If you know you're going to get crushed (or if you like to free dive), hyperventilating is a good trick, yes, but only 2 or 3, maybe 4 tops times. As BCN correctly points out, the rapid breathing expels the CO2 from your blood, CO2 levels being the trigger that make you need to breathe. The risk isn't then "forgetting to breathe" and blacking out, it's more when people hyperventilate too many times too rapidly (in an attempt to allow them to hold their breath even longer) and black out from low oxygen levels. When done correctly (3 or so quick breaths), it's not a danger and can indeed give you extra time underwater.
Ok dawgs, the dude said he's in fine physical shape and it's all mental so cease the Richard Simmons suggestions.
Xanax or other anxiety mediactions. Beer. Use something to take the edge off for a month until you get to the point where you aren't even thinking aboot your inhibitions. Then gradually ween off the substances.
Or just keep paddling out, fighting your fear, and hopefully your condition will fade away.
Maybe seek psychiatric help. Maybe you were a pirate who was killed by the King's Navy in a previous life. Or you were shipwrecked, and/or drowned.
It is undertsantable to be weary paddling out on big days if you aren't in good shape and have poor cardio health. But if you are in shape, there must be some deeper issue at hand. Maybe you're just not an ocean person. That would be a tough brain-wiring to reprogram.
The difference BCN is referring to is hyperventilation when you are panicked is much different than voluntarily hyperventilating before a long hold down.
I think all of us have gotten nervous in the surf at one point or another. When I feel my gonads start to silently creep upwards into my abdomen, I remind myself of one critical fact: deep water is in a lot of ways the safest place to be. As long as you keep your leash on and keep calm, it's very, very hard to get into real trouble. Unless you're in 12-foot-plus waves, the waves just aren't powerful enough to hold you under long enough to drown you. Just relax and enjoy the washing machine and it will spit you out LONG before you run out of breath. As long as you stay calm, you'll be fine.
My two boys (ages 10 and 7) surf, and i make them recite "the two rules" before we paddle out. (1) don't panic, and (2) stay with your board. As i tell them, as long as you keep calm and stay with your board, nothing that bad can really happen. You'll float around and sooner or later someone will come and get you if necessary.
So paddle out to the deep stuff and have fun!
best advice i can give is be patient and take your time.remember your not going out there to impress anyone or drop a new web clip,your there for fun.also its hard to impress anyone when your surfing 2ft waves.i had the same problem when i started,what i would do is practice swimming out without a board.thats the one thing that always scared me,paddling out with a long fiberglass stick roped to your leg.when u swim out,u dont have to worry about sinking a shortboard/longboard whatever..swim out past the breakers and bodysurf a few waves.when i started out,il paddle out on an onshore crosschop day with nothing but closeouts,but i didnt know any better.there werent forums or websites like this when i started.i took some serious beatings,like thinking u can paddle over a wave and it picks u up and slams u down backwards.or when u wipeout and u think its over,but iit pulls u under and have no control.what a lot of newbies doont know is how shallow the east coast is,and thats what always scares me.u can go out on a solid 6ft day and right where the waves break itll be waist deep.its like u paddle over the first 2 waves of the set,then your out there and theres no turning back and u got 2 waves already breaking infront of u,so u got to duckdive or jump off your board.i seen some recent stuff of longboarders when the wave is about to break on top of them paddling out,they stand up on the board and pass right over it.im not out there to impress anyone or anything.i try to surf a spot with maybe 2 other guys out.the more people in the water,the more risk u have of getting ran over and u running somebody over.also u dont have to try to shred,just surf like a kook.nothing wrong with that.the problem with kooks are most of them paddle out at spots reserved for some talent,and sit on the inside and guys got to bail so they dont run them over.everybody starts out the same.u dont just show up to the beach one day and get barreled or do turns or airs.if i see somebody struggling i try to give them some pointers.swimmers or surfers,nobody is going to drown while im in the water,unless they get eaten by a shark.theres days like today where the waves break right on the beach,then u have long period swells that break a half mile out and tumble all the way to shore.im gonna smoke a joint in a little bit and try to find a good sandbar in my area and hopefully catch a few little waves.if not il just go swimmin.no problem.as long as i get in the water im happy,whether swimmin,diving,surfing,kooking,whatever.its all about having fun
Oh sorry dude, I forgot to add this: On a bigger day, watch the surf. Watch one pitch and explode(North Jersey) or watch one mush and crumble(Virginia Beach/Florida version). Even on a big day, by east coast standards, it is only a few seconds from the point that the wave breaks until it has dissapated to the point where you'd pop back up. Really, it is such a short period of time. Usually less than ten seconds.
Though the Swellinfo community seems to constantly be riding "Double Overhead" waves, it rarely gets 8 foot on the east coast. There are very few days that would be considered "dangerous."
Dude, it's all mind over matter. I know it's easier said than done, but work at it, and you'll be ok.
Look at duck diving as a fun experience. One in which you're hiding/escaping the power of nature by taking quick refuge in the deep blue sea. Look at paddling out as part of the experience as a whole. Paddling out is better than climbing rocks, and then you have the whole wave riding thing to look forward to.