The Art of Keeping a Surf Journal

How can we get to where we want to be if we can not remember where  it was we came?

How can we get to where we want to be if we can not remember where it was we came?

When I was in about fifth grade my English teacher at the time had us keep a journal of our everyday activities.  It didn’t really matter what we actually wrote in it, just as long as we wrote every single day.  For whatever reason despite being a hyper active (in today’s society classified ADHD) adventure filled child I was drawn to this idea.  As a matter of fact I enjoyed writing in my journal so much that I continued the practice all the way to the present.

I know there are all sorts of excuses why one doesn’t have time to sit down, open a note book, pick up a pen, turn on a computer and spent fifteen to twenty minutes reflecting on the days activities.  Man, what a waste of precious time that would be.  There is reality television or fox news that could be missed!  Pardon my sarcasm, even more, forgive my judgment.  I actually don’t own a television set.  My journal became my best friend and confidant.  Over the past twenty years I have filled volumes up with my thoughts, actions, hopes and dreams, even my despair.

If added up the amount of hours I have spent writing, the time would stack up to over two consecutive months.  Imagine spending so much time on something so insignificant as a personal journal?  Absurd!  Yet, my friends these journals have over the years saved me triple the amount of time they took to write.  When one keeps a record of his life he is in a regard keeping track of both his mistakes and triumphs.  How did the human advance so fast in the last 150 years?  The answer is written record of what occurred before.

Chris Lisanti forever searching for meaning behind the undefined.  Photo: Christopher Dunlea

Chris Lisanti forever searching for meaning behind the undefined. Photo: Christopher Dunlea

So how does my obsessive compulsive disorder when applied to keeping a journal apply to your everyday surf life?  Better yet how can it improve your overall surfing game? Before you deem me crazy and close this article hear me out, cause by the end of this piece it will all make perfect sense.   I am going to teach you how to keep an effective surf journal , which when done accurately will in just a few short months make your surfing life that much better, in a year amazing, by the end of two years absolutely proficient.

In 1999 I changed the format of my actual journal and renamed it “Surf Log”.  I had realized that since surfing was my life, then it might as well take the forefront in the story of my life.  From that year on I would jot down at the beginning of each entry, where I surfed, when I surfed, and the conditions.  Then I would proceed to, in about a paragraph or so discuss the surf session I had.  Anything mentionable, memorable or lack thereof, soon this was not enough.  I began including everyday into my log, even the days that I didn’t get out in the water.

At this point what I had after six months was an exact record of my break for an entire season.  After a year , an entire year of surf condition and spot data,  after two,  or three an infallible record.  People often ask me how I am always so in tune on where the best spots for ever y swell and season.   It’s not that I am some Zen surfing master.  It is just that I have been keeping a precise record for years.  By doing such it has allowed me to predict with 90% accuracy where it is going to be fun on any given day.

It would be a shame to forgot a day as all time as this.  Photo: Chris Lisanti

It would be a shame to forgot a day as all time as this. Photo: Chris Lisanti

About three years ago I went even more elaborate or crazy, you can be the judge.   I began also logging the amount of time I surfed for and the number of waves I caught in each session.   What could this data help with?  Most surfers I find don’t pay much attention to how much productivity they actually get out of a surf.  I know I never had until I began keeping track.   In our busy, hustle and bustle of a society every bit of surf time we can squeeze in is precious so why not maximize that time.  What I learned from my own data was that certain spots were great to surf if I had an unlimited amount of time, but others were more effective when I only had a limited amount of time.

Take Rincon for example.  It’s a great wave and an amazing ride, but it is also usually rather crowded and tough to catch waves at.  If I have all day to surf and Rincon is on I will most likely paddle there.   Yet, if I only have an hour to surf before work Rincon is not a great option since on my most productive days out there I am lucky to average twelve waves an hour.  Instead I opt for Emma Wood, a beach/reef break mix that has multiple split peaks, plenty of waves and is usually not too crowded.  At Emma Wood I average about 20 waves in an hour making it the perfect choice for a limited timed surf.


Emma Wood always a good bet for quantity and quality. Photo: Chris Lisanti

Also by looking at your numbers you can get a sense of how long you should surf.  I have noticed I get more out of a session that is between one and half hours and two hours.  I find after that I get tired and sloppy and my wave count actually goes down per hour after three hours in the water.  On a day off I have I get more accomplished in the water with two consecutive two hour sessions then one, four hour surf.  By counting waves one can even get a sense of how much time he actually spends riding waves vs. paddling or sitting.  I find on average I surf one wave every 3-5 minutes at most beach breaks, one wave every 6-10 minutes at points.

When I first started counting my numbers were way less productive, it was only when I started looking at the data and noticing that I regularly would spend an hour surfing and only catch 7 waves that I began focusing more in the water. We can all argue that surfing is all about the experience regardless how many waves we catch in a session, but then again the sport is called “surfing”, not sitting or paddling.  More waves equal more fun, which in turn equals more practice and ultimately better surfing.  More input yields more output after all.

Chris Lisanti demonstrating how more input yields more output.  Photo: Christopher Dunlea

Chris Lisanti demonstrating how more input yields more output. Photo: Christopher Dunlea

Finally in the last year or so since I decided to join the times and got a smart phone I have even included a line up shot to my log.  Here is an example entry to give a visual:

12-22-14 PM Session 2: 4-6+ ft, Pitas
Time in Water: 1 hr
Waves Surfed: 11
The top of the point was solid, glassy, though a bit walled and a few too many guys on it.  I had a feeling the Faria section was going to be on.  I jumped in and the top was definitely too fast to deal with for my liking.  My boy Brady was out going for Hail Marys all over the place.  I surfed my way down the point till I found the section I wanted to be on.  There is this white house with a pointed roof that I usually try to line up with down at Faria.  The point is so vast and shifty that if you don’t have a take off spot to shoot for it is very easy to spend your entire session frustrated and constantly out of position.  When the Faria section is just right it does a perfect impression of Kirra and today my friends that was exactly what was going down.  I was almost kicking myself that I burned up my arms and legs at C Street earlier.  I had a few real gems before the sun went down.  My timing was off all day today in the water as far as performance was concerned.  Can’t win em all.


Pitas Point on the above date of the log. Photo: Chris Lisanti

Mostly the best part of keeping a surf journal is the ability to go back and see what was happening in your surf life during a certain period of time.  See who you used to surf with, what your favorite spots were and how all that has changed over the years.  I know that when I am feeling down all I have to do is pick up one of my old surf logs and read a few entries and it always puts a smile on my face.  It even gets me pumped to surf.  I challenge each and every one  who reads this to keep their own personal surf journal for the next thirty days and see how it works out for you.



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Growing up in New Jersey, Shawn discovered and quickly immersed himself in the sub-culture of surfing and skateboarding in the mid 80’s. With a diverse and eclectic background, Shawn has walked the path of a competitive surfer, Hare Krsna monk, action sports industry player in NYC, DIY theology and religions major, and a touring punk rock musician. Now a father and self-proclaimed seeker of the “soul” of surfing, Shawn enjoys sessions with friends at uncrowded peaks along his home state’s shoreline and writing about his surf related experiences.

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