You’ve bought the right gear, researched the local surf spots, and grown accustomed to paddling. Next up, it’s time to learn the most exciting part, the reason you bought that brand-new longboard or foamie surfboard in the first place.
It’s time to catch some waves!
How to Catch Your First Wave
There are a few things you need to learn before you can catch a wave.
Be patient, as a little planning will make all the difference.
Follow these steps to catch waves like the pros:
Understand the Stages of a Wave
A basic wave can be broken down into four different stages. Attacking the wave at the perfect time will eventually become second nature, but before that happens, you’ll need to study them closely and perfect your timing and movement.
The stages look something like this:
- Flat (Not Catchable): The “wave” is little more than a waist-high hump. It’s not catchable at this stage, but it’s on its way to becoming a catchable wave.
- Green Wave (Catchable): A “green wave” is an unbroken wave filled with energy. It’s big, growing, and about to crest. This is the sort of wave you need to look out for.
- Breaking Wave (Late): As a beginner, you should stay clear of breaking waves. As soon as they crest and dip, they’ve passed the point at which you can catch them.
- Broken Wave (Late): The wave has crashed, leaving white water in its wake. This is the final stage and it indicates that you need to look for another opportunity elsewhere.
As a complete beginner, it helps to sit back and watch these waves form, break, and crash. It will give you an indication of how the waves from and how long they are catchable, thus preparing you to catch your first wave.
Get Into Position
Drop about 10 to 20 feet from the breaking waves, giving yourself plenty of time to attack them. If you’re too close, you’ll be catching white water or dealing with a succession of waves breaking on top of you.
If there are experienced surfers nearby, pay attention to where they are sitting. Don’t get too close to them but try to maintain a similar distance from the wave.
Watch and Paddle
Scan the horizon and look for those little humps, the ones that will eventually progress into green waves.
Once you spot one, turn around, and start paddling. Take strong and steady paddles, aiming to match the force of the wave as it transitions behind you.
Look over your shoulder to check the progress of the wave. It will tell you whether you’re moving too fast or too slow.
This is something that many beginner surfers struggle with. They’re so focused on paddling that they don’t check over their shoulders and end up missing the wave.
Catch Whitewater Waves
Whitewater waves are the easiest to catch for beginners. These waves have already broken and it’s the force of the whitewater that pushes you forward.
Keep your eyes on the shoreline, grip the rails of your surfboard, and as the whitewater hits, pop-up.
The pop-up needs to be a swift and clean movement. Start by arching your back and placing your palms flat near the rails, akin to the cobra pose in yoga. From here, you can bring your knees forward and jump to your feet while using your arms to steady yourself.
Push forward slightly to keep the momentum and ensure that you ride the wave and are not overtaken by it.
From there, you just need to keep your balance and let the whitewater carry you to the shore.
Catch Green Waves
The goal is to catch green waves. That’s how you tap into the energy of the wave and start surfing like a pro.
When you ride a green wave, you’re essentially surfing down the wave face, relying on gravity to propel you forward.
Keep paddling as the wave approaches and pop-up when you reach the top third of the wave. At this point, you should have plenty of momentum from the wave and your paddling, and you’ll also feel the tail lift slightly.
Top Tips for Catching Green Waves
The following tips will help you to catch green waves as a beginner surfer:
Learn the Correct Paddling Technique
Proper paddling is about attaining maximum propulsion while minimizing drag.
Focus on long and steady strokes as opposed to short and snappy ones. Keep your hands cupped and paddle one arm at a time.
Keep Your Chin Down
As you catch the wave, you’ll move from a flat surface to a curved one and this will change the weight distribution. To offset these changes, keep your chin low.
It might not sound like much, but if your chin is close to the board, it means your head and shoulders are pushing forward, which takes weight away from the back of the board and ensures it’s evenly distributed.
Don’t Worry About Paddling Into a Nosedive
Nosediving is more common with inefficient paddling, so don’t worry that you’re paddling too much and will nosedive.
You will nosedive. You will wipeout, and you will get frustrated. But as long as you focus on doing the right things and don’t try to overcomplicate it, you’ll master the waves before you know it.
Get the Right Board
Pro surfers look for the shortest board possible, which helps with maneuverability. As a beginner, you should look for a bigger board, one that can handle more weight and move faster over small and choppy waves.
The heavier you are, the bigger the board needs to be. You can progress to smaller boards as you advance, but for now, just stick with the basics.
Watch More Experienced Surfers
If you’re struggling to ride good waves, pay attention to more experienced surfers and see how they ride them.
If there are none on the beach, watch some YouTube videos or ask a more experienced friend to surf with you.
It helps to have some perspective, as you could be missing something obvious.
Take a Surfing Lesson
A surf coach will tell you how to position yourself and what you’re doing wrong. Surf lessons aren’t cheap, but you only need a few of them to advance.
Look for local surf coaches, ask an experienced friend or acquaintance to help you, or check out some surf coaching retreats.
Some beginners like use webbed gloves until they build up their paddle conditioning. Webbed gloves can help you catch more waves which will help you be a better surfer faster.
How to Read Unbroken Waves
Scan the horizon, wait for the moment when a wave arrives, look for the highest point, and check the direction in which the wave is breaking.
Understand wave shape and know which ones you can and can’t surf.
An A-frame wave is an angled wave that breaks in the middle, from the point of the A.
It breaks left and right, allowing you to choose which direction you want to surf.
Closeout waves occur when the line of the wave is parallel to the skyline, meaning that it breaks simultaneously.
It’s a complete shut out and they are almost always impossible to surf, especially for a beginner.
Left Waves and Right Waves
A left wave breaks to the left from the perspective of the surfer; a right wave breaks to the right.
Beach Break Waves
A popular type of wave that breaks over sandy bottoms. The shape can vary greatly and offer all kinds of opportunities for both beginner and experienced surfers.
Beginners can ride point break waves and have a great deal of fun doing so. They typically peel for long periods and break over rocks or sand.
Waves that break over rocky bottoms and should be ignored by inexperienced surfers due to the risks involved.
A wave that reforms after seemingly fading away in deep water. It occurs due to the varying depth of the seafloor.
River Mouth Waves
A rare and sought-after wave that occurs when sand is deposited on the sandbar. The waves are neat and predictable.
These waves break gently and are pretty weak. They’re likely to frustrate experienced surfers, but they’re perfect for beginners.
Double Up Waves
A double-up wave occurs when two waves combine to create a much larger wave. These waves are heavy and can be very dangerous for beginner surfers.
Common Mistakes Made by Beginner Surfers
Struggling to catch a decent wave? Feeling frustrated and unfulfilled? You could be making one of these common mistakes.
Commit and Don’t Wait for Perfection
Be confident and commit to the wave. You won’t hit all of them, but the more you commit, the more waves you will catch.
It’s a numbers game after all, so start building a tally of successful waves.
Surf Away from Others
Wait until the surf is nearly empty. You don’t want to be surfing when it’s busy. Not only will it impact your confidence and make you less likely to commit, but those surfers will get in the way and reduce the number of waves you can surf.
Beginners struggle with basic positioning, failing to understand that even the simplest of adjustments can make a massive difference.
If you’re too close to the nose, you’ll nose dive. If you’re too far back, you’ll be forced to watch helplessly as the waves pass you by.
Paddle with Confidence
Put some effort into that paddle! If you don’t give it your full effort, you’re going to miss the opportunity.
Popping Too Late or Too Early
Wait until the momentum of the wave lifts you before you pop up. Perform a couple more paddles (you probably need it) and then jump up before sliding down the face of the wave.