Catching a wave
Ah, the art of surfing. And here is where it gets fun! As you sit facing out to the horizon watching for oncoming waves, you’ll want to assess which ones are catch-able and which ones you’ll want to let go by. This is known as wave selection. Ideally, a surfable wave has a peak and an open face or shoulder on which to surf. You don’t want to go for close-outs because once you catch the wave, there is nowhere to go except straight down. You don’t want to paddle for the really little waves because they take forever to break and generally don’t have enough momentum to push you into the wave (unless you have a really friggin’ big board). When you do see the wave you want, spin around using the egg-beater technique, lay down on the board finding the sweet spot, and then paddle like hell looking back over your shoulder to try to judge and time the wave, so that if it seems to be breaking quickly, you can slow up your paddling and not get too far out in front of the breaking wave, or if it is breaking slower, then you can continue to paddle like a madman to catch it. Once you feel the momentum of the wave grab hold of you on the board, POP UP, fast. Getting to your feet quickly is key so that you can adjust your weight distribution forward or backward on the board as you angle down the face of the wave screaming like a lunatic. Once again, if your weight is too far forward on the board, you will pearl or nose-dive the board, and if your weight is too far back, you will stall the board out and get blasted off the wave. This, like everything else in surfing, takes tons of practice and trial and error. Finding just the right spot to distribute your weight is all about the glide, all about being in-trim.
It’s all about the stoke!
Frontside bottom turn
The bottom turn, either the first turn off the bottom of the wave upon dropping in or as a re-entry from a previous turn off the top of the wave, is the essential power maneuver to generate speed up the face of the wave to execute any other kind of high-performance turns or maneuvers. It starts at the “bottom” of the wave with the board angled down and away from the face, and finishes with increased speed directed either up the face of the wave or down the line, depending on the wave and the next anticipated maneuver. The weight of the surfer should be distributed over the feet, shoulders squared up and feet perpendicular to the stringer, and then leaning toward the inside rail of the board so that the inside rail grabs the face of the wave. Looking ahead to where you want to go will then allow you to guide the board more vertically up the face of the wave to smack the lip, or down the shoulder of the wave to race down the line for a quickly breaking wave.
Backside bottom turn
Like the frontside bottom turn, the backside is the essential power turn to set up all other turns or maneuvers for backside surfing. The difference is in the placement of the feet, positioning of the shoulders and the weight distribution on the heelside rail. The backside bottom turn starts at the bottom of the wave with the surfer’s feet pivoted more parallel with the stringer, shoulders opened to the face of the wave, and leaning heavily onto the heels of the feet while “opening up” to the face and looking forward to where you are headed. From here, the surfer should then spot where they are headed to anticipate the next turn or maneuver.
This is a high-performance surfing maneuver that usually follows a deep bottom turn where the surfer then drives the board up the face of the wave to meet the soon-to-be breaking lip, smacking the lip with the board, and then using the cascading lip to drop back down the face of the wave. The key to setting up an off-the-lip maneuver is anticipating the breaking lip of the wave, looking at the spot at the top of the wave that you want to hit, having enough speed or momentum to drive up the face of the wave, and then as you hit the lip, quickly adjusting your weight center over the board, bending the knees, looking down to the spot of re-entry, and then shifting the weight off the back foot during the turn to the front foot to propel the board back into the wave.
This maneuver is similar in set-up to the off-the-lip with the difference being that when you hit the lip or the top of the wave, you land on top of the breaking wave and ride, or slide, over the top of the breaking wave and then “float” back down the white water into the wave upon re-entry. Just like an off-the-lip turn, the key to successfully landing a floater is keeping the knees bent.
This turn is crucial to maintaining speed and staying in the critical section of the wave. As the surfer rides out to the shoulder of the wave away from the breaking section of the wave, and begins to slow down, the cutback will allow the surfer to return to the pocket or critical section of the wave to once again pick up speed. The key to the cutback is shifting the weight onto the heel side rail, pushing down on the back foot to direct the board back towards the breaking wave, and looking back over the shoulder to where you want to surf. Once you have returned to the breaking part of the wave, you must then swing the board back around in the direction of the breaking wave by shifting the weight back to the toe side rail and looking ahead to where you want to surf.
Backside rail grab (“pig dog”)
This technique is used frequently in steep backside drops or for barrel-riding in order to hold the line and keep the inside rail buried into the face of the wave. It requires the surfer to bend down, stay low, knees bent with the back knee often touching the board, grabbing the outside rail with the outside hand, and pulling up on the board with this hand to keep the board (and the surfer) from being sucked up and over the falls. By grabbing the rail, the surfer is forced to pivot the shoulders forward, opening up more to the face of the wave and giving the surfer more speed and hold down the line. The pigdog stance is for either dropping in or down-the-line speed in a steep section of the wave while surfing backside.
Cross-stepping and nose-riding
Cross-stepping and subsequently nose-riding are more about style than about function. Once you have learned to put the board in-trim with a shuffle of the feet forward or backward while gliding down the face of the wave, it is time to finesse the shuffle and put some style into it by stepping over each foot. When learning to cross-step, just like so many other things in life, start with baby steps to understand the shifting of the weight over the center of the board, and most importantly, learning to stay balanced on the board while on one foot, because in cross-stepping, with each step over the foot, you are momentarily riding the wave while balanced on one foot. The key is to focus first on crossing one foot over the other and then back again, don’t worry about getting to the nose and connecting several steps – this will happen later. While stepping the back foot over the front, try not to look down at your feet. As in all surfing, you want to look forward to where you are headed (or back over your shoulder for a cutback). Keep the knees bent and the upper body upright and lose. There is a tendency to bend over at the waist which then sends the surfer’s weight distribution forward causing the board to pitch or pearl. Practice stepping over once and then back again over and over so that balancing on one foot becomes familiar. Then in time, add more cross-over steps so that you end up with both feet at the front 12 inches of the board, weight leaning back on the board, and knees bent. If you look down at the nose or over the nose, your body will follow, so keep the shoulders back and eyes forward. Practice cross-stepping on land frequently so that it feels second nature. Usually, going backwards is harder than going forwards, so land practice will help tremendously with cross-stepping back to the center of the board. Timing when to cross-step to the nose is also crucial and scary at the same time. You want to start “running” to the nose off the bottom turn when you have the most speed and lock into the nose-riding position at the top of the wave as you are gliding down the line. As you start to lose speed and drop back down into the wave, you will want to cross-step back to the center (or tail) of the board to set up for another bottom turn, gain speed and start the stylized dance all over again. Also keep in mind that board selection and fin set-up play a large roll in successful nose-riding.
You’re all set!
Alright, now you know the basics of surfing and you are ready to try it out for yourself. If you live in a snowy place, don’t fret – Snow boarding is here to save you from the dull winter cold. Check it out!