How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome in the Water
community resource

How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome in the Water

We have all been there. The very beginning. You just purchased your surfing gear. You have your 9ft foamie in hand, 7mm booties on your feet, and your 6/5mm wetsuit on your body. You’re standing at the edge of the lake getting ready to jump in. You look out onto the water and see other surfers on all different kinds of boards. Shortboards, longboards, mid lengths and bodyboards! Shredders everywhere! You start to feel a little bit nervous and your hands start to sweat in your 7mm gloves. 

© Teigan Labor

Don’t worry; we have all been there before. Surfing on the Great Lakes can be a very rewarding, yet intimidating experience. Great Lakes surfing is a journey that can take years to feel comfortable with. Many surfers that have walked through our doors at Surf the Greats have described to us that sometimes they feel like an imposter trying to learn to surf on the Great Lakes. This is because many Great Lake surfers learn how to surf approximately in their 20s, 30s, 40s, or 50s, and they didn’t grow up as a grom learning on a tropical beach somewhere. That fact alone can be intimidating. These surfers are often worried about looking like a kook trying to learn how to shred freshwater waves that can be quite difficult to catch. At Surf the Greats we are here to tell you that it's okay to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Here are just a few tips and tricks that we have learned over the years to help you tackle imposter syndrome surfing on the Great Lakes and how you can have fun in the lineup! 

Never compare yourself to other surfers

© Teigan Labor

The shredders that you see out in the line up had to start somewhere too. It has taken them years to learn how to carve the face of a wave, complete a bottom or top turn, cross step on a board, and even get barrelled every once in a while. You have to allow yourself to embrace the journey and be patient while learning. Surfing is not an easy sport to learn, and especially on the Great Lakes with our challenging wind swells! You’re going to fall off your board lots, and we hope that you laugh while doing so. Enjoy every minute of learning something new and try not to worry about what you look like. This is also a pretty rad rule to learn in life as well. As long as you’re surfing in a beginner friendly spot, being safe, and respectable in a lineup then no one else around you will be concerned with what you look like. Just do your own thing and have fun!

You have a right to be there

© Ang Namaka

Recent research on the concept of blue mind, well-being and the great outdoors demonstrates that participation in outdoor recreation can be very good for us. Nichols’, 2015 novel ‘Blue Mind’ states that participation in outdoor recreational activities that happen in blue spaces such as surfing, can reduce anxiety, relieve stress, and promote higher levels of feel-good neurotransmitters such as dopamine, and adrenaline. Nichols suggests that water environments can in fact be places of learning, healing and growing (2015). You can also read more about other benefits of surfing here. Essentially, everyone has a right to access blue mind, and we can’t think of a better way to connect with nature than on a surfboard. You have a right to be in the lineup! So what are you waiting for? Go grab your board and get out there! 

Surf with Friends

© Guy Kawasaki

The best surfs we have in the water are the ones we can share with friends. Not only is it massive loads of fun to watch your friends catch waves and share some party waves, but for safety purposes it’s also a plus to not go out alone. You get to see the smiles on everyone’s faces as they carve down the face of a wave, or ride your board all the way into the beach. You get to look back on the epic day you had together as you try to warm back up with a warm beverage or warm pho after your session (I highly recommend pho after a surf; it's so good!). These magical moments are much more fun to share with good company, so why not try to learn how to surf with a community around you. 

If you’re unsure about something, just ask

© Ang Namaka

This is probably the most important piece of advice we can give to surfers who are trying to make their way in the freshwater world. Whether that be about priority, how to safely get out, or if you’re dealing with an unfamiliar break, never be afraid to ask a local or someone who’s more experienced out in the water. It's always better to be safe than sorry, and it's a fun way to learn more about the place you're surfing. To be able to ask questions shows a sign of respect for other surfers and demonstrates that you’re paying attention to the winter forces on the Great Lakes. These two factors alone will take you far in your Great Lakes surfing journey, so please never shy away from asking lots of questions. If you’re unsure about any of these topics, we also cover them in our dryland Wave Forecasting Workshop, which we encourage you to sign up for if you're brand new to Great Lakes surfing. You can also take a Flat Water Lesson, or Surf Lesson with waves with us to freshen up your skills and have extra confidence out in the water! 

© Greg MacLeod

We love when new faces walk through our doors and express the joy that they feel about getting ready to surf the Greats! As a business, as educators, and as stoked surfers, we want you to have the most empowering experience out in the water. As long as you don’t worry about what you look like, share the waves with friends, enjoy the nature and ask questions, we guarantee that you will be hooked on Great Lakes surfing for life! It's a journey and we hope that you enjoy the process.


Words by Maddi Leblanc. Cover photo by Ang Namaka.

Madeline Leblanc Portrait 

Maddi Leblanc is a Niagara born, Toronto-based stand up paddling athlete for Team Canada, SUP instructor, and lake surfer. Maddi is also the new General Manager at Surf the Greats. She has been paddle boarding for nine years, competing in SUP for six years, and surfing the Great Lakes for six years. She recently just completed her Masters at Brock University in Recreation & Leisure Studies. Find her on Instagram.