What’s Your Surfing Achilles’ Heel?


By Neal Kearney

In the Greek legend, the hero Achilles was believed to be invincible. He remained unscathed through many battles. However, he was vulnerable in one overlooked spot: he was held by the ankles when dunked into the river that made him invulnerable, leaving his heels unaffected. During the battle for Troy, the warrior Paris’ poison arrow shot Achilles in his exposed heel, downing the once-famous fighter. Even the greats have flaws.

Nat Young . Photo: Kookson

Nat Young. Photo: Kookson


Perhaps you’re thinking, “What does this have to do with surfing?” The sport, for some, is a challenging competition. During a session we all do our best to get our wave count and surf the way we want. Often we paddle to the lineup watching and analyzing others’ performances and wowed by seasoned veterans. “Why can’t I surf like that? How did he do that?” When exposed to advanced surfing skills, pay attention and absorb ideas you can apply. But as with Achilles, even surfing experts may have performance-plaguing vulnerabilities. There are problems that may trip up even the most talented and experienced riders.

All high-performing surfers, from Kelly Slater to Peter Mel, never stop learning, honing their skill and experimenting with new equipment or approaches. Slater and Mel, both in their early 40s, are keeping their surfing fresh by challenging themselves and reflecting on their game. Other surfers are taking note. Today, even teenage surf stars are hiring coaches, trainers, and filmmakers, breaking down their sessions bit by bit, hoping to discover and correct their Achilles’ heel.

To gain insight, Santa Cruz Waves turned to a selection of rippers from East to West; from prepubescent pups to battle-hardened vets. Hopefully you’ll find their wisdom and self- reflection useful. Photos below: Neil Simmons


What bothers you most about your own surfing game?

How do you attempt to remedy this weakness?

Shawn Dollar
World Record Holding Giant Slayer
“Not being able to surf more and really feeling ready. Surfing is low on the priority list it seems these days. Also trying to stay in shape to be ready on short notice, and for this there is no better substitute than surfing.”“To keep up the fitness level I go to Greg Amundson CrossFit. It is a good recreation of the exhaustion you need to be prepared for surfing, especially big waves. You can really push yourself there.”

Kyle Buthman
Pro Surfer / Cinematographer
“I don’t stress too hard on anything. I just try and enjoy surfing, but I wouldn’t mind being better at airs. It feels like I used to be pretty decent at them and I will still stick a good one every once in a while. But I surf with Austin [Smith-Ford] a lot and he does the craziest airs every session.”“I just need to focus more on airs. Practice makes perfect … right? Video helps, too, but I’m always the one doing the video so I don’t get see too much footage of myself.”

Solomon Doherty
13-year-old Grommet / Candy Connoisseur
“What really bothers me about my surfing is when I have too wide or too thin a stance. It sucks. It’s so hard to correct. Also, when I don’t make heats and my friends do, it is pretty rough. You’re stoked for your friend but then I ask myself, ‘Why didn’t I make that heat or catch the first wave of the set?’ It’s a bummer reviewing the heat on video and seeing the simple, dumb mistakes that you’ve made.”“I’m always trying to critique myself no matter what—even if I just won a contest the day be- fore. My mom is always filming me and I load the clips to the computer and take notes. I have an awesome, supportive trainer [Lucas Klatt] who I have been training with for a little over a year now. He’s always training me in and out of the water and it really helps me improve my style, power, and everything in between.”

Adam Replogle
AKA Roadie “The Kill”
“Surfing in a crowded pre-contest area. I always felt like I lost confidence in those sessions. That bugged me. I could be feeling great and then have one bad free surf and loose it. Also, backside surfing in small waves. I struggle a lot in bad beach breaks because I surfed right point breaks my whole childhood.”“When I used to compete, I would find some place to hide, go surfing, and build my confidence up. It helped to escape somewhere and get a lot of waves where I can find my confidence in my surfing ability. It takes a while to build up that confidence but you can lose it on one wave.”

Willie Eagleton
Up and Coming W/S Phenom
“My airs. They’re not as far along as I wish they were, but I’m trying. I’m inconsistent with them, and won’t land a good one for a little while, then I get all fired up and land a bunch in one session.”“It helps watching closely what the really good air guys do—where they look and put their head, hands, and how they change their stance. There are so many variables.”

Austin Smith-Ford
Gets Paid to Jump Off Waves
“I think what bothers me most is my backhand barrel riding. I’m just not good at the whole butt stall that you need to do in order to slow yourself down and get deep in the tube. I can drive through fast barrels fine, but when it comes to stopping on a dime to get right in the spot, I feel like I could use some work.”“I’ve been working on it as much as I can. Living in Santa Cruz—land of the rights—makes it hard because even if I do find a left, it’s not usually barreling. But I guess just more prac- tice whenever possible. Preferably at a beach break because practicing over shallow reef is pretty scary.”

Fisher Baxter
12-year-old, Goofy-footed, and Gifted
“I try to stay very positive. However, I’m working on landing airs and doing well in contests. The worst is when competition challenges friendships.”“I try to fix my flaws by seeking guidance from positive people, people who support me, and role models to surf with. Also, watching footage really helps.”

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