January 17, 2018 - No Comments!

Seven Steps to Surfing

Seven Steps to Surfing

It took me at least seven years to learn to surf, at least to a level I thought was adequately competent. There was definitely more than seven steps involved, but I hope this summary from my experience will help you save a bit of time and frustration.

The struggle is worth it! Photograph taken by Richard Kotch.

Step One

Go where the surf’s good.

If you don’t live near good surf, move. If you can’t move, well you can go on surf trips but it’ll take much longer to improve.

It might be more crowded in places with good surf, but at least the waves will have some shape and appeal. Every so often, you’ll score a wave to yourself that’ll make all the hassle worthwhile.

I finally started learning to surf in my 20s on the punchy beach breaks of Perth, the West Australian capital city whose beautiful beaches aren’t known for great surf.

I’m slightly embarrassed to admit this (but to heck with shame!) - I don’t think I caught an actual wave for the first two years of my surfing endeavours. There I was, splashing about on my 7’ mini-mal in the short, fast, dumpy waves of Perth schmurf. Despite my total lack of progress, I persevered.

After a couple of years, I trekked up to an isolated desert break and surfed a near perfect break on a 1’ day, while everyone surfed another, bigger, break. I caught so many little waves where I travelled along the face, trimming their glassy green surface. Joyful realisation dawned on me - this is what surfing is! Persistence pays off!

See?! It only took seven years!

Step Two

Get a surf buddy.

My brother started surfing when we were both in high school in Perth, while I was obsessed with ballet. Years later I asked him to take me surfing with him. While he never flat out refused, he also never went with me. It makes sense now that I’ve learnt how to surf, because teaching someone to surf when you’re not an instructor is minus fun.

To solve this problem, I recommend learning to surf with a friend. It makes everything more fun and less intimidating. You’re motivated to show up and not let your friend down, even when it’s cold and you’re most likely just gonna get dumped eleventeen times over. The feeling of achievement is enhanced when you share it with a friend.

Surf adventures with surf buddies, aw yeah. Photograph taken by Tim, who declared he’d really captured the “essence of Anna and Emer”.

I was really lucky that when I decided to finally start surfing, my friend was also keen to learn. Anna was already an impressive wind surfer and ex-surf boat rower. She was confident in the surf and nothing fazed her. For a year we surfed every Friday and Saturday together, plus dawnie missions before work. Surf buddies make for a great bond, and I’ve no doubt that I wouldn’t have surfed as much or had half the fun without them.

Surf buds make it better 🤙

Step Three

Paddle like you mean it.

If you’re a girl learning to surf, you’re bound to receive advice unbidden from strangers, like “Paddle harder!”. If it annoys you, just smile and offer them advice in return: “Thanks! Your poo stance was much improved on that last ride!”.

Truth is most beginners don’t paddle hard enough, but “paddle harder” isn’t the greatest instruction. I was told I paddled really well in the line-up, but when going for a wave I looked like a dainty Tyrannosaurus Rex, frantic hands paddling hard but ineffectually.

The best tip I’ve heard when going for a wave is to think of yourself as a car engine. Start in first gear paddling long and slow, crank it to second gear after a couple of strokes, then give it all you’ve got until you’re right at the crest of the wave and feel like you’ll fall down the face. Then give it two more strokes! You might only get one in before you need to pop up. Think about your timing and positioning in the line-up and get used to wiping out.

Starting slow and building paddle speed.

If you’re not committed to paddling, balking and missing waves, you’re wasting your precious time, energy, and place in the line-up. If you’re paddling as best you can and still missing waves, consider a longer board or one with more volume.

Step Four

Master the Duckdive.

I gave up on lengthy instructions on duckdiving, and sod practising in a pool. Get amongst an approaching wall of whitewash or a watery mountain heaving over you, and get motivated by FEAR!

The point of a duck dive is to get yourself under and through the moving mass of water with your hunk of board. I’ve distilled it to two movements:

The Push Down

Get up front of your board and push down with as much effort as you can muster. There’ll be a sweet spot on your board where it’s easierpractice and figure that out. A successful duck dive comes down a lot to timing the push down. Don’t give me excuses about how little you weigh or how buoyant your board istiming is the key!

Beware of surfers on the wave. It’s better to keep out of the way and cop the broken wave on your head rather than paddling in front of a surfer on the face.

The Kick Up

If you don’t kick up successfully, the wave will throw you and your board down with it. Use your knee or foot and kick down on the tail pad (or as far back as you can). Aim for the surface, gripping your rails tight. An extra tip is top open your eyes and direct your board to come up in the least churned up water.

If you’re on a big board, you can paddle faster to get out of the way or do the turtle roll and I wish you the best! I gave up on that and moved to a board I could duckdive.

Duckdiving is a sensational experience. It’s thrilling, the feeling of driving through so much powerful water, having your hair lackey ripped out, and cheering with friends when you do a good one.

How super to experience this!

Step Five

Wipe Outs!

Eh, it’s inevitable. You’ll spend way more time doing this than actually riding a wave, at least in the beginning. Surf buddy Anna told herself that getting dumped was fun. I’ve had some amazing experiences getting thrashed about and bumped along under water, weirdly the most hectic were during big winter swells on Perth beachies.

The surf guide called me a crash-test dummy.

Some practical tips that might help you:

  • Under water, count from one to ten. It’s calming and you know you can hold your breath for at least ten seconds. I’ve counted to eleven seconds a few times, but mostly I’ve come up at the count of six;
  • Hold your nose under water (that tip is stolen from the amazing Amy Kotch);
  • If you’re surfing sharp reef, spread your limbs out like a starfish and don’t push off the coral to get to the surface quicker; and
  • Remind yourself that some people pay for this kind of experience that’s yours for free!

All time errors.

Step Six

Injuries…

Surfing will take you to some amazing places, but you’re dealing with powerful waves and a lot of foam and fins so there’s potential to get injured. I’ve seen a friend’s board break her nose so my top tip is: don’t allow your board to get between you and a wave! After a dumping, I still come up with my arms cover my head, feeling like a dufus but hopefully preventing a flying board to my head.

Hats might make me look like a dufus, but they're good for sun protection and prevents headaches from sun in your eyes .

On potential injuries from wildlife, there’s often not a lot you can do to prevent an accident. Two of my friends have been killed by great white sharks, surfing in the middle of a sunny day. Their deaths were tragic and shocking, so hearing people say “At least they died doing what they loved” seems flippant and dismissive. If someone dies at work, we don’t say “At least they were getting paid”. There is no at least in death. If you’re struggling for words, simply expressing sorrow for a person’s loss will do.

On the constructive side, you can be better prepared for an accident. Pay attention to wildlife activity such as dead whales, seal pup season, whale migrations, and hazards like fire coral. Have your own first aid kit on hand, complete with a tourniquet (which are controversial but you should know how to use them). Brush up on your first aid skills because while it’s unlikely, an attack may happen when you’re out surfing and I know I’d rather be able to help with a clear head and some training under my belt.

This is a great video on first aid in the event of a shark attack:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cjR-QrLb48E

Step Seven

Technique & Style

On to the fun stuff. At which point I’ll admit that I don’t have much advice because I’m not that good! I’ll tell you what I do know.

Technique

  • Look along the wave’s face when you’re taking off, and that’s where you’ll go;
  • When you’re turning, keep your foot at the back edge of your tail pad;
  • Look with your head where you want to turn;
  • Watch any Kelly Slater footage and imitate him as best you can 😉

Super stoked this day because I’m looking along the face of the wave to where my surf buddy was paddling out and hooting at me from under a rainbow.

Style

Have you heard the phrase that the surfer with the biggest smile is having the best time? How great, but pretty irritating when you’re learning and eating salt water and sand and haven’t caught a wave your whole session. At that point style is probably an afterthought, but if you think about it, everyone has their own style built into all of their movements. Surfing can be a physical expression that just happens to be supremely difficult whilst on a a board on a moving wave.

Extra tip for style points is to be photographed by an excellent photographer like Richard Kotch, whose skills make me look far more competent than I am.

If you’ve had a bad session, it’s nice to sit down and just watch the other surfers still out. After a while, you’ll realise you’re not as bad as think you are, you’ve improved a little, and that everybody else wants to get better.

Surfing’s fun to watch, like a dance performance, and some of the best surfers look like they’re leading the dance. At the same time, Laura Enever is one of my favourite surfers to watch because you never know what random, unexpected manoeuvre she’ll have a crack at.

My favourite part of surfing - the thrill of the drop.

Slow Satisfaction

Hopefully this will help if you’re learning to surf. I started as an adult but it’s possibly even more rewarding than learning when you’re a grom. There’s a lot of instant gratification these days, whereas learning to surf is such a slow process. Whenever you improve on something, the feeling of accomplishment is that much greater.

You don’t have to become an expert but surfing will add joy, drive and satisfaction to your life. Good luck to you!

*Note how I’ve included photographs of lefts…I hardly ever surf rights but armed with the knowledge that I now have, I’m sure it’s gonna take me way less than seven years to learn how to surf them!

Now what?

June 16, 2017 - No Comments!

What exactly is an industrial climber?!

Technically it's called a rope access technician.

Except that 'rope access technician' makes sense that to hardly anyone. It's also referred to as industrial climbing, industrial abseiling and high rope access.

I’ve embarked on a total career change which required wrapping up seven years of work into one paragraph on my CV. This blog is my chance to explain the rope access world in a bit more depth.

That’s me in the blue helmet. I’ve never not smiled for a photograph. Here, we’re replacing old sections of pipe (call ’em spools to sound like a pro) using rigging gear and rattle guns.

Rope access involves using a twin set of ropes to suspend a worker in place. The practical rope techniques are based on climbing and caving practices to protect a worker from falling.

Some of the highest incidences of injuries and fatalities in a workplace or at home are due to falls from height. We’ve come a long way from these sorts of practices (check this guy out below!). As thrilling as it looks, I definitely wouldn’t do it!

A rock climbing mate of mine, Kristi, used to call out at the crux of a climb, "Don’t fall now!". I bet you’d be cruising for a bruising if you said that to this guy.

"So...what do you actually do?"

Rope access can involve painting, maintenance, cleaning, construction, inspection and surveying on work sites that include skyscrapers, wind turbines, oil rigs, mine sites, energy plants, domestic construction, sporting and entertainment events. I was fortunate to work in sunny Western Australia, in places that are ruggedly beautiful. The weather there is generally hot, or hot and humid. The work is physically demanding and most ropeys are on the fit side.

Maintenance job on the engine of a crusher. Good times at a gold mine somewhere in the desert.

One of the most physically demanding yet fun jobs I worked on was on the construction of a gas plant on a desert island, 50km off the coast of Western Australia. For six months I worked the night shift in a team with three hilarious men, on roster of 26 days on and nine days off. The gas plant was built in modules in South Korea and then shipped to Australia.

Part of our job involved removing the various-sized pieces of shipping steel that had been put in place to keep the pipework secure during the ocean crossing. I thought it was a bonus that the shipping steel was all coloured bright pink. We set up ropes to climb up and position ourselves underneath a 3m diameter pipe to shift a 100kg steel plate separating the pipe from the concrete structure it was sitting on.

The reality of the task meant that we were hanging from a rope next to smooth concrete, with no ability to establish a foothold or gain leverage, swinging a sledge hammer to shift the plate inch by inch. It was a physical slog, but tell you what, it also felt amazing to use a sledge hammer like that, feeling strong and satisfied at the end of a shift. Another benefit is that you get to eat a lot of food, including at least one large block of chocolate every day, if that's your thing.

My favourite part of the job was being able to work offshore with a view of the beautiful Indian Ocean, watching whales and whale sharks cruise by. The downside was having to go away to to remote places to earn my keep, with limited contact with friends and family.

 

One big highlight of the job was getting the chance to see wildlife like this beautiful whale shark!

IRATA Level 3!

The Industrial Rope Access Trade Association (IRATA) is the international body that provides guidelines and regulations for rope access technicians to follow. You can get your Level 1 ticket by taking a one-week course and passing a one-day assessment, after which you’re qualified to set up your own harness and work under supervision.

It was a treat to work amongst the Valley of the Giant Trees near Walpole, south-west Western Australia.

After at least one year and 1000 hours as a Level 1 ropey, you can go for your Level 2 course and assessment.  A Level 2 ropey learns more complicated rescues, rigging, and hauling techniques. The same requirements apply before you can sit your Level 3, a minimum of one year and 1000 hours.

Trainers and assessors put you through your paces when you go for your Level 3 assessment. It’s a heady thing to be ultimately responsible for the safety of your crew, and culpable if anyone goes wrong. Going for my Level 3 was one of the toughest weeks ever, and passing the assessment was a massive achievement for me.

 

Polishing the hand-rails with these handsome fellas, Phid and Coops.

Safety Safety Safety

The hierarchy of levels in rope access is a great system as it teaches you to look out not only for yourself but for others. It’s vital to communicate and work well as a team, because if something goes wrong it is likely to be seriously bad. It’d be hard to justify lazy or shoddy work practices after an accident. It became really clear when I was a team leader how much people rely on each other for mental and technical preparation when they’re on the job.

Working at height, we also have to be hyper aware of the hazard of dropped objects to people outside of our work crew — the potential for serious injury to a person resulting from an item we drop is high. We're diligent about putting a lanyard on everything and ensuring barricades to areas below our work space.

The safety mindset is reinforced diligently on good worksites. It can seem like overkill to outsiders, but it's an important core principle to industrial companies. As cheesy as some of the slogans sound, after a while it’s hard to shake the safety thinking that gets drilled into you: ‘It’s always the right time to do the right thing’. Even cheesier is 'safety never sleeps!'. Word to the wise -  avoid saying to people that in earnest!

 

This set-up was just for the glamour water shot. Just kidding — here we’re taking down rigging gear that had been set up in an elaborate engineering plan to lay new pipe on the ocean floor, connecting the platform to a new field.

One of these things is not like the others

"Morning lads! And lady..." - I heard that every day for two weeks straight on the job at one mine site. I like to laugh, but after a while that sort of casual sexism just isn't funny. The construction and resources industries have traditionally been male-dominated and often I was one of a few or the only woman on a job. A workmate mentioned to me that he noticed a difference for the better when there were women in the workplace, and I certainly had more fun when there were other women around.

I was explaining rope access recently to someone who remarked that the job sounded ‘man-heavy’. I'd never heard that expression and it made me laugh, but it’s important to consider why some industries are so women-light. I know the challenges of being the odd one out, but the positives of the experience outweighed the negatives. There are huge opportunities to be had and it's important we encourage people in their endeavours, especially as there is so much value in having diverse workplaces.

Orange is the new black. Side bonus was not having to buy clothes for work.

We can do better in encouraging young girls and women to approach working in any industry with a full belief in their own capabilities. Embrace mechanical advantage and learn to ask for help when needed, and anyone can work a physically demanding job.

"Everything is design. Everything!"

^  Thanks for that tie-in, Paul Rand  😉  ^

This brings me round to my approach to my new career in user experience design. Perhaps you’re thinking, ‘Emer, the link seems tenuous’, and yes, I see your point. I gained invaluable experience in understanding the complexities of large-scale industrial design and their operations. I also learnt a tonne about was people, teamwork, thinking on my feet, strategy, communication, and the importance of having a problem-solving rather than a defeatist attitude.

 

While I miss being able to wear trendy overalls to work, I don’t miss the dirt.

Thanks for reading! If you’d like to check out my other endeavours, I’m working on projects that you can see in the portfolio on my website — www.emerboothman.com.

Useful links:

A great video to see what it's like building a gas plant on a desert island and the marvels of engineering: https://thewest.com.au/business/watch-chevrons-45b-wheatstone-project-take-shape-bc-5602275932001

If you're interested in getting into rope access yourself, consider getting your Level 1 IRATA ticket. For more information check the IRATA website: https://www.irata.org/

 

More dirt. It's probably not good for my skin.

March 2, 2017 - No Comments!

Problem Solving Framework

People come to the field of UX design from a whole range of occupations, bringing with them a huge variety of skills. It's one of the aspects of the industry that's so exciting to me, as the scope for improvement in design in all aspects of our lives is also wide.

From what I've seen so far, the common factor that ties these designers together is an empathetic soul. Good design stems from thinking about how people will use it, so a wide variety of backgrounds in designers should lead to better and more inclusive design overall.

I take a practical and pragmatic approach to design philosophy. I've noticed similarities between the way systems are structured in my experience as a town planner and then as an industrial climber, and within Maslow's hierarchy of needs. These hierarchies are a great way to frame the problems we try to solve in any profession. In each, the lower level is generally the first need encountered by people and involves more effort to meet.

Design Hierarchy

When I worked as a town planner, I was conscious of the impact that design choices had on the environment and human interaction in a physical sense. For instance, people are willing to walk between 800m to 1000m to a train station, but will only walk roughly 400m to a bus stop. Planners must consider such human behaviour and motivation when designing neighbourhoods and transit systems. If not, people tend to find their own shortcuts, which can be a fine thing, but it may also mean the design has failed people.

The differences in thoughtful vs thoughtless (or short-sighted, to be kinder) planning are clear when you compare the ease of getting around in a city with a great public transit system to one that is planned for cars and not people.

Safety Hierarchy

Working as a rigger and climber on mine sites and oil rigs, a company's commitment to safety culture made a big difference to every-day attitudes and to ensuring workers all went home safely. It made a big difference to a crew's behaviour when their company cared about safety, because doing the right thing by everyone else became habit.

Safety culture is based on the hierarchy of safety controls (below). I relate the safety hierarchy to an example that's applicable to town planning, where we can consider the hazard of cars to cyclists. Removing the hazard would involve:

  • Elimination - removing cars;
  • Substitution - substituting cars for more bicycles;
  • Engineering - isolating cars and cyclists from each other in dedicated lanes;
  • Administration - fines for drivers of cars using their mobile phones while driving; and
  • PPE - personal protective equipment is safety equipment for cyclists.

Maslow's Hierarchy

The pyramids illustrate that if we don't meet the base level, we can't meet higher needs. That doesn't make the higher echelons less legitimate or unworthy of consideration, but their solutions are likely to be less effective if the others aren't met first.

As when people say 'first world problems'. Sure, it depends on what someone is complaining about, but sometimes a person's problem is a real problem. It's up to us as their friend to really listen and maybe help them find a solution, or to say 'Snap out of it!'The safety, design and needs hierarchies are just three I'm fairly familiar with now. While the consequences might be different in different fields (heavy machinery vs losing customers from a shoddy sign up process), all the problems are valid. Each framework informs my approach to user experience design.