Dealing with Fear: Zala Cuden

For someone who hails from a landlocked country in Europe and only started surfing only six years ago, Zala has a lot to be proud of. She’s currently living and working in the Mentawai Islands while putting her surfing and ability to handle fear to the test. This week she shares her experience surfing massive Icelands (that the guys at camp say is only 5 foot) and how she deals with her surfing fears.

I am really passionate about surfing and I don’t know how can people live without it.

-Zala Cuden

Tell us a little bit about where you live and where you surf? What’s your homebreak like?

At the moment I an in Indonesia on Mentawai islands. Originally I am from Slovenia, country without waves, so I don’t really have home break.

When did you learn to surf? How long did it take you to transition to riding a shortboard?

I started 10 years ago. For the first couple of years I surfed just for vacations and learning in surf schools. I think i got my first short/fun board after 3 or 4 years.


Tell us about some of the biggest surf you’ve ever experienced. Where was it and how big was it?

The biggest I surfed was spot called Icelands on Mentawai islands. Here they call it 5ft 😉

How do you decide whether the surf is too big or dangerous for you? What is your limit?

I just look at it and decide. I know spots in our area quite well and each spot has its own height limit for me. I think everyone has the limit and a surfer just knows what’s the biggest you would go. It also depends how heavy spot is. I have massive respect for the ocean. Sometimes, we all need to go out of our comfort zone to get better. I like to be a little bit scared when I surf... it gives me adrenaline.


Do you have any special tactics or practices you use to deal with fear while you surf? (i.e. meditation, visualisation, physical training)

Not really. I try to stay calm in all situations. The thing that is most scary is having a long hold down. A while ago, I did breathing exercises with free diving instructor and he made me realize the fear is all in your head because human body is capable of amazing things.


Tell us about your scariest experience in the ocean. Where were you? What happened?

I would say the same wave I had the biggest wave. I was sitting in the lineup alone because everyone else had just got a wave. Then there was a massive set coming in, totally unexpected. I bailed my board because it was way too big to duck dive. I dove under way too late and wave just crashed me, big time. I lost my board and got another 4 waves on the head. I. swam under the set of waves, but I was scared because it’s a deep water spot so the hold downs are generally longer but the thing to do is RELAX, to breath deeply and just swim under. Being without your board is more scary because your board floats and will eventually pop-up.

What did you do to overcome that specific experience? How did overcome the memory?

It was scary but I don’t want to forget about it. Its a good reminder how small we are and how powerful is the ocean. When I went in after that, the swell dropped and it was fine. For some reason, I wasn’t even scared. After that event, I surfed bigger waves than before. You have to overcome your fear and push yourself a little bit.

I am lucky to have surfers around me that surf much better than me and push me. I always have someone to ask things and they encourage me to surf bigger waves and to surf better.

What are your current goals (surfing-related or otherwise?)

Getting a proper barrel.

What is the greatest lesson (or meaning) surfing has taught you?

You don’t know how strong you are until being strong is your only option.

You can find Zala on Instagram @zalacuden