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mental preparation and the importance of hydration

One of my favorite techniques for building mental confidence is visualization.  Many of my greatest and most successful rides were identical to those that I had visualized back on land.  I spend five to ten minutes every morning practicing general visualization techniques and leading up to a specific swell event, will visualize riding waves successfully at that location.  I envision what the perfect wave would look like as it approaches from the horizon, details down to the shape and bend of the wall as the wave’s energy begins to feel the reef.  I imagine how I will position myself in order for my entry to be exactly as I desire.  As I pop up to my feet, I focus on how the face of the wave will look as I descend down, making my bottom turn and projecting up into the sweet spot of the wave.  I imagine what sounds I will hear, the wind whipping up the face of the wave and the crash of the lip behind me.  I envision in intricate detail how it will look as the lip projects over me and I find myself pulling into the tube.  I focus on how I will orient my body to balance on the steep face of the wave and ultimately ride successfully to the safety of the channel.  When it comes down to the day of, my confidence is through the roof as I’ve already ridden hundreds of waves flawlessly in my mind.  At that point, it’s merely a matter of waiting for the right wave to present itself.

Nic Vaughan - Jaws - 1.19.2014 - Video Larry Haynes from Nic Vaughan on Vimeo.

A sharp mental game is hugely beneficial from a performance perspective, but is equally as important in moments of turmoil.  After a terrible wipeout, often times the equivalent of falling off of a five story building with Niagara Falls cascading down behind, the ability to mentally subdue panic can be the difference between drowning and survival.  Working on mentally calming techniques such as meditation allow you to tap into that practiced sense of tranquility in moments such as these.

Basic box breathing is a great technique for this in which you breathe in for 5 counts, hold the breath for 5 counts, exhale for 5 counts and pause for 5 counts before repeating. During this breathing cycle, focus your thoughts on strictly the breath and nothing else.  Any time a thought comes into the mind, notice it, but allow it pass and quickly return to that focus on the breath.  This is difficult at first, but through a practiced routine, mental control begins to improve exponentially.  In moments of heavy mental stress, in my case finding myself in the impact zone of a 50 foot wave, it is imperative to be able to tap into that practiced mental control.

Nic Vaughan - Mavericks - Video Larry Haynes from Nic Vaughan on Vimeo.

In my pursuit of acquiring this mental edge, I’ve searched for techniques on nurturing and maximizing cognitive function.  I found that not surprisingly, water has a massive impact on the brain.  The brain is highly dependent on proper hydration to function optimally, and with even the slightest onset of dehydration, mental performance plummets.  As we become dehydrated, the brain cells lose efficiency at a rapid rate causing drastic declines in mental alertness and cognitive reflexes.  Water gives the brain the electrical energy for all of its functions and is essential in delivering nutrients as well as removing toxins from the brain.  When operating on a well hydrated reserve, our brains are able to channel a greater sense of focus, clarity and creativity.

Furthermore, proper hydration can have an immense effect on mental reflexes, specifically boosting reaction time, all of which are the pillars of great decision making for an athlete in the moment.  The ability to enhance cognitive quickness and reduce mental fatigue is beneficial not only for athletes, but for anyone making important decisions throughout day to day life.  Give a few of these techniques a try for yourself and be sure to stay hydrated! 

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