How to avoid being called a Kook!
Learning to surf is very frustrating, and totally sucks when everyone around you seems to be catching waves and ripping it up. Remember, though, that everyone sucked at some point, and understanding basic surf etiquette goes along way to playing well with other surfers! Being called a kook, in part, just goes with the territory of learning to surf, but there are some basic rules to understand so that you can blend in better with the more experienced surfers so as not to appear to be such a kook.
Let’s start with paddling out
As mentioned earlier, it is always a good idea to study the line-up before paddling out. Look for clear channels to paddle out to the line-up without getting in the way of other surfers, or try to time the paddle out when there is a lull in waves and there are no surfers up and riding.
The surfer up and riding the wave has right-of-way, so do not try to paddle up and over the face of a breaking wave in front of a surfer riding the wave. Paddle behind the surfer into the white water and then turtle-roll or duck-dive to get through the wave.
Do not roll off the board and let go of it (or ditch it) when paddling out. Remember, lose boards cause injuries to yourself and to other surfers. Always try to hold onto your board!
There are a few times when the surf might be really big or you get caught inside in the impact zone where you know you won’t be able to duck-dive or turtle-roll the board. In these instances, if you have to ditch the board, always look around you to make sure you are free and clear of any nearby surfers either up and riding the wave or behind you also caught in the impact zone. If, and only if, it is clear, then you may push the board away from you and dive under the oncoming wave. This is really only considered an option in big surf. Otherwise, hold onto the board.
Once you have paddled out to the line-up, hang out and watch the other surfers and let those who have been waiting awhile, especially in inconsistent surf, catch the next few oncoming waves.
Don’t hang out on the inside trying unsafely to catch waves in the impact zone in front of the other surfers.
Don’t try to catch the very first wave that comes your way if others have been waiting awhile, especially if you are a novice surfer. The line-up has a pecking order so don’t be a dick and get in the way of other surfers when learning to surf. Also, don’t sit too close to other surfers. Make sure there is room to maneuver around and sit and spin and paddle for oncoming waves.
Once you have assessed the line-up and if necessary, waited your turn, when paddling for a wave, who has right-of-way can be a hotly debated issue, but basically, the surfer who catches the wave closest to the peak has priority. Others may play by the rule that the first surfer standing up has right-of-way, but this can cause friction between longboarders and shortboarders as longboarders can catch the wave earlier and stand up first even if they aren’t closest to the peak. If in doubt, give up the wave, pull out, or kick out if someone is surfing behind you (meaning they are closest to the peak). Most of the time, that surfer behind you will let you know one way or another anyhow. Before taking those last few paddles for a wave, take a look over your shoulder in the direction of the peak to make sure no one is up and riding behind you.
Don’t drop in on another surfer, meaning that if someone is up and riding, don’t try to catch the wave in front of them. They will likely have far more speed than you and either run you over or push you off the wave. Cutting off another surfer in this manner is probably the worst kook offense.
Don’t be a kook – don’t drop in!
The basics of surfing break down into three major categories; board management which includes paddling and sitting on the board, duck-diving and turtle-rolling to get out to the line-up, and catching the wave which involves wave selection, spinning to paddle for a wave, standing up (the pop-up), and riding the wave in trim down the open face of the wave.
There a few key points to know in understanding how to paddle a surfboard. One involves finding the sweet spot of the board which is a placement of your body on the board where the nose of the board is slightly above the water and the tail of the board is slightly above the water and your weight is evenly distributed across the rocker of the board, the curve of the board from tip to tail. This is a delicate spot to find; too far forward on the board and the nose will sink and you will pearl, and too far back on the board and the tail will sink and you will be dragging your ass and not go anywhere. Finding the sweet spot requires a lot of adjustments forwards and backwards on the board. It is extremely common to start too far forward and pearl the board, flying head first over the falls of the wave, then over-compensate and shift too far back so that you are popping a wheelie as you try to paddle for a wave and the wave will just pass you by. It is a question of trial and error. Keep adjusting just a bit forward and just a bit backward on the board until you feel that nice glide of the board underneath you as you paddle for the wave. When you do find that sweet spot, and the board does achieve an efficient glide, the board is in trim which also comes into play once you are up and riding the face of a wave. The other component to efficient paddling is digging deep underneath the board using not only the forearms for strength, but also incorporating the large back muscles for greater pull. Arch the back and pull deep with the back muscles. Nothing screams kook like a novice surfer who is lilly-dipping with their arms while paddling.
Sitting and spinning
So you can lay on the board and paddle around without falling off, but can you sit on the board without tipping over and spin the board around (because you are always sitting on the board facing out towards the horizon to watch for oncoming waves), to catch a wave? Easier said than done. Sitting on the board, especially a smaller board, takes practice and balance. The best place to sit on the board is the center of the board where it is the widest and thickest and most stable. However, when it’s time to spin the board around and lay back down on the board to start paddling for the wave, you’ll want to scooch back on the board so that the nose is up in the air out of the water and your weight is back toward the lower half of the board. This makes spinning the board around much easier as you egg-beat with your feet to get the board moving in a circular motion. Once the board is facing toward the shore, lay back down on the board finding the sweet spot, and start paddling like hell for the wave while looking back over your shoulder to watch the oncoming wave behind you (and looking for other surfers to make sure not to drop in on anyone). This, too, takes lots of practice. In the beginning, reaction time is slow and often by the time a novice surfer has spun around, laid back down on the board and started paddling, the wave is long gone. Don’t try to spin around and paddle for a wave while lying down. You’ll never make it around in time, you’ll likely get caught lying horizontally in the breaking wave and get your ass kicked, you’ll likely get in the way of another surfer and get yelled at, and you’ll look like a kook.
Duck-diving and turtle-rolling
At some point during the paddle out, it is very likely (unless it is a very small day or you are surfing a point break), you’ll have to maneuver the board through a wall of white water or a breaking wave in order to reach the line-up. There are many different ways in which to get the board through the wall of water but the two most common are duck-diving under the wave if you have a smaller, thinner board, and turtle-rolling if you have a bigger, thicker board. For both techniques, timing is everything. You want to first make sure you have good forward momentum paddling toward the wall of oncoming water. This is key to pushing either under or through the wave with the board. Don’t stop paddling and get off your board. Just as the wall of water is about to hit you smack in the face, you want to either sink the board under the wave in the case of a duck-dive by pushing down on the nose of the board and using your foot to sink the tail of the board, or you want to roll over onto your back holding tightly onto the rails board and pull the nose of the board down and forward through the white water. In the case of the duck dive, once you feel the board sinking deeply under the wave, pull yourself down onto the board following it under the wave, and then point the nose back up toward the surface allowing the natural buoyancy of the board to pull you up to the surface (hopefully) behind the wall of water, and begin paddling again. In the case of the turtle-roll, hold on tight to the board pulling it through the wall of water and once the water has passed over you and the board, roll back over onto the top of the board and begin paddling again. Fun times.
Now it’s time for you to go out and catch a wave.