Why I’m a Better Surfer When I’m Hungover, and Other Things I Learnt Talking to Mark Visser About the Mindset of an Elite Waterman

9 Jan 2020 0 Share

Mike Jennings

Senior Writer

COASTALWATCH | OCEAN WARRIOR

Talking the Ocean Warrior Course and the Elite Mindset

Mark Visser is the big wave surfer behind the Ocean Warrior training program – a digital and in-person course designed to help surfers of all abilities, from kooks like me to Kelly Slater (read about Mark’s work preparing Kelly for the Pipe Masters here), maximise their breath holds in practical, real surf situations. Since the program launched to the public in late 2016 it’s been a helluva success, but like any pursuit worth its salt, the room for learning and improvement is always there. So now we’ve got the Ocean Warrior 2.0 – which includes all the same lessons and steps of the original course with the addition of the Elite Mindset program. We talked to Mark about it all and asked him questions about surfing hungover (seriously).

CW: So with the addition of the elite mindset program, do you do it before or after the general Ocean Warrior program, or can you do it whenever?

Mark Visser: You kind of view all the content to understand what to do, then you would watch the elite mindset videos, which are six stages, because the elite mindset would give you a greater understanding of why you would do each thing and the mental process of how you would break down each stage and really help you understand. Like, we give an example in there of a soldier that was going through a difficult time, how he was focussed on one thing and the physiology of how his body changed and that allowed him to feel a certain way, so it's really quite deep, and goes into the aspects of the physiology of a human body and how that affects our performance,  and the mindset process of what we're thinking of and how that will sort of put us in line with the actual outcome of what we want, and the process of how we're managing high stress situations.

Right, I'm trying to work out without having done the program and seen it, what you actually do for the elite mindset. Is it kind of like mindfulness sort of stuff?

It's totally that, it's like the mindfulness stuff and it explains the process of trying to allow yourself to feel in situations versus think, which is getting out of the mind, and shutting down the overthinking or ego mind. So yeah, that's the space that it talks about, and it also breaks down: okay, when you're doing this course, these exercises, if you can use this information, this is how you're going to get around it.

So are there elements there that are like the parallels between, say... I've had to do a couple of big speeches – presenting movies or whatever in front of 900 people – and the 45 minutes before I do it is just horrible. I work myself up and get short of breath and nervous and shaky... and there are similar feelings before going surfing when the swell is bigger and I'm out of my comfort zone. Does it deal with those kinds of parallels?

100 per cent... it actually teaches you a specific exercise to do to drop your brainwave activity, how to get more oxygen in your body, how to settle nerves. I think the exact example of what to do before a speech is actually in there. Then it goes into the details of how, for example, we react to fear versus respond to fear. Like, let's say someone walked past and said, "Hey you're a dickhead!" And then you turned around and went, "Fuck you!" You reacted to that situation, versus someone goes: "Hey you're a dickhead!" And then you give yourself that second to kind of go, “Okay, who the hell's this guy? I don't know him, no I'm not a dickhead,” and you go, “Cool man, whatever.” That's how you responded to that situation. We talk about it in the actual scientific breakdown of what it's measured in, which is Koshas and the energy parts of that and the states of mind that that's in. So it’s actually quite detailed. We state in the course that thoughts are like birds tweeting in the distance, it's just external noise, and what we're trying to do is put thoughts to a side to allow ourselves to feel what we actually want to do.

The program has footage of a knight coming in to a room, there's audio playing and it seems quite eerie and scary and everyone's asked to close their eyes and visualise. I say this knight's walked in and he's got a sword, and he's standing close to the room, and I'm watching everyone's bodies and they all tense up. Then I ask them to open their eyes and I explain no-one actually knows what the knight was here for, he could have been here for a fancy dress party, but just that thought alone made their entire bodies shut down; muscles tense up, their breathing shallowed, all because they were running a fear response. Before the knight had even come in, everyone had felt this certain way. Then I explain to them, well, that's exactly what happens when you see a big set. The set hasn't actually hit you, but you've already shit yourself, you've already shortened your breath, you've already increased your heartrate, all of the things that totally mess you up when you're trying to stay calm and hold your breath. So thoughts came into your mind, and instead of you going, “Hang on, what am I gonna do about that?” those thoughts in that time might have been, “You're gonna die, you're dead, oh holy shit this set's coming, you're stuffed," and if you react to that you start moving, you start kicking, you start panicking, you start breathing really really fast, that's reacting to that fear, versus responding, which would be, "Okay. Right. I need to start using the correct breath now. I need to start minimising my legs." So teaching people how to respond to fear.

I would consider myself a bit of an overthinker. Every situation I think of every single negative and positive thing that could happen based on whatever happens next...

That's not a bad thing, that's just analysing...

Yeah, but sometimes it can feel like I get into a state of paralysis where I don't do anything. And I've found those same feelings with surfing waves, for me, six foot plus, when I start panicking and stuff... But I've also found – and this I'm sure is not in your course – but if I'm hungover, and my brain is not going as gnarly, it's not chattering along, I'm way more relaxed with all my interactions with people or going surfing. And sure, my body's not as good, but for some reason I'm less panicky and able to handle heavier situations. It kind of feels like there's a parallel there in shutting off that head noise.

Well that's exactly what you did, and it’s in other article we did about Kelly, where I mentioned Transient Hypofrontality. What you've done is you've numbed the process of your prefrontal cortex to overstimulate creativity. So you're a creative guy, you have lots of thoughts, you have lots of intuition, you have all these ideas, and they're coming at you at a million miles an hour, it's like a heap of birds just making a shitload of noise, so what you need to do is be able to just slow the process down, allow creativity to come in, but then you need to learn how to feel what feels good. So for example, when all your senses are dulled, you're just like, “Hell yeah, I'll just catch this wave.” The hungover version of you can still operate, you're basically going off limited senses, but really you're quieting that noise. Physically going into the water and surfing in a severe hangover state is a good way to drown, because your body may not be able to handle the situations you could end up in. But the good news is you can achieve this state naturally.

It's a process and just like physical training, it takes training and practice, and when you put the time in to do it, you can actually do it. And I'd be an example of someone that was the complete overthinker, overanalyser, over everything, and could not sit still, and then I was able to train my mind to actually go in that state. So when I go in the water, straight away I'm looking for a feeling. When I'm going into breath holds, I'm trying to go, “Okay where's tension in my body, can I feel tension in my body?” because if I start feeling or searching for a feeling, I can't think. It stops the part of my thinking mind, and that's when you surf your best. You'll get a wave where you just didn't think about anything and you did the best turn of your life, and you're like, “That was awesome,” and then you paddle back out, and go, “I'm gonna do it again,” and then you start thinking and then you stuff it up. You went from being in transient hypofrontality back into overthinking, over analysing, which screws your flow up. The term they use for it is actually called flow. Which is just a buzz word as well. But essentially what it means is you're out of your head and you're able just to be.

Like getting into a flow state? I work from home, so I read a lot about trying to procrastinate less and get work done, and the term “flow state” comes up often – is that what you're referencing here when you say flow?

Yeah, which is a total buzzword, it doesn't really mean anything, what it actually means is you were in the moment. You were right here right now. You weren't thinking about, oh what have I got to do next, you're like, just now I've got to do this, that goes there, that goes there... that's being in the moment, and then someone said, “Cool, let's call that flow.” That's how that happened.

Fully, that's fascinating.

So what I had to do was understand the scientific breakdown of that, versus just going, “Yeah man, you're in flow. “Because by doing that I sound like a hippie, and there's no actual evidence towards why or how.

For a limited time, Mark Visser's Ocean Warrior Course 2.0 – with the new Elite Mindset Program – is available for 60% off, find out more info and sign up over here.

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