How To Pop Up On A Surfboard Step-By-Step For Beginners

The pop up is where it all begins for surfers once you catch the wave.

When you nail the pop up and you set yourself up for a good ride.

If you blow the pop up, you can blow the entire wave.

Not to worry, standing up on a surfboard, be it a longboard or shortboard, will get easier with time.

The right form combined with a lot of practice surfing can eventually make popping up, or “taking off” as it is also called, second nature.

We broke the pop up down step-by-step to reflect the way we think the best pop ups are done to help you get to your feet better and set yourself up for big turns and barrels.

How The Pros Pop Up On A Surfboard

This is the best video of pop ups we could find.

Brent Rose breaks down the pop ups of multiple pro surfers at Kelly Slater’s Surf Ranch

How To Pop Up & Stand Up On A Surfboard In 5 Steps

We’ve broken down the steps needed to pop up on a surfboard to help communicate each critical movement along the way to standing up fully.

Remember:

  • When you pop up on a surfboard you are doing it in one fluid motion and it takes seconds to go from paddling prone on the surfboard to popping up to your feet and dropping into the wave.
  • Don’t rush the pop up and don’t be too slow.
    • If you pop up too fast you will most likely stand up too tall and fall.
    • If you pop up to slowly you are either going to lose the wave or your are going to go over the falls with the broken wave.
  • The more you surf the more you will be able to pace your pop up with the pace the wave is breaking.

Let’s learn to pop up!

Step 1 – Catching The Right Wave & Paddling Correctly

For Beginner Surfers – Catching A Broken Wave & Popping Up

Beginner surfers will want to practice their pop up by catching the white water of broken waves.

There is no need to paddle when you are catching white water because the wave is catching you with its momentum and pushes you to shore.

The fundamentals are the same when it comes to popping up after catching the white water of a broken wave.

However, positioning for waves and catching them does add a new dynamic to the pop up.

Be sure you have the basics of popping up in broken waves before you advance to catching unbroken waves.

Catching a Wave That Hasn’t Broken

It’s all about timing.

We go into how to paddle fast and catch waves here.

The below are the cliff notes for how to catch waves.

As an unbroken wave approaches you want to meet it so it doesn’t break on you before you have a chance to stand up on your surfboard.

In order to do that, you want to paddle a little a head of the wave, then as the wave gets closer you want to paddle very hard, digging your cupped hands in as deep as they can go.

You will know you caught the wave and it is time to stand up when you feel a subtle lift.

This subtle lift is the moment the unbroken wave’s momentum starts to move you towards the shore.

Once you feel that lift, it is time to stand up and pop to your feet.

Reviewing Wave Position and Paddling For The Pop Up

  • Paddle in the same direction the wave is moving, pacing yourself and timing the wave so it doesn’t break on you.
  • Paddle faster as the wave gets closer so you are moving at the same speed as the wave.

Step 2 – Hand Position

Ok, you paddled hard, you caught the wave laying down and you are preparing to pop up on your surfboard.

Once you feel the lift from the wave, give yourself one last paddle to be sure you don’t lose the wave.

Then place your hands on the deck of the surfboard by your chest with your fingers slightly wrapping around the rails of the surfboard just enough so that you can push or pull the surfboard as you need to to make micro adjustments in wave positioning as you are taking off.

These micro adjustments will be more applicable when you are surfing a narrower shortboard vs a longboard

You want to put your hands in a similar position they would be if you were doing a push up.

You don’t want to grab the rails like you do when duck diving.

Start to push up.

Extend your arms about 80% like you are doing a plank or a push up on the land.

Popping Up For Foamie & Longboard Beginner Surfers

Don’t worry about micro adjustments if you are surfing a foamie surfboard or a longboard.

Keeping your hands on the deck of the surfboard as too wide of a grip will bring your chest lower and will give you less room to swing your front foot forward.

Reviewing The Hand Positioning Mechanics Of The Pop Up

  • Keep your hands close to your chest like you were doing a push up or plank.
  • Don’t grab the rails like you do when you duck dive.
  • Longboard surfers should keep their hands on the deck of the board to give themselves enough room to prepare to swing their front foot forward
  • Shortboard surfers want to keep just a little grip on their rails so they can make last minute positioning adjustments as they are setting up their pop up.

Step 3 – Float Your Front Foot & Plant It

Now you want to use that remaining 20% of arm extension to land your pop up.

As you are fulling extending your arms you want to float your front foot forward and plant it right in the middle of your hands in the middle of your surfboard.

Your big toe should be just about even with your thumbs when your front foot lands and your front knee should be under your chin.

Your front foot should be angled just a bit, pointing a little more towards the nose than to the rail at about a 45 degree angle.

As you are transitioning from being prone to standing up, you will need to twist your hips.

If you are surfing with your left foot forward, twist your hips to the right.

If you are surfing with your right foot forward, twist your hips to the left.

Every surfer’s pop up is going to be a little different in terms of their foot position, but you can use your thumbs as a guide and adjust from there.

Reviewing The Front Foot Mechanics Of The Pop Up

  • Give yourself enough room to swing your front foot forward.
  • Focus on planting your front foot on the stringer of the board between your hands.
  • Your front knee should be under your chin.
  • Twist your hips.
  • Position your foot so you toes are pointing up the surfboard towards the rail near the nose, about 45 degrees in relationship to the stringer.

Step 4 – Your Back Foot & Knee

Now it is time for your back foot to complete popping up on your surfboard.

As you move your front foot into position your back foot will naturally want to move forward.

Keep your back knee lower than your front knee.

This will help you keep in a crouching position and will set you up well for your first turn.

Position you back foot so it is perpendicular to your stringer with your toes point towards the rail of the surfboard’s tail.

If you are surfing a longboard, and you should be as a beginner, you can bring your back foot a little closer to your front foot than you would if you were surfing a shortboard.

Generally speaking, keeping your feet about shoulder-width apart will work for most surfers when they are learning to stand up on a surfboard.

Reviewing The Back Foot Mechanics Of The Pop Up

  • Keep your back knee lower than your front knee.
  • Turn your back foot so it is mostly perpendicular to your surfboard stringer at about a 90 degree angle.
  • Your feet should be about should-width apart.

Step 5 – Maintain Good Body Position

You want to keep your head and chest up with your eyes looking where you will be riding the wave.

You can gaze your eyes down to see where you placed your front foot on the deck of your surfboard, but don’t stare.

You always want to look down the line of the wave you are surfing so you can plan your next move.

Bend your knees, keeping your back knee lower than the front knee and maintaining about 60% of your weight over your front foot.

Keep your head and chest upright.

Keep your eyes on the wave and be aware of other surfers.

Reviewing The Back Foot Mechanics Of The Pop Up

  • Keep your knees bent to keep your center of gravity low.
  • Don’t bench over at the waist or hunch your shoulders or head.
  • Keep a strong core.

5 Surfing Pop Up Exercises

It’s easy to practice your surfing pop up on dry land.

Here are some exercises to help you get your pop up in good shape before you hit the water.

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Yes, popping Up on a Surfboard Takes Time

Sure, beginners fall off their surfboards a lot.

That’s often because they don’t have the basic points of proper foot positioning and other body mechanics necessary for an effective pop up.

Newbies also need to time their pop-ups a little better.

All that comes with practice and an attention to detail.

Keep at it and you will get it.