How to hold your breath longer

Professional surfer and North Shore of Oahu lifeguard Dave Wassel shares tips on how to hold your breath longer. Photo by Noyle/Surfer magazine

With the ever-growing possibility of a supercharged El Niño headed to the West Coast and Hawaii, big-wave surfers and weekend warriors alike are gearing up for what could be a winter of epic proportions. And while the big swells may be months away, now is the time to get ready for the wave of your life—and the wipeouts and hold downs that coincide with big surf. With that in mind, we hit up professional surfer and North Shore of Oahu lifeguard Dave Wassel for some tips on how to hold your breath longer. His response was eye opening and full of the candor we expect from one of the world’s premier big-wave surfers. Here’s what he had to say:

The science of maximizing your breath hold in serious surf isn’t really science—it’s more just hard work. Sure, some scientist will try to tell you otherwise, but put that scientist and Mark Healey under a 50-foot set wave at Jaws and my money is on the freckled guy. First of all, train the body. Cardio, cardio, cardio! Run, ride a bike, or jump rope—any one of these can be done alone in a gym, or even better, outside. Shane Dorian is a cross fit addict and Sunny Garcia does the Ironman. These guys are well-oiled machines and keep themselves in top shape for whatever nature throws at them. Although you don’t have to do a marathon, you do have to do something. I like trail runs because of the change in elevation and therefore, change of heart rate.

Dave Wassel and Kelly Slater share a big wave at Cloudbreak in Fiji. Photo by Glaser/Surfer magazine

Swimming laps is a great low-impact exercise and also trains you for the unexpected rip current or 30-minute swim in from an outer reef. It puts you in the element of water and uses muscles other than the ones most surfers are used to. That board, i.e. flotation device, won’t always be there, so now what? Put your head down and swim! I don’t run rocks underwater merely because it’s dangerous. Yeah, I have qualified friends who can resuscitate me if I black out, but why? If I can’t train alone, and come home safely, I will look to something else.

OK, you’re trained up and you feel like a super hero, so what? Go to the mirror and take a selfie because that’s not even half the battle, Einstein! In all of my time spent underwater, I’ve come to realize that nothing is more important than training what’s between your ears. You can train your body till the cows come home, but if your mind gets the best of you—you’re done. When being held down by a wave, Mark Healey likes to think he’s spearfishing and waiting for the one fish just out of range. Dorian pretends he’s packing hunting gear and methodically places everything in his bag. I pretend to do my ABCs with my son and if I finish all 26 letters before I surface, I’ll do it again in lowercase. It’s really up to you and can actually be quite fun finding that happy place that calms the mind.

Remember, when the time comes and you’re pushed to the limit, no one will be there to help you—it’s up to you and you alone.

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