A Barrell Riding Masterclass: 6 tips to get you barrelled next surf
These six tips will help you get barrelled and explain how you can start implementing them into your surfing so you can get barrelled next surf.
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The Full Guide
Do you want to get barrelled? Who doesn't right?
Has the barrel been eluding you or have you been struggling to get better at it, feeling like all you've done is taken a beating?
Or is there so much stress around bigger and more hollow conditions that you end up pulling back on waves that could barrel?
From the two, who would you rather be? Eating it in the lip, looking awkward or cool and calm, cruising through the barrel?
I’m not going to sugarcoat this, you have to spend your time paying your dues.
AKA. you are going to have to eat it to get better. You can't go from zero to hero when it comes to learning to get barrelled in surfing.
Six tips to improve your barrel riding
I’m going to cover 6 tips you can easily implement in your next surf. There is more to getting barrelled, predominantly reading the ocean and positioning, but this you can implement straight away.
Here they are:
- The way you enter a barrel is important
- Get comfortable or eat it - learn to fall
- Barrell Riding Stance
- Busy legs - quiet upper body
- See, do, get
- Nailing the take-off
I’ll also dive into the mindset that will help you to stop holding yourself back and letting fear take control, as well as a drill to help you implement these tips.
The way you enter a barrel is important
If you aren't getting barrelled or are trying to work on them, you need to change this first.
The way you enter the barrel or think about getting barrelled is the biggest hurdle you have to overcome. This is not the easiest either.
Most surfers enter a barrelling section expecting to get hurt, they bend their backs, tuck into a small ball and close their eyes.
At this point, you've given up, you aren't coming out of it, no doggy door, no back door exit.
All you've done is decided you may get hurt and should give up and protect yourself.
A good surfer will enter the barrel thinking, "how will I sneak out of this one?", "how long can I stay in here?", "how fast is it sucking up the wave face?" and they are only surprised when they get hurt instead of giving up and protecting themselves.
Set the intent - setting up for success
So, for your next wave that may barrel or will barrel from the start, you need to set the intent. For an average surfer, struggling to get barrelled, how you prepare or start a barrel is more important than figuring out how to exit.
You need experience entering and staying in.
You need to start with a positive outlook, you need to think maybe, or make a game of it and think how long can I stay in the barrel?
Make the goal seeing the vision, lower the expectations and make it about entering and getting there first instead of putting the pressure on yourself by saying this is only good if I squeeze out.
Get comfortable falling and being inside the tube
If you’re not comfortable falling, you are not comfortable getting barrelled and this going to keep alluding you.
Falling is important, if you fear your board or hitting the bank, you are either not going to go near that situation or you will help self manifest these awkward situations.
There is so much to cover there but the main advice is to get used to it, expose yourself and start expanding that comfort zone.
Kick your board away from you if you get clamped, or however else you can make sure you’re clear of it.
The bigger thing is the mental side of freaking out, just think rollercoaster and enjoy the ride. The hold down will only be a few seconds and is never really that long. The harder thing to do is resist the urge to panic and fight the water.
Staying comfortable in the tube
Tension is the enemy of all good surfing, tube riding included.
If you are tense, you are expecting to get hurt and you aren't able to move properly or control your rail or line in the tube.
You need to relax and breathe. Breathe out, make a fart noise, whistle, whatever it is that helps you relax. This sounds odd but you will breathe in just before you wipe out - if you do.
The movement required in the tube is fine-tuning, there are no major movements unless you need to pump. It's all small adjustments and you can't move to that precision if you are tense.
Clenched fists are a big sign of holding onto tension or some kind of intense warrior face.
It’s all about stance
Your stance, everything stems from it. Every movement and signal to your board. How is your stance?
It will either help you to move freely or will impede you, unable to move properly and looking very unstylish.
The Neutral Stance is just as important with riding barrels as it is with everything else.
A bad stance for tube riding stands out like a sore thumb when you see it. You can’t poo man your way out of a barrel.
Bent over at the hips, head almost leaning into the wave face and butt sticking out. There is so much wrong here. No control over the rails and you can't see where you are going or move freely.
Your stance for tube riding needs to be:
- A neutral stance allowing you to be front on and seeing where you are going. Chest and shoulders pointing forward.
- Allow you to compress and vertically tuck into your legs, keeping your upper body straight.
- Freedom to have both hands in front of you, allowing slight adjustments while you control your rail or stall in the barrel.
- Relaxed and not tense body positioning.
See the image of Clay below, perfect posture, cruising through.
(If you are unfamiliar with Neutral Stance, it is part of our training programs that will develop all of the foundations week by week. You can start a free 14-day trial here.)
Where ever you are, find some space and your Neutral Stance, imagine you are tucking into a barrel and compress into your knees.
- Get front on
- Get low and compressed while keeping your back straight
- Keep your arms in front.
If you can't, this is a point you need to work on.
Perfecting the stance: Busy legs, quiet upper body
Precise and minute movements. Quiet upper body while the legs are doing all the work. Your legs should be working hard.
What this means is, that the hands are barely moving. Just keep them forward aiming for where you are going, think point and look where you want to go.
Small movements in the wrists will shift weight to the rail like you are steering a bike and learning. They don’t need to move much, you are just trimming basically.
Your front foot is your accelerator and your back foot is your decelerator.
Weight onto the front foot and you will push the board down the wave face more, weight on the back and you will cause the board to stall and drag in the water. You have to balance these movements out to match the pace of the wave.
Arms reaching forwards will help shift more weight over the front foot, remember to stay stacked in your stance and not over-extending on the reach.
Arms raised above your head or further back will help stall. This is a minute adjustment, otherwise, we all know you can arm stall but be ready for your legs to make the sudden adjustment when you stick your arm into the face and try to slow down.
The legs are interpreting all those small movements and constantly battling the water being sucked up the wave face. They will be working a lot.
Remember the power zones and the bottom power zone is drawing water up the wave face. It is strongest in the tube.
You have to resist that, pick a line and hold your rail.
This is all pressure on the legs and small movements to keep you in place.
Slow down your movements in a compressed Neutral Stance. Focus on keeping control of your rail.
One hack to help your stance
If you are struggling to help guide your stance in the tube, this one hack will help you find it.
You want to put your ear closest to the wave close to it…
The idea is that if you are side on, this will put you into a better front on position to see the wave.
It will then cause you to lean on your inside rail as you move and lean closer to the wave to put your ear closer to the wave.
This sets the stance and line. You are now looking where you want to go, you’ve got pressure on the rail and from this position you will fit tighter into the curve of the barrel.
This also doubles up as a trigger word and way to help distract your brain from all the negatives.
See, do, get
This links back to the first point. Eyes closed, you're never making it out.
If you close your eyes expecting to come out, you aren’t.
You’ve given up.
You need to keep your eyes open, you can’t expect to navigate and take all the information you need if your eyes are closed. You can’t work on feeling alone.
Where ever you are looking is where you are going. If you look down in the barrel, you will project down and most likely go over the front.
The key here is always watching what the wave is doing. Interpreting how the bottom power zone is sucking up the wave to predict what the wave will do.
If you are looking ahead and not directly down in front of you, you will be seeing what the wave will do. You need to be looking towards the exit.
This comes with time, awareness and experience but there is no time like now to start practising.
If you can see the wave is bottoming out faster ahead of you, you need to accelerate. If it's going fat, it could slow down or clamp, the difference is in how fat it gets.
There’s a great tip that in barrel riding, you want to be looking up at the lip and this will help guide you as well. Your peripheral vision will take in all the other bits of detail and this will keep your stance stacked and calm.
Don't race out ahead of the barrel, there's nothing worse than your leggy getting barrelled instead of you.
Nailing the take-off
For now, the goal is slow it down. Most beach breaks, it is not go go go. The wave has to draw off the bottom and throw over at the top.
This takes time, so if you think it will barrel on take-off, you need to slow it down so you can put yourself in the tube and not race off down towards the shoulder.
Fade it if you have to, take off with a slight angle towards the opposite direction and bottom turn into it with a quick stall and then accelerate to match the wave.
Unless you are back-dooring it or super late take-offs which are whole other topics.
If you think about it this way, how many barrels have you missed by racing ahead of the wave just for a mate to go, “what were you doing?”
For the average surfer, the struggle is to get into the barrel, not keep up with it, so stop racing and slow it down.
Put yourself in position, stay in the pocket, let it break over you and if you need to race, then race.
Feels better to be too deep than it does to miss the barrel completely.
Breaking the mental anxiety
There is so much more to the take-off but the biggest issue for most surfers is a steep take-off and failing that before the barrel can even happen.
Like earlier in this guide, you need to switch off the mental side of your brain and stop giving control over to your fears.
This is usually seen in looking at the bottom of the wave as it bottoms out instead of looking where you want to go.
If you look down, you will send the signal to your board to go there and nose dive.
To buck this, look up and down the line.
You need to pair this with the confidence of forgetting about your pop up. If you give it power or doubt, you will stuff it up. Take focus away from it and focus on what is happening rather than what you are doing.
This is a whole other topic and it will be broken down into the future for steep take-offs and how to quiet the mental noise paddling into a wave.
A quick tip is to practically stick your tongue out and make the most obscene noises you can to psych yourself up and stop thinking. The thoughts will be more on making the noise and the body just needs to do.
How to train this in your surfing
Other than just going out and eating it a lot, here are two drills you can practise to help.
Body Surfing to get over the fear and position better
Go get barrelled body surfing.
This is one of the best things you can do as an average surfer. When the waves are uncomfortable, getting rid of your surfboard will ease that fear.
Body surfing will also force you to position better, take later drops and just have fun with it.
When you are body surfing, you have to catch the wave in the pocket, you don’t have any extra volume to help you, you need all the power in the wave.
The other benefit is you can’t pump and race ahead of the wave.
It introduces you to staying in the pocket and feeling what the wave is doing when it’s more powerful.
Ditch the board, head out with a pair of swim fins / flippers and a hand plane and start just having a go, playing with it, picking better lines, trying to throw yourself into every half ok-looking wave and just get comfortable being there.
The other plus to this is the waves can be smaller for you to get barrelled.
If you aren’t a confident swimmer and the waves are much bigger or the water is moving a lot, I don’t recommend this. Assess the conditions to suit your level.
Practising in the pocket
Most of the techniques here you can practice without the wave barrelling.
Want to get into a Neutral Stance and practice compressing into your knees with a straight back? You can do that anywhere and train your muscle memory.
Want to learn how to make micro-adjustments with your hands? Just sit as deep as you can in the pocket and find that stance again, but now learn how the small adjustments in your hands affect your line and speed. You’ll notice your hands will do little and your legs will do most of the work.
Surfing Close Outs
Close-outs are fantastic to train yourself to have a positive attitude, keep your eyes open and everything else.
You know or at least expect the wave isn’t going to let you out, so now it’s about how you can get in, how deep can you get and how long can you stay in.
It’s now play and there is no pressure. Just fun.
You’ve probably done this on waist-high crappy days but now’s the time to do it on bigger days.
This will also help you get comfortable.
You need more experience getting into a barrel and staying in there, more than finding the perfect exit.
If you start with a bent-over back, eyes closed or an attitude of I’m not making this out, you won’t be making it out, you’ve given up already before it’s even started.
Get comfortable falling and let go during your wipeouts, remember roller coaster and wait for the wave to let you go.
Find your neutral stance and learn to compress into the knees and not bent at the back. You want to be able to see everything going on and not struggling to move or respond to the wave. Breathe and remove tension in your body.
Your hands need to be stable with your legs doing all the work, you can use your hands to make minor adjustments to your line.
Where you’re looking is where you’re going, keep your eyes open, look forward or to the top of the lip and keep the stance stacked while being able to read the wave.
Start the take-off by either ejecting the brain and focusing on what the wave is doing, rather than yourself and don’t race ahead of it. Be patient and let it barrel, just put yourself in position.
This is obviously not a gold standard for everything, and there is so much more to getting barrelled, late take offs, steep take-offs, fear and positioning, staying in the pocket and reading the wave, but these tips will help you start finding more success when you find a barrel.
Has this psyched you up to go and start working on your barrels?
Has it opened your eyes up to some of the mistakes you’ve been making?
Has this given you the tips you need to breakthrough some dirty habits?
Or do you have any of your own tips to add?
I’d love to know, you can reach out anytime, either message me in the app or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Next week I will follow this up and how you can eject your brain and just do. How this helps with these kind of conditions or just how you can improve the consistency of your pop up everytime.