Travel, fortune, fame. The life of a surf star may seem idyllic, but spend one day watching HB contest scene this July you’ll see it’s as much a headgame as anything else. From the ESA to the ASP, guys in blue jerseys hold their breath as they the challenges — and anxieties — that come with the need to win, to please sponsors and to just plain survive.

Lucky for them, psychologist Richard Bennett wants to help. Written with both the soul and competitive surfer in mind, Bennett’s new book, The Surfer’s Mind combines his professional expertise with observations and experiences of working with elite surfers for three years as a psychologist on the WCT. But it’s not just competition, with chapters covering everything from fear to riding the waves of your lives, Bennett’s goal is to assist surfers tune their mind to get the best out of themselves and their surfing.

Surprisingly, when Bennett first commenced studying psychology at university, it didn’t occur to him that he could combine his passion with his profession.

“Initially I was not aware that surfing and psychology hadn’t been brought together previously”, he says. “However, when I started doing my research, I found very little literature on the subject and back then it was a rare thing for surfers to see a psychologist in order to improve their performance.” When Bennett started contributing articles to Tracks about facing big waves and other topics, he received positive comments from Rob Bain and other readers, prompting him to contact ASP director Wayne ‘{{{Rabbit}}}’ Bartholomew about joining the tour. Rabbit was enthusiastic about Bennett’s concept of being a traveling surf psychologist on the world surfing tour. And in 2000, Bennett jumped on the WCT.

“Working with male and female surfers on the WCT was a tremendous experience”, say Bennett. “I think a major part was definitely that the surfers felt comfortable with me. A surfer could say ‘I’m fearful of surfing Sunset in Hawaii’ — not just because I have the clinical skills to assist them, but they would also see me out at that break. So they felt that ‘well, he’s walking his talk’ and within the surfing community this is very important.”

Soon, Bennett had the idea to write a book, although admits he had no idea how much effort and the complexities that would be involved.

“I conducted three separate research projects and over two years I interviewed {{{80}}} of the world’s best surfers”, says Bennett.

These research projects produced three papers that Bennett co-authored with colleague Peter Kremer. These are; 1) The Psychology of Peak Performance among Elite Surfers; 2) The Psychology of Big Wave Riding and 3) Stress and Elite Competitive Surfing; and the research produced some interesting conclusions. While for many surfers big waves are an issue, Bennett believes that positively building confidence and focus is the key to overcoming barriers that are preventing a surfer from achieving their goals.

“Ensuring that your personal life is in order is also important”, he says. “You don’t want any distractions, so that when it comes time to perform you have a clear mind and can let your surfing do the talking rather than worrying about what’s happening on the beach.”

“Everyone’s potential is unlimited”, Bennett continues. “The research I did in 2000 on peak performance showed that maintaining a strong personal foundation is really important. If you really want to achieve your goal surround yourself with people who are positive and like minded, which serves to reinforce that you are on the right track.”

And what’s Bennnett’s most important piece of advice no matter what your surfing goals may be?

“Keep having fun.” Alison Aprhys