In his second Player Blog, World Number 21 Rafa Cabrera Bello chose to share his passion for surfing, how he got into it, some of the best surf spots he's been to and how he sees similarities between his hobby and his profession.
I'm a golfer by profession but I love to surf. I mean really love to surf.
It’s my go-to hobby and one that I can do on a more regular basis than skiing, for example. I love the lifestyle, I love the ocean, I love being on the beach and, growing up in the Canaries, I love warm weather. Whenever I can, I try to combine these four things and surfing fits perfectly.
Truth be told, my golf pays for my surf trips. My surfing wouldn’t pay for anything! Golf is my first love. I have played since I was six years old while surfing is something I got into in my twenties and I've fallen head over heels. I can't get enough. When I'm not planning my golf schedule, I'm looking at places I could go to surf with my wife, with my friends or even just on my own.
I started when I was about 23, pretty late compared to most of the people I surf with. I wish I had taken it up earlier and learnt the basics when I was a kid, but I'm pretty good for how long I've been doing it. I might be a pro golfer but I'm probably a 15 handicap in the ocean. I just go in the water, have fun and enjoy it. That’s all I need. With my schedule on Tour, I don’t have as much time as I'd like practice. Being a professional athlete, it's easy to get frustrated when I do something and can't improve but surfing is fun regardless of how good you are. Like golf, it's something that never really gets perfected and I think that's one of the draws.
I probably surf around six to eight weeks a year, depending on what golf events are on. That sounds like a lot, and it's awesome to get that kind of time to spend on my hobby but imagine someone trying to learn golf and only playing six weeks a year, it would be pretty hard to get good. That's the challenge I have.
Growing up in the Canaries, I’ve been in the water since I was old enough to stand. I have always been comfortable in the water. I know how to stay safe, how the ocean works, where the entry points are and how the current goes so I am ok if I get in a dangerous situation. I don’t try to get in water if it’s beyond my reach. If there are 15-foot waves breaking, I won’t go in the water. I’ve been in the water where it has been over ten feet and my leash broke and I got stuck and had to stay calm, think about where I was and find the way out. I am very aware that that is my hobby and I’m not going to let anything damage my health or keep me from playing on Tour.
I've been lucky to surf in some cool spots and see some amazing waves. I always get asked "what's the biggest wave you've surfed?" To be honest, the size of the wave depends a lot on the how the wave is. If it’s a hollow wave then anything above six feet is really big. If it’s a feather, an easier wave, then maybe around 12 feet but those are easier to catch.
It surprises people that I surf, maybe because they don’t expect a professional golfer to be surfing. However there is tonnes of professional surfers that are crazy for golf, so it’s not that uncommon to enjoy both sports.
I've found surfing is like golf in a lot of ways.
The biggest and clearest similarity is commitment. In golf when you decide on a shot, you have to commit to it. You have to forget everything else, trust your instincts and hit the shot. In surfing, I get the same feeling. You paddle out, wait for the right wave and then you have to commit to it. You have to go for it. If there is any doubt, whether in golf or surfing, you are probably going to miss a wave or hit a bad shot. That pressure is what make both sports so difficult, but also so rewarding.
I honestly think surfing, in a small way, helps me play better on the course. Not necessarily swing better but the balance demands of surfing helps. You have to use your feet and your lower body to control your momentum and stay firm whilst also being flexible and athletic. Those same principles work in the golf swing. Beyond that, surfing makes me happy and when I'm happy on the golf course I tend to play better!
On the golf course, there's lot of people around, there's lots of distractions but at the end of the day it's down to you. You need to perform well and take responsibility for your results. That solitude and comfort with yourself is something I've seen in surfing too. I have floated on the water at 4.45am for hours, completely on my own, without seeing anyone. Just listening to the sound of the ocean and waves breaking. It sounds strange but it's really beautiful. I’ve also been on a really crowded beach just having a huge laugh with my friends, making fun of one another and getting in each other's way of each other. That’s been equally fun.
I got married last year and I’m trying to get my wife into surfing. I would love for her to surf but I only want her to do if she enjoys it as much as I do. We were in Bali not long ago and we were just catching whitewash, just starting the process of her surfing. Hopefully she'll enjoy it and we can go out together sometimes. Otherwise, I'm sure she'll be happy on the beach with me out on the ocean.
I go to Bali a lot. I used to have a place there. Some of my best friends live in the area and actually one of my best friends is there and I'm the godfather to his kid so I try and visit when I can. It is easier when we play in Asia and have the odd week off, you can just fly there for three or four days. It’s harder once we play in Europe because usually I only take one or two weeks off during that stretch and it doesn’t allow for the amount of travel we'd like to do.
A couple of years ago I went on a surf trip with Adam Scott and some other guys to the Kandui Resort. It is a really, really tiny island in Indonesia. They are a group of islands just off Sumatra and they are perfect for surfing. In fact, the area we were surfing was called Playgrounds, which tells you how much fun it is for guys like us that just want to chill out and do a little surfing. It didn't matter where the wind was coming from, where the swells were – there was always a perfect tropical wave. That is probably one of my best surf spots I've ever seen in person.
As for surfing at golf events, it's pretty tough. Our days are long and it's my job so I take it very seriously. However, if I'm at an event early or have a couple of days after, I'll check and see if there's any spots nearby. Actually recently in Austin, I went to an inland wave park with my brother and a couple of friends and we went out for little bit. It was the first time I have ever been in a surf park. It’s definitely different to the ocean. The take-off felt a little strange but the rest was pretty similar.
Last year in Munich, I got the chance to surf at the Eisbach, in the centre of downtown. It's a man-made river that runs right through the city and they've engineered a little stretch so you can surf. People go there during lunch breaks or after work and wait in line to get a shot on the wave. It's one of the coolest things I've ever seen. I went with a guy named Tao Schirrmacher, he is the European River Surfing Champion and gave me a few tips on how to attack the river wave. I fell a couple of times but I think I was getting the hang of it after a few goes.
Surfing in downtown Munich pic.twitter.com/DForr9INwl— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) June 21, 2017
There's quite a few players on Tour that surf. I'd say Benjamin Hebert is probably the best. He lives in southern France and he surfs a lot, so he should be pretty good! We chat about it whenever I see him. He grew up in Tahiti so learned when he was a kid so I tell him that's why he's good, he got a head start on me.
Quite a few of the South African guys like to surf too. Dylan Frittelli surfs a little, I know George Coetzee will try a couple of times a year when's near somewhere good and I think Thomas Aiken likes it too. As for the Spanish guys, Pablo Martin has surfed before and I know Alvaro Quiros has tried it as well. I guess it suits the guys that grew up in hot climates near the beach.
When I'm back in my hotel room on Tour, I often check out the WSL (World Surf League) and follow how the guys are getting on. I'll take out my iPad and watch the replays. They do these highlights where you can watch an entire session in a few minutes, seeing guys hit wave after wave. It's cool to watch and I'm always seeing if there's things I can do that they do, to get better next time I get the chance to go out.
I've met Kelly Slater a few times. The dude is the epitome of cool. When I picked up surfing he was someone I really looked up to. I used to read about his career or watch him in competition and think how amazing it would be to be able to surf like that. It's nice now that I know him a little that I can pick his brain and hear some of the stories he has.
We're actually going on a surf trip soon. Just for a couple of days but I can't wait. I've never surfed with him before so it'll be a dream come true to be in the waves and see him do his thing in person.
Kelly's a keen golfer too, he's actually pretty good. I've been trying to get a game with him for a while but our schedules just never match up. Maybe after he's shown me how to surf a little better, we can get a game and I can repay the favour on the golf course.
I often think about the feeling of holing an important putt and if it's similar to catching an amazing wave. For me, the feeling I get when I’m in a barrel, it’s as rare as when I win a tournament. It's just incredible. I think I get more instant pleasure from surfing just because when I try to do something and it happens, it happens less often than when I try to do something at golf and it happens. I guess that's why I'm a professional golfer and an amateur surfer.
Someone asked the other day if I would rather win the Masters or be a pro surfer. It's not even a debate. I'd do anything to get that Green Jacket.