Tech book

Tech book paperback edition cover.

Cover of our technical book‘s latest paperback edition (photo by Bruno Dana).

“We believe PROFICIENT SURF SWIMMERS to be one step ahead in the learning of the sport”,
Prof. Bruno Castello da Costa


Oriented Consciousness Mastering in the Practice of Surfing results from the study of surfing schools we carried on between the years of 2005 and 2010, and which included field research stages in Rio de Janeiro and Hawaii, examination of related scientific literature and non-scientific publications at the Rio de Janeiro State University, confrontation with instructional protocols of the Rio de Janeiro Military Fire Brigade Lifeguard Divisions, and corroboration of our hypothesis with practical experimentations.

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Back cover of Oriented Consciousness Mastering in the Practice of Surfing.

Back cover of Oriented Consciousness Mastering in the Practice of Surfing.

(page numbers refer to the paperback edition)

  • Abstract
  • Foreword, p.i
  • Introduction, p.1
  • Motivation to our study, p.2
  • Maritime safety and autonomy, p.4
  • Surfing and Physical Education, p.5
  • 1. The Learning of Surfing, p.7
  • Informal: state of nature, p.7
  • Formal: surfing schools, p.10
  • The Hawaiian observed model: Waikiki and Puaena Point, p.11
  • The Rio de Janeiro observed model: Barra da Tijuca, p.14
  • A theoretical model, p.16
  • Hawaiian model restrictions in Barra da Tijuca, p.17
  • The natural method and surfing schools in Barra da Tijuca, p.20
  • Schools’ purpose: fantasy versus reality, p.28
  • Teaching of surfing from a business perspective, p.29
  • State of nature as an index to respecting individual restrictions, and to identifying most appropriate formal precise pedagogical actions with regard to maximizing overall process efficacy and efficiency, p.31 
  • 2. Physiological, Sports, Biomechanics, Pedagogical, Motor Learning and Operational Aspects in Surfing, p.35
  • Physiological aspects, p.36
  • Sports aspects, p.37
  • Biomechanics aspects, p.37
  • Pedagogical aspects, p.38
  • Motor learning aspects, p.40
  • Operational aspects, p.41
  • 3. Psychosocial Aspects in Surfing, p.43
  • Surfing practitioners’ imaginary universe, p.43
  • Water and dreams, p.44
  • Sports of adventure and risk in the outdoor nature, p.47
  • A brief history of surfing, p.50
  • Surfing and leisure, p.60
  • 4. Environmental and Technical Aspects in Surfing, and Related Pedagogical Implications, p.65
  • Sports environment categories in the perspective of Pierre Parlebas, p.65
  • The advent of leash and swimming relevance, p.67
  • Gentile’s bidimensional taxonomy and pedagogical progression, p.71
  • 5. Oriented Consciousness Mastering in the Practice of Surfing, p.75
  • Didactical organization of the method, p.75
  • Unit 01 – Familiarization in the liquid environment, p.79
  • Unit 02 – Marine aspects that influence surfing, p.84
  • Unit 03 – Physical study of waves, p.94
  • Unit 04 – Maritime swimming, p.110
  • Unit 05 – Maritime swimming riding waves: bodysurfing, p.117
  • Unit 06 – Terrestrial familiarization with surfboard, p.124
  • Unit 07 – Maritime familiarization with surfboard, p.132
  • Unit 08 – Maritime swimming with surfboard, p.143
  • Unit 09 – Maritime swimming with surfboard riding waves: surfing, p.145
  • Unit 10 – Transversal themes, p.151
  • Course pace and duration, p.155
  • Additional bibliography to the unsupervised stage, p.156
  • Age ranging: attention and cognition, p.157
  • Collective course: classifying, leveling and follow-up, p.158
  • Practical-theoretical maritime swimming and rescuing course, p.159
  • 6. Final Considerations, p.161
  • References, p.163
  • Appendixes, p.169
  • Learning evaluation, p.169
  • Continuous exam, p.170
  • Self-exam, p.171
  • Course plan, p.172
  • About the Authors, p.179
  • Acknowledgments, p.179


“THIS TEXT IS A REAL FIRST in its chosen subject matter, to which LATER WORKS WILL ALWAYS MAKE REFERENCE”, Dr. Nicholas Ford (author, with David Brown, of “Surfing and Social Theory: the experience, embodiment  and narrative of the dream glide”, Routledge, 2006; former external examiner for the surfing degrees in the United Kingdom)

WP cover home

This work is an academic analysis on the pedagogy of surfing, conducted by a team of researchers linked to the Motor Behavior and Biomechanics Laboratory at the Rio de Janeiro State University.

Academic literature in the theme of surfing and physical education has been reviewed in order to provide surfing instructors with a scientific rationale to enable students with an oriented process of consciousness mastering in the practice of the sport.

References to our study include scientific publications on sports pedagogy, didactics, motor learning, sports physiology, sports training, anatomy, biomechanics, social imaginary, oceanography, marine biology and military training, besides a few journalistic, artistic, literary works focusing on the sport of surfing.

Our project was primarily designed as a means for practical and theoretical referencing to professionals who work in the teaching of surfing (physical education teachers/students and surfing instructors in general), in that its Portuguese edition also aims to elicit the instrumentalization of surfing in behalf of the Rio de Janeiro State Military Fire Brigade on its Maritime Rescuing Basic Training.

Our methodological structure dismisses the phenomenon of “direct physical/inappropriate verbal assistance” in the teaching process; alternatively, we present strategies and means to elicit the state of nature as the main index to ensure individual restrictions to be respected, and the most appropriate formal precise pedagogical actions to be identified with regard to the maximization of the overall efficacy and efficiency on the pedagogical process.


From daily observation, in a significant number of occasions we presume it is possible to distinguish surfers who have learned from surfing schools from others who have learned on their own. We list a group of psychomotor features to help differentiate those 2 groups, and raise the hypothesis that surfing school teaching models could be enhanced by employing a scientific approach.

We suspect instructors physically assisting students might disturb learner-environment interactions, eventually leading to misconceived motor patterns and misconception of the real maritime hazards.

In addition, motor learning interference may be aggravated if auditory stimulus, rather than visual, is preferred in the earliest steps of wave catching. Development of students’ motor activation through visual system stimulation might be compromised in some teaching models as wave reading attention would be mostly driven by verbal ordering.

We propose a 10 unit-plan to elicit awareness of the various requirements surfing demands, while gradually improving motor skills and intellectual capacity so students may eventually proceed with a safe learning on their own.

By addressing students’ attention to the contents of the learning process, one at a time, and supplying them with enough specific stimulus volume and continuity, we seek to achieve motor learning consolidation before advancing to later contents. Special pedagogical tools are employed to ensure learning safety while no external physical aid is allowed.


Our approach will be implemented by employing specific physical exercises/activities to elicit not only motor understanding of the correct performing patterns, but also awareness of the realistic requirements that the surfing environment demands. Learning will be complemented with theoretical information acquirement through examination of the units’ glossaries and complementary bibliographic sources and excerpts as identified in the text. Shall students’ experimentations take place in an external physical aid/verbal instruction-free condition, we agree it is more likely that interference-free stimulus will eventually lead to correct surfing motor patterns formation.

Assuming surfing takes place in a considerably unstable environment, scientific evidence suggests one should first enhance tolerance to most, if not all, outdoors scenario spectrum in order to develop the ability to fully address attention to specific contents of the learning process with the least amount of environmental interference (PARLEBAS, 1988; GENTILE, 1987). At this point, we aim at environmental taming.

To the accomplishment of such goal ‒ without compromising correct motor engram formation nor students’ safety, and while maintaining realistic risk perception ‒ rather than providing external physical aid and relying on verbal instructing, we introduce opportunities for students to familiarize in the surfing environment and its natural possibilities, so they gradually accumulate practical experiences in all sorts of surfing conditions, enriching motor repertoire until a point on which environmental interference onto attention focusing should become minimal. Theoretical knowledge is to be constantly examined as well, so students develop full consciousness regarding the surrounding context and over the actions they are to execute.


“Pedagogical break down of the surfing act into an ordered process composed of clearly defined consecutive units, each unit divided into specific ordered contents, presenting students with simplified pieces of information, one at a time, at a given amount and controlled complexity level to elicit optimization of neuromotor system cognitive, assimilative and autonomous phases before moving on to immediate following content”

This system ensures all prerequisites are in fact acquired before advancing to the next level. This becomes possible as we: (i) present students with a step-by-step practice to sustain the need not to rush the learning process with neither external physical aid nor auditory stimulation, and (ii) develop students’ awareness of realistic risk perception and weak points they need to focus on as a means to increase maritime safety so they can progress on their own.

Our first goal is to provide students with continued motor non-auditory experimentation, employing a specified combination of teaching styles (MOSSTON; ASHWORTH, 1986) to provoke them to meditate and consider appropriateness of our overall framework proposal.

Lessons begin with a formal physical training session on which command teaching style prevails; in this particular part of the lesson, general auditory command voice stimuli is allowed to develop students’ sense of discipline and a state of permanent attention. In the succeeding didactical activities, students are encouraged to engage in the study of a given problem, seeking for solutions through guided discovery/divergent teaching styles; at this point, instructors orientate process guidance rather than interfere on it, so students’ cognition activity may be triggered; verbal instructions are provided at the beginning and at the end of activities, only, to explain and analyze, but not during students’ performance.

By facing natural environment obstacles with no direct physical aid from instructors, students will likely feel their limitations, agree they need to acquire maritime safety before moving on to dealing with external implements, and notice the surfing environment itself as a very specific well- equipped training facility for the conscious aspiring surfer.

Once students feel they indeed need to undergo a meticulous long-term teaching process not to skip fundamental steps in their learning, they will have understood why surfboard handling begins no earlier than by Unit 6 (“Terrestrial Familiarization with Surfboard”).

Such step-by-step teaching process implies a slow-but-solid progress on students’ performance, making them aware of each factor to be studied/trained at each unit content.

By not receiving external physical assistance at all, we assure progress is entirely credited to students’ merit, and practice safety is within their own limits. In case a third party deliberately interferes with physical aid, that action might bring practitioner to a difficulty level he is probably not yet ready to deal with on his own. We will talk about ergogenic effect over unprepared students’ safety in the next section, Maritime Swimming.


“Inclusion of specific maritime swimming knowledge, tactics and skills in as many surfing conditions as possible, before proceeding to surfboard manipulation”

Starting from zero, students will first get used to interacting with the surfing environment with no external implements. Practice will be presented in a little auditory stimulation but intense psychomotor fashion. Students will interact with the shore (sand and its surroundings), the water, the waves, and nothing but those will serve as instruments to elicit the learning of the very first specific contents (breathing skills) on Unit 1 (“Familiarization in the liquid environment”).

That routine should be employed on various surfing scenarios. More experienced students should strategically retrocede to it whenever the surfing scene exceeds conditions they feel comfortable with (as we understand familiarization in the surfing environment is a relative concept, due to its typical wild-environment dynamical behavior).

Rather than offering physical assistance or verbal instruction during exercising, instructors should control activity safety levels by limiting the amount of environmental variables students will confront with, equalizing overall activity risk with students’ current training state. No external implements should be allowed at this time, as those may lead to an undesirable effect over the unskilled maritime swimmers’ safety (CBA VIII Atividades Especializadas, CBMERJ, Secretaria de Estado de Defesa Civil, 2006).

Swimming goggles, fins, boards or even surfboard leashes are known to play an ergogenic role not only in the performance but more decisively in the survival of the maritime environment, amplifying individual performance beyond normally achievable levels. For a given surfing condition, should an individual be able to safely return to shore on his own in case his (her) implement is lost, then he (she) should be ready to use it in the referred scenario. Otherwise, the use of external implements might lead to an extremely dangerous situation: it might enable individuals to get to a difficulty level beyond their actual possibilities, jeopardizing practitioner’s overall safety.

In the next section, State of Nature, we delve into our perspective on students’ safety.


“State of nature as the main index to assessing and respecting individual restrictions, and to identifying the most appropriate formal precise pedagogical action to be applied at each stage of the learning process”

One motivation to this project has been, indeed, our opinion as physical education teachers that the well prepared teacher will be better positioned in regard to the learning process once he/she manages to intellectualize, as much as possible, his/her role in class.

Teaching models we observed demand instructors to escort beginners wherever they go during lessons, especially in the water. Such models seem to be based on the satisfaction of an expectation which we assume to originate from a misconceived idea of the real meaning of the sport, the actual demands it requires and the time it will take for a beginner to be actually safely surfing on his/her own. In this model, not only students’ motor patterns may be highly subjected to distortion, but also a very exhaustive physical routine is imposed to instructors, depriving them from the ability to focus desired levels of attention and energy onto observation and analysis of students’ performance, and probably compromising the longevity of their careers in the teaching of the sport.

Our method aims at taking students on a journey throughout the entire learning process, not directly interfering and rather using the state of nature of their training condition as the overall safety device in the process, so each one’s knowledge evolves at their own pace. We do not intend to rush the learning process, as we understand side effects may take place if steps in the process are skipped. (Note: we understand students’ state of nature as the particular condition they present, before pedagogical intervention, once exposed to the surfing environment.)

Students will evolve their fitness and motor repertoire levels as they engage in the proposed practical activities. Designed for the achievement of specific didactical purposes through physical means, those practical activities will play an important role in both students’ intellectual and physical surfing education.

By not receiving external physical assistance, students will be constantly aware of their real limits. Safety will be provided by assessing those limitations and developing specific strategies to equalize environmental difficulty levels in terms of students’ possibilities.

Each time students are presented with a new content of study, assessment of specific individual limitations should take place by having them experiment with a simplified version of the motor tasks involved in the practice of the referred content, estimating performance accordingly to a predetermined set of evaluation parameters.

Progress will be slow, but consistent. Taking environmental taming theory into perspective, traditional surfing schools’ teaching model seems to suffer from an anachronism in the ordering of its teaching contents. Observation of instructors’ daily routine suggests they spend a significant amount of energy on the management of a series of environmental hazards which come into play when students are exposed to the various class activities, especially on the earliest stages of the learning. In our opinion, students’ physiognomy upon activity performance demonstrates unawareness to some, if not to most of those hazardous factors.

We deem that the safety procedures instructors practice are consequential to a questionable pedagogical perspective on which the ordering of the teaching-learning process is based. The model start-up leads to a peculiar course of measures which, in an educational context can be interpreted as pedagogical actions. From a mathematical approach, though, it is conceivable that the described dynamic represents a predicted set of restoring forces merely evoked to bring a system state back to equilibrium in response to a given external disturbance.

We presume it is possible that the current pedagogical approach underestimates the environmental taming precondition which the surfing scenario imposes to those willing to acquire intimacy until the point on which dealing with environmental obstacles becomes no longer a source of concern but, in turn, an opportunity to evolve. Current model’s low sensitivity to the need for environmental familiarization may result from the significant emphasis which is placed on surfboard maritime interaction from day one. By directing students’ learning process through a course of experiences first based on environmental taming, it is our main safety pedagogical strategy to provide what we refer to as “nest enlargement-effect”. We consider each main natural component in the starting scenario ‒ giving first consideration to its static-low dynamic components (sidewalk, sand, rocks, woods, wind and calmer shallower waters) ‒ and break them up into simple different ways to help emerge the various general/specific demands surfing will eventually require from students. Students should first progress in the study of each component in an isolated fashion ‒ to maximize activity attention and energy canalization onto focusing of motor physiological stimulation ‒ so later composition of those components may follow with as minimum attention and energy deviation from components’ coordination as possible. (Note: didactically speaking, we shall refer to a multicomponent-coordinative composition activity as a “situation study” wherein main goal resides in enhancing coordination of components to a level where environmental disturbance over attention focusing and energy canalization becomes minimal.)

We assume a maritime educational lifesaving perspective so didactical practicing in the earlier teaching units leads to gradual awareness acquirement of the diverse environmental hazards, and also to the refinement of underlying maritime swimming skills and safety procedures, promoting environmental familiarization along with general refinement of fitness levels and motor repertoire.

As students develop an environmental intimacy foundation, pedagogical actions may naturally shift to more specific surfing-related issues, redirecting didactical focus to more dynamic-unstable-surfing related natural components and situations. Wave analysis/interaction gains emphasis and maritime swimming develops into bodysurfing. Later on, surfboard handling, analysis, manipulation and interaction are introduced, followed by student/surfboard-wave interaction and surfing transversal themes.

Therefore, pedagogical progression in our model is considered in a three-dimensional perspective: (i) general-to-specific motor physiological stimulation; (ii) static-to-dynamic environment exploration; (iii) component-to-situation environment exploration.

“Nest enlargement-effect” means each didactical activity needs to be designed not only in accordance to pedagogical guidelines, but also considering the above mentioned three-dimensional perspective upon assessment of students’ specific restrictions to the referred activity, to elicit estimation of the exercise difficulty threshold around which performance should target. Threshold maintenance is to be provided and sustained through environmental intervenient factors management. This allows pedagogical planning to admit activity engaging regardless of surfing conditions, enriching the environmental familiarization process.

Environmental management requires, in a starting scenario, well defined-narrow boundaries to activity range delimitation. As students become more familiarized with the surrounding possibilities, strictness can be gradually decreased. With no external interference, students have the chance to observe themselves, comprehending their real strengths and weaknesses, and searching for ‒ through instructors’ orientation ‒ possible solutions to overcoming the various situations they will experiment with. As the learning progresses, safety boundaries should proportionally deteriorate.

By the end of the course, we intend that students may have become aware of the learning process to follow in order to refine surfing performance, as well as of the requirements it demands and the realistic risk it represents, having developed a critical look over all the potential hazards involved, aware of the skills and tactics to manage in order to minimize those main intervenient dangers. Most important, students will have learned never to underestimate the ocean power, no matter how well may they have performed in the course.

That is, considering learning results may drastically vary among students ‒ due to various natural individual restrictions such as genetics, precedent motor repertoire, sports practice background, fitness levels and socioeconomical cultural factors, for example ‒, our method is designed to work as the foundation of one’s ability to keep on practicing and evolving, on an unsupervised conscious basis, in the sport of surfing after an introductory formal learning period.


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*** AUTHORS ***

This study has been motivated by our determination in the development of a teaching structure which would allow students to experiment with what we consider a more natural pedagogical progression on the acquisition of beach environment intimacy. We suspect instructors should adopt a different perspective in the teaching-learning process.

Rather than protecting students from the environmental hazards, we want them to study those hazards, and to learn how to explore those opportunities to develop their skills and human capacities, in a natural-pace familiarization process with their surroundings, eventually leading to the phenomenon of consciousness mastering in the practice of the sport.

On the long term, we hope the results of our research to be examined, corroborated, criticized and filtered to the point of allowing Brazilian schools to include some basic maritime educational contents on their School Physical Education programs.

Bruno Ferreira Alves Castello da Costa
Industrial Engineer (UFRJ)
Physical Education Teacher (UERJ)
Military Firefighting Lifeguard (CBMERJ)

Gabriel Gueiros Nunes
Physical Education Teacher (UERJ)

Rafael Barçante Ladvocat
Physical Education Teacher (UERJ)

Luiz Alberto Batista
Physical Education Teacher (UERJ)
Master of Science in Education (UFF)
Doctor of Philosophy in Sports Sciences (Porto Univ., Portugal)

UFRJ: Rio de Janeiro Federal University
UERJ: Rio de Janeiro State University
CBMERJ: Rio de Janeiro State Military Fire Brigade
UFF: Rio de Janeiro Fluminense Federal University



Discovering the Essence of Surfing

Maritime Education and Surfing in School

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