How To Generate Speed in Surfing

This is the most important topic of all. If you have surfed for a while, you will know, that the biggest difference between intermediate and advanced surfers is whether they can generate their speed.

Without speed, you cannot perform any maneuvers properly.

Let’s start with the basics.

1. Use the upper part of the wave.

Most Power in the wave presents the upper third of the wave. However, most beginner surfers feel uncomfortable utilising these parts of the wave because it’s more steep and powerful. However, beginner surfers must learn to be uncomfortable, to take them to the next level.

Remaining in the lower half of the waves restricts you to the static speed dictated by the wave itself.

Opting for the top half of the wave is crucial for maximizing the influence of gravity. Climbing up the wave results in a loss of speed, while descending accelerates it. Therefore, positioning yourself on the upper part of the wave and navigating its descent is key to gaining speed.

2. Compress and release.

Once comfortable utilising the upper part of the wave, surfers need to learn to compress and release. This concept is well known to skateboarders and they can generate more speed while going up and down the hills.

As skateboarders go down the hill, they bend their hips, knees and ankles and lower themselves onto the skateboard. This almost looks like exaggerating the gravity force.

When the skateboarders come up the hill after coming down, they do the opposite. They lighten themselves as they climb up the hill, making them easier to climb up the hill.

Here is a video that describes how the pumping works, so we can apply it while surfing.

Let’s go to the next step. Speed generation needs to consider the opposite force. The drag.

3. Reduce the drag.

Drag refers to force against going forward. If we want to go fast, we have to reduce the drag.

In water, drag significantly influences speed. While exceptionally powerful waves may mitigate its impact, novice surfers typically ride waves of modest heights, around 1-2 feet, where drag can noticeably impede performance.

Various elements contribute to drag when riding a wave, including fins, leash, and the surface of the surfboard. Let’s delve into a detailed examination of each of these components.


Fins are designed to be effective when the surfboard is on a single rail. For example, when a surfer engages in turn, you can often see the outer fin coming out of the water, utilising on inside the fin closer to the wave and centre fin in case of thruster. If you want to learn more about fins, see here.

However, If the whole bottom part of the surfboard is in contact with water, all three fins are in the water, maximising the drag.

Thrusters are an excellent balance between driving and turning. However, the centre fin in particular causes drags, therefore, if you want to reduce the drag, a quad or twin fin could be a better choice than a thruster.


Choosing the correct leash is important. If you use a longer and thicker leash, it causes more drag. If you want to learn about what leash to choose, read here.


The width of the surfboard plays a crucial role in drag. On gentle waves, a wider board increases water contact, potentially slowing it down. However, a narrower board isn’t always superior, as once a wave propels the surfboard, speed causes it to ‘lift,’ minimizing water contact and reducing drag. Hence, the bottom contour’s shape becomes pivotal.

The rocker, or curvature, of the surfboard is also significant. More rocker increases the wave-meeting surface during a ride, while a flatter board helps maintain minimal contact, keeping the board on the water’s surface.

In essence, a surfboard can create substantial drag, with any part in water contact contributing to it. Consequently, maintaining the entire board in contact with water slows it down. Skilled surfers counter this by continuously shifting their board from rail to rail, sustaining speed.

Mastering the technique of going on a rail, particularly in smaller surf, difficult for novice surfers. Swiftly sinking the rail, shifting weight to the opposite side, and repeating the process isn’t an intuitive skill and is hard to learn due to the limited opportunities provided by most beach waves, which offer only brief rides.

But, luckily there is a way to practice. Let’s go to step 3.

4. How to do pumping on a wave

Skateboarders can generate their speed on a completely levelled surface from a stationary position, or even uphill using a maneuver called Tic Tac.

This looks very similar to what competent surfers do when preparing to generate the speed on a flat area.

The process involves pushing the skateboard to one side, encountering a ground reaction force that pushes back. With well-timed transitions to the other side of the board, this side-to-side motion seamlessly converts into forward movement.

Some might argue that this principle differs in water, but the mechanics share similarities. While riding the wave, speed keeps the board afloat, like a skateboard on the ground except it’s a little more bouncy.

Here is a great video example of how to practice

5. Vertical Pumping.

Rail-to-rail pumping is the best way to generate the speed. However, there are times when the waves are too flat to do the rail-to-rail transition. Then you will see competent surfers will start pushing the front of the board board down and up.

They sink the front part of the surfboard into the water and let it bounce up. Then they push it down with their front leg and sink the board again. This repeated process will help to generate the speed in a flat area.

Just like the rail-to-rail pumping, you need to continuously move the board to maintain and gain speed. once you do not move on the wave, you will start to slow down.

Vertical pumping is difficult to practice out of water. This is unique to surfing, and shifting weight and applying force at the right time comes with practice.

I found that practising pumping at the end of each ride helped to hone my skills. Instead of falling off the board to start paddling back out, I tried to stay slightly longer on the wave by pumping.

Last point on speed generation: it’s not always about surfers’ skills.

6. Ride more powerful waves.

Stating this point may seem evident, but numerous novice surfers often believe that their skill alone hinders them from building up speed.

Generating speed in a small wave is difficult, and even professional surfers vary in their skills riding small waves.

When a wave lacks sufficient force, it becomes an uphill struggle. While doing a Tic Tac can assist, if the wave pushes you harder, it makes surfing easier.

How do I generate speed on a longboard?

Generating speed on longboards presents its own set of challenges. Rail-to-rail surfing proves demanding due to the extra materials, making it cumbersome to swing from side to side. The sheer size and weight of longboards hinder quick direction changes.

Sinking the rail becomes a hurdle as well because of the larger foam, making it challenging to execute. Moreover, the width of longboards increases water contact, resulting in more drag.

The presence of a larger single fin adds to the drag factor. Using a smaller centre fin may help, but when nose riding the board may slide out.

Therefore, It’s important to maximise what the waves offer. Ensure you use all parts of the wave, to gain the speed. Even if it feels uncomfortable, try to stay upper part of the waves, and go down the wave to generate the speed.

When riding on a longboard, it’s important to understand the mechanics of drag when riding a longboard. Standing too far back can elevate the front of the board, exposing more of its bottom to the water. This will work like a brake in the water.

Therefore, unless executing a turn, avoid standing excessively far back, especially when the waves are gentle.


My name is James, the person behind With 15 years of experience in surfing, I am excited to help you on the journey to becoming a competent surfer.

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