Before you can start catching waves, there are a few things you need to be aware of. As you read in the Etiquette section of this website, caring about others is as important as caring for yourself in surfing, mostly because of the danger that your board can cause others. But you must also know about the line up, sets and goofy or regular foot.
Being in the right position to catch the wave is crucial. If you are too far off on the shoulder, you will be getting all the garbage waves. But if you are at the center of the break where the wave peaks, and you don’t know what you are doing, you probably won’t make too many friends. There are two elements to the ‘line up.’ The first line up is actual position in the water, the second is priority. There are not enough waves for people to hog, snake or drop in on others and taking your turn is part of courtesy to others.
The line up in physical location – If you can keep your positioning consistent and make small adjustments to your location, you will be more likely to find the break. To find your line-up use stationary and highly visible landmarks to position yourself with. Try to find two landmarks that are close to 90 degrees apart, one for your side-to-side movements and one for how far out you are. Currents and winds are continuous forces pushing the surfer out of position. Sometimes it is smart to stay with the group, but only if there are experienced surfers among them. If the waves are big, it’s best to start your lineup outside or off to the shoulder, away from the break. This will allow you to get a feel for the current conditions and decide if it is even safe to be out. Common landmarks used at Waikiki beach are Diamond Head, large buildings, the mountains to the west with the antenna, the twin-towers buildings to the west and certain palm trees.
The line up in priority – If you are new to surfing or new to the surf break, don’t expect to catch waves all day long. After you catch a wave, paddle back to the line up and wait for others to enjoy their rides. Give yourself a chance to take a break, make some friends, watch others and learn. If you share the waves with others, you are more likely to have them shared with you too, and you’ll find yourself on some narly rides during your session.
Waves come in sets of waves. Between sets there are lulls when there are no breaking waves. If there is a swell, then the sets will be larger and more steady. On days with no swell and small waves, decent sets could be 10 minutes apart or more. A single set can bring as little as one or two good waves, whereas a good set can bring more than 10 surfable waves. If it is a good set, wait for a few waves to pass and other surfers to go, and time your wave as necessary.
Are you Goofy or Regular?
No really! The difference between goofy-foot and regular-foot is the positioning of your feet. A goofy surfer has the right foot forward and a regular surfer has the left foot forward. Switch-foot means that you can surf both ways.
Typically, a goofy-foot surfer prefers to go left and a regular-foot surfer prefers to go right. This allows the surfer to look directly at the face of the wave (frontside) rather than looking over the shoulder (backside).
Finding your stance is part of the challenge. Practice and experience will help you find your groove. If you have participated in other board sports (snowboarding, skateboarding, etc.) you probably already know.
Catching the wave.
- Congratulations, you have made it to the line up. First thing is to take a break and get oriented to the spot. When you are ready, identify the wave you wish to catch.
- Look around and see if others are interested in the same wave and determine if you want to go for it. If others are going for the same wave, ask them which direction they are going (left or right) and try to share the wave. If a lot of people are going for the same wave, wait for the next one or hop on and enjoy the “party wave.
- Point your board toward land and position your body on the board to avoid pearling and corking.
- Paddle as hard as you can in the direction of the shore and try to get close to the peak, where the wave breaks first. If you are not comfortable near the peak, stay closer to the shoulder.
- Feel the wave pick you up as your speed increases.
- Grab the rails and look left and right for other surfers. Allow yourself to glide to the bottom of the wave while angling the board away from the breaking part of the wave.
- Push yourself up with your lead foot and knee coming forward under your upper torso.
- Look left and right again for other surfers and also to see what the wave is doing and what direction you should go. Surf away from the peak and stay out of the whitewash. If you find yourself in the whitewash, that is cool too, as long as you are surfing!
- As you catch the wave, turn your board about 30 degrees left or right, away from the peak. You should never surf directly towards the shore, unless you are in the whitewater, but still keep your peripheral vision because some surfers may be surfing at an angle.
- As your wave ends, slowly lower yourself down with your hands on the rails. Turn your board back toward the lineup and paddle back out either to the left of the right of the peak to avoid other surfers. Or just take a break and wait for the set to end. Either way, keep your bearing and look for oncoming surfers and get out of the way of others.