to keep up those water hours. And foiling for me has been a really good reason to spend more time in the ocean.
It’s a super good workout for the legs, reading the ocean, reading the lines so I've been using it as a method of training for the last two or three years. It’s really enjoyable and is a good way to rack up the water hours in the ocean.
Foiling has been really crucial to my stamina. You're using your full body core and it takes a lot to be on the board for that long.
How do the skills learnt through foiling transfer to being on a huge wave?
It's just about spending more time in the ocean and reading it. So it does have positives - seeing how the lines bend and how you can link them and using that energy to your advantage. You can take that into driving the jet ski and into big wave surfing because it is all transferable. It's like another great way of cross training and making those small improvements.
What is the importance of being fit to achieve what you want as a big wave surfer?
Staying fit for what I do is absolutely key. It adds so many more aspects to my approach to surfing. It gives me confidence. It makes me feel good. So it prepares you not only physically, but also mentally as well. It’s one of my favorite things to do. It's not only completely necessary but it's also a pleasure to do. It's one that I really enjoy.
How driven are you to improve yourself?
For me, my main goal every year is to get that little bit better and that can be my fitness, but also working on safety or board design and also my approach to the waves - make my lines a little bit more critical. Just push it in every aspect.