How Sea Hearts Deal with Fear: Alexia Echeagaray
My name is Alexia Ceballos Echeagaray, I was born in November 14th, 1992 in Mazatlan, Sinaloa. I was raised at the beach but I only started surfing WHEN I was 17 years old.
I started travelling more when I was 19, first to California, then did Hawaii, Central America, a bit around Mexico and ended up studying Business and surfing in Australia for a couple of years.
Now I am living back home working on my dad’s landscaping business, I focus on doing/maintaining vertical gardens.
Surfing is my passion, I am very religious, I love spending time with my family, friends and my dog.
Tell us a little bit about where you live and where you surf? What’s your homebreak like?
I live in Mazatlan, Sinaloa, the northeast point of Mainland Mexico. It’s a beautiful city with the second longest “Malecon” in the world, with 3 pretty islands in front of the city, super tasty food, friendly people and mesmerising sunsets.
I live about a mile away from my homebreak, it’s one of the only two rights we have at home, called Jacarandas; unfortunately it needs certain tide and swell to work so it depends on the swell the surf spot I’ll go to.
Mazatlan has mostly left point breaks within the city, summer time is the best season for all of them to work. They are just really fun and rippable waves, sadly no barrels…
Whenever there’s not much swell in the water I surf a beach break called Brujas about 20 min drive from my house. I pretty much only surf Brujas during winter time as it likes the north swells and catches the most swell within the city.
When did you learn to surf? How long did it take you to transition to riding a shortboard?
I took my first surf lesson in Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, back when I was 17 during a family holiday. As soon as I got home I asked a surfboard, I first learned on a 5’11 to stand and ride the white wash, then dad bought me a 6’7 were I learned to properly ride waves.
So I pretty much only got a hold to a longboard the very two surf lessons I’ve ever had.
Tell us about some of the biggest surf you’ve ever experienced. Where was it and how big was it?
The biggest surf I’ve experience has been in Zicatela, Puerto Escondido, I paddled out when it was triple overheard. Unfortunately I didn’t get any set waves that day, my 6’3 was nowhere near as big. I’ve surf that size in Avoca Beach, Australia. But there’s no comparison power wise with Zicatela.
I’ve seen Zicatela 25-30 ft., but in those days I am only a spectator.
How do you decide whether the surf is too big or dangerous for you? What is your limit?
It depends on how strong I am feeling mentally, if I know that I’ve been training I can calmly paddle when its double overhead and I’ve pushed when it has been triple overhead. This will sound funny but I visualize myself in the worst position possible (the impact zone) and analyze if I can take the beating of the biggest sets, if I reckon I could possibly enter in panic I don’t paddle out.
At home it’s usually never too big because of the wave type and the biggest I’ve had it has been 8 ft.; but it’s a different story in Zicatela, in Puerto I measure it according to the quiver I have with me. This year I brought bigger boards that allow me to paddle on 6-8 ft. days (double-triple overhead).
My limit so far has been triple overhead, I am constantly working to feel more comfortable on the bigger days so each year I can paddle out a bit bigger.
Do you have any special tactics or practices you use to deal with fear while you surf? (i.e. meditation, visualization, physical training)
I started training on the pool to work on my lung capacity, I reckon that has been what’s helped me the most cause I’ve realized how much I could safely push my body. I also train at my local gym “El Bunker”, my personal trainer focuses on strengthen my body so I don’t get injured and cardio to continue to work on my lungs.
I also do meditation the night before I know it’s going to be big; I pray, try to relax and have some rest.
If I am getting worked by the waves I will try to relax my body, count or I distract myself and think of something else. Depends on how scared I am, if I am more scared than normal I will count. And I’ll do my best to try to enjoy getting worked.
Tell us about your scariest experience in the ocean. Where were you? What happened?
I’ve been really scared quite a few times… but 2 experiences marked me the most.
Back in 2013 I was surfing in Zicatela, it wasn’t huge but it was a couple of feet overhead, I got a left and the current lead me to Carmelita’s Right (AKA Oscar’s Right), it was dead low tide and a SUP paddle decided to catch a wave right in front of where the current lead me, I had no time nor space where to go and hide, if he didn’t made the drop he was going to hit me. So I went under covering my face praying he made the drop and lost all my air panicking on that first wave, I took another 3 set waves on the head with what it felt very little time to catch more air. By the very last set wave my muscles were numbing, I just felt the tingly around them and how my body was slowly shutting down and I was close to lose conscious. I know now I wasn’t close to dying but in my head I couldn’t think of anything else but wanting at and being out of that situation. I was so dizzy afterwards I didn’t know what direction was the beach at and ended up paddling back out.
The other time was when I was surfing in Avoca Beach, Australia. It was a decent size day 6-8 ft., there was lots of current that day and many people out. I fell on a wave and guy went for the next wave and fell too, he didn’t see me and he hit me. I got scared when I saw him going straight towards me, I covered my head but I felt how his board hit me. But again lost all my air in the first wave and took another 2 in the head. I was properly panicking as we got tangled and we were getting carried on by the current.
Those two experiences took away a lot of confidence out of me, for 4 years I struggled to paddle out in anything bigger than 4ft., every time I wipeout I would instantly fight to come out to the surface as fast as possible.
One thing I’ve learned is that you can’t fight against mother nature, cause you will lose most times. You can just relax and go with the flow.
What did you do to overcome that specific experience? How did overcome the memory?
I analyzed the situation many times, I always knew it was my fault cause I got scared. If I would’ve stayed calm I would’ve been alright. I talked to my big wave rider friends and one of them told me some very wise advice, that sometimes we can’t change/control the situations we are in but we can control our reaction to those situations. It all made sense! If I just relax I’ll be fine, if I panic I’ll be in trouble.
So I started to try to relax and distract myself with other thoughts whenever I had a bad wipeout, then I remember what my cousin once told me that usually a wipeout doesn’t last any longer than 10-15 seconds the longest one, that if I count I can distract myself with that and I’ll be out in the surface in no time.
Then I also realise that whenever I felt strong I knew my body was capable of handling a good hold down.
What are your current goals (surfing-related or otherwise?)
I want to improve my barrel riding skills, be able to surf comfortably on the triple overhead days and possibly later on paddle out on even bigger days.
I want to lose my fear but my not respect for the ocean and feel as comfortable as possible.
And of course I am looking at improving my surf over all.
I am trying to put some time in Puerto Escondido, so one day I can feel ready to surf breaks like Tahiti, Pipeline.
What is the greatest lesson (or meaning) surfing has taught you?
I don’t think I can only choose one lesson, the ocean has taught me to overcome my biggest fears, the power of our minds, how important is to have fun, the joy of traveling and making friends, being grateful to God overall things, the power of nature and how we must take care of our world.