Isaiah “Izzy” Hale, El Segundo-based surf instructor and owner of Smoke Stack Surfing, says the key to surfing is “staying calm when it doesn’t feel like you should be calm.”
1. How did you get into surfing?
I’ve been surfing since I was 9 or 10. My dad was a surfer, my grandpa was a surfer. As soon as I was old enough, my dad started taking me out.
My dad was always pushing me to go a little bit further. When I was 11 or 12, he took me to a spot here in El Segundo where the waves get notoriously big and heavy. I got thrashed out there. But I just kept getting after it and now I’m thankful he kept pushing me.
2. Do you still feel nervous when you surf bigger waves today?
Yeah, I definitely still feel nervous. But I’ve been through it enough that I know, no matter how long I get held under by a wave, as long as I stay calm, everything’s going to be OK. It’s always going to be over at some point and I’ll be back on the sand laughing about it with my friends after.
3. Is there a particular experience that made you more comfortable in bigger surf?
Surfing with Tyler Hatzikian, the founder of Tyler Surfboards. He was a pro surfer and he’s been shaping my boards since I was a kid. On big days, I used to watch him from the sand. Then one winter, I paddled out with him, and I just took all my queues from him. He was really calm out there. One of the biggest things is just staying calm when it doesn’t feel like you should be calm.
4. How has Sojen helped your surfing?
I have a whole routine in the mornings before I go surfing. I’ll wake up, meditate, pray, stretch out and take Sojen. I got my first bottle of Sojen just before our first big swell this winter. I was still anxious but I could feel that I was calmer too. Then there was a day when I didn’t take it, and I definitely felt my nerves more. On one of the biggest days this winter, I said, “You know what, I’m taking two of these gelcaps.” I still had the butterflies, but significantly less. So it’s an important part of my routine now, especially when it gets big.
5. Tell us about a lesson that surfing taught you that carried over to the rest of your life.
Surfing definitely changes with the seasons. In the summer, the waves are small and playful, and I feel more in control out there. Then winter rolls around and that first big swell of the ocean is completely different. I’m no longer in control. It’s a scary feeling. I have to do the best that I can with my own abilities and mentally be OK with the fact that I’m at the mercy of the ocean.
That applies to all other aspects of my life, where there are all kinds of things that happen throughout my day that I’m not in control of. It’s tough for me to accept that a lot of the time. But the more that I become OK with that, that there are things that are out of my control, the happier I am.
6. What keeps you coming back to surfing?
There’s definitely something in my brain that’s a little bit off. I love the adrenaline. I love how freaked out I am on my first wave. The rush. That’s what keeps me coming back.
There’s also a community that I surf with. They call me in the morning and say, “Hey, it’s big today! You ready?” I don’t really have a choice. I’m going out whether I want to or not.
7. What advice do you have for people getting into surfing?
I recommend either lessons or surfing with a friend who knows what they are doing. A lot more goes into it than meets the eye. One of the main things is positioning yourself on a wave. If you have someone to guide you, it can really accelerate your learning curve.
8. What’s the best way for people to get in touch with you?
Reach out to me via Smoke Stack Surfing, my surf school in El Segundo, at smokestacksurfing.com or on Instagram @smokestacksurfing.
This interview has been edited and condensed.