16th May 2019
Jenny Jones: what surfing means to me
Jenny Jones is a British professional snowboarder who became the first Briton ever to win an Olympic snowsport event, after winning a bronze medal at the 2014 Winter Olympics. Lately she's spent some time swapping her snowboard for a surfboard. She met up with us to talk about how surfing has made her a better athlete, being okay with making mistakes and the importance of the social side of surfing.
What do you most love about surfing?
When I first started I really loved being in the water and being on the beach outside, and I enjoyed trying to progress – standing the first time, that sort of thing. I also really love surfing for the de-stressing effect. Whatever happens, you're in ocean and focused on the next wave; you don't have your phone, there's no technology, and there's nothing to disturb you.
How did you start?
It was when I was in my teens, on a beach in Devon on family holidays. My brothers were the first to get into it, and I thought whatever they did was cool, so I wanted to try it too. Later on I moved to snowboarding and went professional, so I didn't do loads of surfing over the years, and snowboarding took the priority. But I always look forward to going surfing, and get excited just thinking about it.
What are the main differences between surfing and snowboarding?
For surfing you need power in different places in your body. Surfing is more about upper body strength, and core strength, with less emphasis on your knees and lower body muscle. The way you distribute your weight on the board is also different, and then there are things like not being strapped to a surfboard as you are a snowboard. When you're surfing you also have to read the waves. There are similarities though, like the way you rotate your body to create energy, and the way you balance. I find that my surfing helps my snowboarding a lot.
I find that my surfing helps my snowboarding a lot.Jenny Jones, Olympic Champion
What was the biggest barrier to getting good?
Just getting enough time in the water – having the time to paddle out and wait for the waves. In terms of technical ability, it takes practice to get your the timing right – that's understanding the speed you need to be paddling to catch the wave.
What has it taught you about life?
Surfing makes me slow down. In the water, everything slows down a bit. You know that line from Ferris Bueller's Day Off? "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." Well, I find surfing helps me stop and look around.
What has it taught you about your body?
The importance of core stability and how your core strength works, and the difference that weight distribution makes. In my case it's about how your core helps you to make the movements you want to make on a board, and about how to distribute your weight – what difference does it make if I move back here or if I stay centred. That sort of thing.
Does it de-stress you, and if so how and why?
Yes, I love it for that. You just think about the simple act of catching the next wave and riding it, and the process of getting better. Having that linear thought process is relaxing in itself.
What are the greatest myths or misconceptions about surfing?
Well there's a lot more to it than the popular image of ripped young people riding big waves. The waves don't need to be higher than your hips, and the best surfing is with family and friends of all different ages and abilities. Pushing friends into waves, seeing them stand up for the first time - those are the good bits. Having said that, it's good to see great surfers as well, though. Watching them motivates you.
Isn’t it embarrassing to do if you’re a newbie? How should someone deal with that?
Just don't worry about falling off, everyone does it. I fall off and do douchey things all the time! Just remember that every time you fall off, you're getting closer to not falling off the next time.
What’s the best time you ever had surfing?
It's a difficult question, because when you go surfing you'll often say, "Oh that's the best wave I ever got!" But then soon afterwards you'll go out again and say, "No, that was the best wave I ever got!
One of my favourite experiences was on a trip to the Maldives. There were about eight of us, and we got so many good waves – when I say "good waves", I mean the right waves for me at the time. I had a lots of rides and lots of tries at improving, and it was also great just watching all my friends catching waves too. That social side is so important.
Photo by Chilled Moose