The Traveler Beginners Guide to Riding Waves; Part 2.2 Paddling, Pop Ups & Catching Waves

The Traveler Beginners Guide to Riding Waves; Part 2.2 Paddling, Pop Ups & Catching Waves

The Paddle Out to the Lineup

    Getting through breaking waves can be one of the hardest things to master when learning to surf. Our top tip is to avoid the powerful breaking whitewash altogether, and instead paddle to the shoulder or side of the wave where it has yet to break.

    But in surfing, as in life, sometimes you have to learn to get through the tough stuff. There are a few tried and true techniques to help you get through waves, and out into the lineup.

    Punch Through: Use the punch through in smaller waves or whitewater. When you see a wave coming that you need to get through, paddle as fast as you can directly into the wave. Just before you make contact with the wave, put your head down and grab the rails of your board to “punch through”. Then resume paddling like mad so that you don’t get sucked backwards!

    Push Up: This is a great technique for small to medium sized waves when you are on a longer board, let’s say, 8ft and up. Start off similar to the punch through by paddling hard into the wave. Then just as you’re about to make contact with the wave, push your body up off of the board as though you are doing a plank pose in yoga. Let the water rush between the board and your body. Then come down and immediately start paddling again.

    Turtle Roll: You’ll find soon enough that the punch through and push up won’t be enough to get you through more powerful waves. The turtle roll (not found at sushi restaurants), is the perfect move to bust out when it comes to the bigger waves. Again, start by paddling really hard directly into the wave, nice and straight. At the very last second before you make contact with the wave, take a deep breath, and quickly flip yourself over so you are under the water and your board is upside down with you. Grab on tight to the rails, and wait for the wave to move over your board. Then flip it back over, hop back on, and start paddling again. Essentially, as you go on your back underwater, your body acts like an anchor to stop the wave from dragging you as the wave rolls over your board. It’s pretty genius - and not scary at all once you’ve done it once or twice. 

    Wave Selection

    So you’ve paddled into the line up and are ready to catch a wave. Which ones should you go for? Assuming you aren’t in anyone’s way and are surfing within your ability, you can identify a good wave if it:

    • Is separated from other waves: You’ll want to find a wave that has at least two surfboard lengths worth of space between itself and the wave in front or behind it. When waves come in as doubles they’ll either take power away from each other and become impossible to catch, or double up on power, and make for some nasty rides down the face.

    • Coming in straight and not at an angle: Make sure your wave is coming straight toward you and the shore. Waves that come in at strange angles are very difficult to catch and often don’t produce a long ride

    • Has some power to it: Paddle for waves that look strong enough to push you. Beginning surfers will often paddle for tiny waves because they look less intimidating. These little waves are usually very hard to catch and will burn all your energy that you could be applying toward fun, catchable waves.


    Sit & Spin

    Before you can start paddling like mad toward shore, you’ll have to spin your board around. Countless waves have been missed because of slow spin arounds. Don’t let this be you.

    Scoot far back on your board so that the nose of your board is waving in the air. This will turn the bottom of your board into a pivot that can be easily spun around. Hold onto the rail of your board with one hand, pull it in the direction that you want to turn, and egg beater your feet to spin yourself around toward shore. You’ll see that the surfers who catch the most waves are really, really fast sit n’ spinners!


    Being balanced on your board is the key to paddling efficiently and being able to catch a wave.

    When you lie down to catch a wave, your board’s nose should be just about two inches above the water. If the nose is submerged or waving like a flag, you are either too far forward or back, respectively. If you have logos or artwork on your board, you can use them as visual cues for correct positioning once you figure it out.

    To center yourself left to right, take a look at the wooden line that runs all the way from the nose to the tail of the board directly down the middle. This line is called the stringer. Foam boards aren’t built with traditional wood stringers, so they might be harder to spot.

    There are two key indicators that you need to adjust your positioning:

    • Your nose dives directly into the water when you catch a wave: This is also known as “pearling”, taken from old time pearl divers who were known for their ability to dive deep, deep down. This means you are too far forward on your board, or that you are not paddling fast enough. Scootch a little back on your board toward the tail before you start paddling next time, and when you catch the wave, arch your back a bit to take weight off the nose of your board and put it onto your legs & thighs.
    • Waves keep passing you by: This might mean that you are too far back on the board, causing it to stall by essentially creating an anchor out of the tail. Try shifting your weight a little farther forward. You only want the nose of your board a couple of inches out of the water.

    Popping Up

    A great Balinese surfer once explained, “To stand up, just pretend that your board is the floor in your house, and get up”. For those who prefer a bit more detailed instruction, we’ve broken it down for you here, but it is a good idea to practice pop-ups on dry land to get the hang of the motion before going in the water.

    1. As soon as you catch the wave, push yourself up into a pushup position with hips high. All weight should be on hands and toes, and your hands should be roughly just below your shoulders and chest.

    2. Take whichever is your front foot and plant it under your hips with your toes facing the rail or side of the board.

    3. From here you can straighten your front knee then move your back leg forward a bit to create a balanced stance. If you do yoga, this is kind of like going from plank to warrior one position



    The pop-up should be a smooth fluid motion, not a two part process of going to your knees, then standing up. You can bend your knees once you are up and use arms to balance on the board.

    When you stand, you’ll either be a regular foot, or a goofy foot.

    A regular footer stands with their left foot forward, while a goofy footer stands with their right foot forward. Despite the name both stances are created equal.

    *Fun fact: Walt Disney once made a cartoon called Hawaiian Holiday where the character “Goofy” learns to surf. Because of his foot positioning in the animation, the stance has been named “goofy” forever more.

    NEXT: Etiquette, Playing by the Unwritten Rules

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