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Learning to Surf


I’m starting a topic to discuss tips you’ve found useful in learning to surf, be it short or long boarding.

Here’s some thoughts:

  1. You can’t overthink what you’re doing. You have to get an intuition and feel for waves. I think only time in the water can help that.
  2. Surfing different waves definitely makes you a better surfer. This summer I got a chance to surf Cloudbreak with @Vince_Steves. Besides just surfing somewhere unfamiliar, that wave requires a sincere commitment to “go”. I.e., if you’re thinking about whether you should go on the wave, you’ve got no chance. Then I surfed a variety of unfamiliar spots in Kauai. When I got back to my home break at Hookipa, I was able to spot waves that would not have spotted before. So break out of your comfort zone and surf some unfamiliar spots.
  3. Guides and instructors can definitely help, be it with basic surfing skills or just learning which waves to catch and where to catch them, especially at unfamiliar breaks. If your time is valuable, don’t hesitate to hire guides.
  4. Do whatever you can to become a stronger paddler and develop more core strength. I’m truly enjoying prone paddling. It definitely helps.
  5. Paddle with your feet together or ankles crossed. Avoid having your knees touch your board. Instead, feel your thighs and stomach on the board. Whenever my knees are touching the board, I feel the tail of the board sink and the board slows down. This is a sure way to miss or get into waves late, no matter how hard you’re paddling. I like to keep my chin up except when I’m digging for a wave. I think that allows you to quickly put the weight forward when stroking for a wave. I think most of the stroke power is with the hand in front of the shoulder. Maintain a smooth pace. It takes more energy to constantly accelerate and decelerate.
  6. I practice about 30 minutes of yoga each day, mostly the Ashtanga standing series, some hip openers, and back bends. It helps.
  7. Read a lot and watch a lot of videos on how to surf, but then you just have to tune into the water and feel it.
  8. Get the right equipment for your body size. I’m very heavy, so I need a wider, thicker board. @kazuma has been super helpful getting me on the right gear.
  9. Some pictures and video of you surfing can help you bridge the gap between what you think you’re doing and what you’re actually doing.
  10. Try to avoid sitting too close to others when surfing. It makes it very difficult to move when a wave is coming. In general, do what you can to avoid crowds. You’ll have a greater chance of enjoying the experience. I often say “when it’s really good, 3’ and glassy, it’s guaranteed to be really bad.”
  11. No matter how good your conditioning, before going on a surf trip, try to get in the water every day for a couple of weeks on your regular surfboard, no matter how poor the waves are. I thought I could be in great shape for a surf trip by just prone paddling. I was wrong. The mechanics of paddling a surfboard are slightly different.
  12. “Lead with the hand, then the head, then the hips”, from Craig Hoshide, former ASP judge.

Big thanks to @doug, Kaipo Joaquias, and Craig Hoshide, who all have inspired me recently, along with @riverstothesurf and @Buzzykerbox, and @Jimmie for some great shots.

Please share your tips in this thread for getting in touch with the ocean.


Kiva, @riverstothesurf, sent me a couple of links to some great interviews with him:

6 Ways to Improve your Surfing

From the Pro, for the Pros: 6 Surfing Tips for Advanced Surfers

Here’s my favorites from the articles:


  1. Tips for Turning. “In part one, I noted that keeping your eyes up is a key part in staying up on your surf board. This is key in properly turning your board too. It starts with bending your knees, nice and low, to achieve a solid balance. Extend your left arm straight out in front of you while putting your right arm bent at your elbow across your belly button; think of a hula stance. Once you’re here, if you’re turning right, twist your upper body to the right—remember it’s a swift twisting movement and not a lean—a lean will encourage you to look down and fall on your front side. Meanwhile, you need to apply significant toe pressure onto the deck of your surfboard as well. The only part of your body touching the surfboard is your feet—so it’s vital to keep in mind that you’ll need a lot of toe pressure to turn right. When turning left, keep your upper body in the same balanced posture but apply heel pressure instead of toe pressure. Turn and pivot from your heels with equal pressure from both feet. This is all the same for “Goofy Footed” surfers as well, except with the opposite foot forward.”

  2. Speed Gains: “The most efficient way to gain speed is to stay as close to the curl of a wave as possible. The curl is on the edge of the wave where the crest is folding over, and it’s there that the face of the wave will be the steepest. You gain speed here because your surfboard will drop down on the steepest part of the wave, allowing the board to gain and hold on to the speed of a wave. To get to a curl, as you’re standing up after catching the wave, start to look for one and remember twist your body in the direction that you’re turning—you won’t be able to hang 5 or get in a tube if you’re only surfing straight down the wave. The curl of the wave is where you can gain momentum as you trim along, to eventually progress into a quick turn or other maneuver.”

  3. Cutting Back: “Once you’ve got the hang of surfing in the curl of a wave, the first basic maneuver to learn is the ‘cutback.’ It’s a turn that will bring you back to the curl of a wave. When you sense that you’re leaving the curl of a wave behind by about 15-20ft, get your stance nice and low to keep a low center of balance. Start to look around, then twist (no leaning!) your upper board toward the curl of the wave. Once you’ve cut back to the curl of the wave, redirect your surfboard into the curl to regain speed.”


  1. Turning points: For a fast turn, keep your back foot over the sweet spot of your surfboard, regardless of what length of board you’re riding. Today’s surfboards aren’t designed for you to place your back foot anywhere but on the tail of your board. Specifically, your back foot should be placed 6-18 inches from the bottom of the board’s tail. Putting your back foot directly over the cluster of fins will be the “sweet spot” for you to turn. The tricky part of all of this is making sure you keep repeating these steps while you’re on the water: stand up, put your back foot over your fins on the sweet spot, let it rip, and do it again!

  2. Hips and hands: In part two I recommended using your hands to twist (not lean!) your upper body toward your turning direction. To make the turn even tighter, you need concentrate on the strength of your core. Use your hips as a swivel point; feel the twist of your upper body/hands transfer down to your swivelling hips and down to your heels or toes, depending on which way you want to turn. This will encourage an even sharper turn and you’ll see the water spray off your surfboard’s rails.

  3. Patience, patience, patience: Take what the wave offers you and wait for the right time to perform a maneuver. Whether it’s a cutback, a floater, a tube or anything else, try to tap into the flow and look down the line of the wave to predict what it’s going to do. You’ll see many surfers trying to force moves into a section on a wave that doesn’t necessarily fit. Let the right waves come to you, and when they do, jump on the opportunity to try something. Feel the flow of the wave.

  4. New moves: When you’re on the market to amp up your maneuver game, the most helpful thing to do is watch other surfers. I watch the ASP world tour contests, surf movies and the best surfers at my local surf break perform. You’ll notice that it’s all in the details–the way they control their body along with their speed and flow from one maneuver to the next. When I was a kid, I obsessively watched videos and tried to mimic the moves I saw on my next session–it helps to have a clear idea of what you want to accomplish next time you’re on the water. Even though my vision didn’t always measure up to my actual results, I honored the “3 P’s”–as I mentioned in part two–religiously: practice, patience and persistence.

  5. Right place, right time: After discovering where the wave is consistently breaking, assess the speed of your take-off time and the acceleration as it picks you up. Sometimes, paddling 2-3ft to your right or left can decide the fate of your takeoff and make all of the difference.

  6. Eye on the prize: After taking off, always remember that your eyes are the steering wheel. Whereas your core and your hands are the engine, your eyes are the guide to the force of power. When you set your gaze on a target and maintain it, you’ll get there faster. And on a less literal level, keep your eye on the prize–the prize being the satisfaction with your surfing skills–by remembering that the best surfers have put in countless days, catching thousands of waves in many different ocean conditions. No matter what surf level you’re at–beginner, intermediate, advanced–the fun part is remembering there is always room to improve.


Rob Machado always said, “The best thing you can do for your surfing is to ride as many different boards as you can.” This not only opens up your mind to different styles, but you learn to approach waves differently. You start to see new lines and draw out new turns. Eventually, you can take what you’ve learned from riding one board and apply this knowledge to another. Not to mention it’s really fun trying new things! Break out and try new things, especially new shapes and board sizes. If the waves are small, break out the fish or longboard.

In the past few years there has been an increase in crossover training techniques. ie) using skateboards to practice surfing while the waves are flat. If this tickles your fancy I would highly suggest looking into Carver skateboards. These boards offer a new and improved spring loaded front truck system that allows you to generate speed by pumping like you would on a surfboard. This motion and movement directly translates into surfing and really helps with leg strength and balance. http://www.carverskateboards.com/