Speed and control on your surfboard is the key to improving your surfing ability
All the top pros you see who are doing big turns, cutbacks, and off the lips have mastered the art of controlling speed on the wave.
Think of speed as twofold: First, the wave is controlling you on your board, and second, you are controlling your board on the wave.
Understanding both sides of this same coin will help you become a better and better surfer.
Once you start to recognize these two elements, you are on your way to harnessing your surfing potential!
The wave controls you, so make sure that you have speed and control on your surfboard!
This starts with understanding the physics behind surfing: learning where the power source of the wave lies and how to move through sections to maximize the potential of the wave.
Depending on the break, and location, each wave breaks a bit differently.
Let’s start with the basics. Ideally, to make the most out of a wave’s potential, you want to position yourself in the pocket, or the power source of the wave.
This is where you will generate the most speed and where you can set up for turns. As you go towards the shoulder of the wave, you will start to lose speed.
A cutback is a common maneuver when someone turns, either frontside or backside, back towards the pocket from the shoulder, in order to stay on the wave.
Another common phrase you may hear people say is “setting your line.” This means that on the pop-up, you read the wave to identify the path you want to take.
If it’s a fast wave, you’ll want to angle more parallel to the face to speed down the line. If you have more time to set up, you may drop straight down and bottom turn.
The next time you take off on a wave, try and notice where you are on the wave. If you find that you are dropping in and the wave is closing out in front of you, this likely means that you are behind the pocket, or the section.
You will hear people say they “missed the section,” usually meaning that they were positioned too far behind the peak and the wave closed out in front of them.
Or if, on the other hand, you take off and find yourself quickly losing speed down the line and coming off the wave right away, then you may be too far ahead of the wave, meaning you aren’t staying in… you guessed it, the pocket! This is a very simple yet challenging aspect of surfing, especially when first learning to surf.
You control your board
The next thing to consider when thinking about controlling speed is your weight distribution and movement on your surfboard.
Bending your knees, moving your arms, and turning your hips are all things that can help you generate speed and control on your surfboard.
Pumping is when you bend and straighten your knees going down the line and sometimes shift your board so that it moves rail to rail on the face of the wave.
This technique helps you to get down the line quicker if you’re trying to make a section or stay in the pocket. To assist when pumping, you can swing your arms in the direction you want to go. You want to have your arms in front of you, towards the direction you’re heading.
Another thing to consider is your foot placement and weight on the board for speed and control on your surfboard.
As you can imagine, putting more weight towards the front of your board–either by applying heavier pressure or moving your foot up–will cause you to speed up and promote your weight forward.
Applying too much weight forward will cause you to pearl, where the nose of your board submerges underwater!
Stepping on the tail will cause you to slow down. Even on a beginner level, you will notice how changes in your foot placement impact your speed on the wave.
The more you are surfing, the more you’ll understand how to make micro-adjustments while on the wave to influence speed on the board.
If you’ve ever observed someone riding in the barrel, you may see that they use their hands to create drag, touching the face, in order to slow down and maximize the time in the barrel.
They also might crouch down, grab the rail and physically shift their weight back towards the tail to stall in the pocket.
If you are a fan of longboarding, then you are probably familiar with the cross step.
This is where a surfer will walk up to the nose of the board. In this case, because there is a much greater surface of the board to be explored, you have more liberty to slow down by stepping on the back of the board, and then speed up by walking forward, to stay in position and let the wave carry the back of your board. Speed and control on your surfboard are very important here.
In both examples, shortboard, and longboard, you are using your feet placement and weight on the board to affect speed.
There are countless more factors that influence speed, however, these are basic ones to consider.
Next, it comes down to having an expert understanding of your board. The best surfers know exactly why different boards work for them and the purpose of every feature of the board: rocker, tail, rails, fin placement, etc.
If you talk to your local board shaper, he or she can tell you all about the minutiae in board shaping and design that affect the final product and how it performs in the water.
Different shapes will feel faster underfoot and serve different purposes, depending on what each individual is looking for.
Additionally, learning speed and control on your board is something that takes a lot of time to develop.
You may start to get a feel for your go-to surfboard, and it may feel totally different when you surf a new board for the first time.
For a recreational surfer who’s simply looking to get out there and have an amazing time, the main thing is to have a board you can have fun on!
As long as you’re having fun, you will be improving whether you realize it or not.
How many of these things do you notice in the water when you’re surfing? What can you add? Let us know your thoughts!
Check out this blog to learn more about catching waves!