To go… or not to go…
by Peter Devries, Tofino
Surfing involves so many variables that every session becomes truly unique. That's why we love it, but it's also why the ocean is such a dangerous place. Pushing your ability--and the limits of what you feel comfortable in--can be one of the most enjoyable things about the sport, but you need to make the right decisions to stay safe and keep having fun.
The first key is to come to the beach prepared. Have an idea of what the swell, the wind and the tides are doing through the day.
You should always have a look at the conditions before you go--even if it's a day at your local beach. Remember that the conditions are ever-changing, so the more time you spend watching the surf, the more successful you'll be once you get out there. Have a look at the crowd factor as well, and if you're at a beachbreak pick your peak. Don't just paddle out where everyone else is sitting. You'll get a lot more waves and have a lot more fun down the beach.
If you're paddling out at a new spot, take your time--especially if the conditions are testing for your ability. If you're feeling uncomfortable and the swell is on the rise, you might want to just sit back and watch. Take a look at the lineup; reefs, beaches, points and slabs can all be dangerous with certain conditions, so don't think that you're safe just because you're surfing a beachbreak. Watch where people are paddling out, where they're sitting in the lineup, and where they're coming in. Try to spot someone in the lineup with a similar ability level to your own, and see how they're doing. Talk to some of the locals on the beach if they are willing to help. When you make your decision and you're ready to go, be confident and focus on the ocean.
If you're surfing heavier waves in shallow water, think about the risks versus the rewards. If falling means you're going to pay the price with a trip to the hospital, you might want to be selective. It's also good to have a plan if something happens--if you're a long way from the closest hospital you should be comfortable with the wave you're riding, and confident that you can make the wave on a consistent basis. This means having a realistic grasp of your ability level for the conditions you're surfing.
There's always a fine line between pushing your ability and getting yourself in a dangerous situation. Weigh the options and be confident with your decision. Everyone is different, so only you can make the decision to go or not to go.