Nothing is more frustrating than you putting in all your effort and missing a wave while a guy next to you casually catches the wave with two paddles.
Let’s examine the nine most common reasons beginners miss their waves and how to fix them.
1. Your Surfing Board Is Too Small.
One common mistake beginner surfers make is buying a board that is too small or low in volume for their skill level.
Even with the volume guide from surfboard manufacturers, it’s still tricky to figure out a suitable surfboard volume for your skill level.
Most beginner surfers want a shorter and smaller board to perform more tricks and improve their surfing.
Yes, having a smaller board does help in many ways: easier to duck dive, sharper turns, and easy to transport. However, a smaller board does not help you to catch more waves.
Don’t be afraid of returning to your old board (if not sold yet!) to get your wave counts up, or get a second-hand surfboard with slightly higher volume than your initial thought. (Read here for buying second-hand surfboard tips).
Once you can consistently catch waves with moderate effort, you can progress to a smaller board.
2. Stop Paddling Too Early.
It’s common to see beginner-intermediate surfers pop up prematurely on the top of a wave and the wave pass in front of them.
This happens because when the wave lifts the back of the board, it feels like we have caught the wave. It takes time to learn the subtle difference.
When beginner surfer gets confused that they are on the wave, they stop paddling and hastily pop up without actually getting on to the wave.
Catch many waves and do a belly ride (don’t even attempt to pop up). This ensures the surfer learns the feel when the wave pushes the surfer forward. Skipping the pop-up makes surfing a lot easier, and the surfers can concentrate only on taking off.
3. Poor Paddling Technique.
It’s easy to spot a beginner: their poor paddling technique. Beginner surfers with poor paddling will need an extra 5-6 (potentially more) compared to experienced surfers.
If you want to improve your surfing quickly, The best thing to do is work on your paddling.
4. Poor Positioning For Take Off
For wave catching, positioning is one of the most important things. If you are too far behind the peak of the wave, no amount of paddling can help you catch the wave. On the other hand, some experienced surfers can catch waves even without a paddle if they position themselves perfectly.
Watch how experienced surfers position themselves for take-off right next to them. Watching thousands of Youtube videos will never help you with the timing. You have to be there to watch and learn.
Shadow a good surfer, paddle when they start paddling and follow their tail (at a reasonable distance, so they do not freak out) and keep up the speed if possible.
Then, try to take off on a wave and only pull out as they take off. Trust me, it does not look weird, and you can choose different surfers to follow.
This will help you mimic the exact positioning when they take off, so you will learn quickly.
6. You Are Too Scared.
Everyone has their limit. No matter who you are, a wave will feel too big to catch at one point, and you may pull out. When learning, it is normal to feel anxious when taking off, especially when the wave is steep.
With steep waves, our instinct is to lean back to avoid the fall, and this slows the surfer down.
To make the takeoff, surfer often has to commit themselves to the wave, even if the instinct tells them to pull back.
When taking off, lean forward to get more momentum. This is extremely important, especially when catching a big wave. See how Nathan Florence made the drop by leaning forward during the takeoff.
7. You Let Other People Catch Your Waves.
When you are a beginner, it’s easy to assume that you are wrong and others are right.
Even when the beginner has the priority of the wave, the beginner can be shy and timidly let the other surfer have the wave.
Over time, the confidence will grow as the skill level advances. When you have priority, try to practice calling out for the wave without being aggressive.
When you get on to a wave, just saying a firm ‘YEP!’ is sufficient most of the time to stop others from getting in your way.
8. You Have Poor Paddle Endurance.
If you are tired after 2-3 waves, it’s crucial to build paddling stamina. You cannot catch more waves if you are tired, and there is no way of compensating for that.
There are no shortcuts for building paddling endurance; it usually takes 6-12 weeks. Surfers can build significant paddling endurance if disciplined.
Please read here if you want to know how to build paddling endurance and its relation to strength.
9. Strong Offshore Wind.
Wind plays a big role when surfing, and offshore wind is not always great, especially when strong.
Heavy off-shore wind can push a surfer away from the shore during take-off. This slows the momentum required to take off, and surfers often need to add more paddles to get on to the wave.
Furthermore, strong offshore wind causes lots of spray as the wave breaks. This temporarily reduces the surfer’s vision during a takeoff; sometimes, it completely blinds it.
Beginner surfers must add a few (often many more) paddles before taking off with the strong offshore wind. More importantly, because sprays can severely limit vision, always double-check the people in front of you before committing to a wave.
Always choose the safer option when unsure.
For more experienced surfers, Kelly Slater, 11-Times-World Champ, suggests planning the angle and pathway before taking off when surfing with strong offshore wind. Anticipating a lack of vision will help you plan the safest pathway.