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San Diego Surfing Home > Surfing School > Surfing - Catching A Wave
Surf Lessons

Surfing School - Surfing - Catching A Wave

This is the first of many hurdles in learning to surf. The wave knowledge - knowing which wave to paddle for and which to let pass, and the timing - when to start paddling, how fast, how much to arch your back, and when to get to your feet, are things that no one can teach you. They will come with time spent surfing.

That said, Clark Quinn graciously offers these tips:

  • Don't go to the most crowded/famous breaks. Start at a mellow beach. Gentle waves. Sand bottom. Broad sand beach. You can't run before you walk.

  • Paddle out, and try to catch the whitewater in while riding on your belly. (If you've body-boarded or body-surfed before, skip to step 5) You may have to adjust how far forward/back you lay on the board. You want about an inch of room between the nose of the board and the surface of the water. You'll need to be paddling in and have the wave catch you and push you even faster in the same direction. Stay on the board as you zoom towards shore. Steps 2-4 may best be accomplished on a mat or a boogie board or something else easy to get "wave knowledge".

  • Once you can reliably pick a wave and catch it, start trying to angle this way and that under control. Try going both ways, left and right.

  • When you can zoom back and forth at will, you're ready for a bigger step. Take a wave right before/where it's breaking, and ride it while turning to keep right at where the wave is breaking. Figuring out just where to paddle to so as to catch the wave at the right spot is a major part of the game.

  • When you can catch waves reliably, you're going to want to try riding them standing up. Paddle and let the white water catch you. As soon as you're moving, jump to your feet. This is difficult. It's really worth it to practice the jumping from prone to your feet on land first and get it well-rehearsed before doing it on a moving board on the water. Foot placement is crucial. You'll want your back foot near the tail of the board and your front foot somewhere in front of that, near the middle of the board, say. Look at other surfers. Practice on a rough template of the board on the ground or the sand. Ride the wave in. Depending on the size of the board either balance on it (bigger) or move it to stay underneath you (smaller).

  • Once you can reliably get up, you want to start angling while riding the white water. Both ways, zooming back and forth under control.

  • Once you can do that, move to catching the wave right where it is breaking. This will get trickier, because you'll have a more vertical take off point and the board will have a tendency to sink the nose as you go down the face of the wave. You want to catch the wave by angling in the direction the wave is breaking. We're not sure 2-4 are necessary (certainly not for someone who's been in the ocean on other things, but probably are a good safety precaution.


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