How to Achieve a Balanced Stance
If you watched videos from the 1960s and 1970s when the Beach Boys made surfing mainstream and “surf rock” was a popular novelty, you might have seen surfers doing a back foot stance. That stance surely belongs to the past now, but it’s important to remember it to witness how the design of surfboards has evolved and how the stance of the surfer has changed in relation to that.
The Evolution of Surfboards and the Surfer’s Stance
The boards from the 60s and 70s had a single pivot located under their tail. That pivot point allowed the surfer to control the board with their back foot. Turns, swings, and artistic moves all depended on the movements of the back foot. The more capable a lock you had on the tail of the board, the more success you had avoiding nose dives or getting caught by the rails.
However, especially in the last two decades, the surfing world has witnessed an amazing diversity in board designs. The rocker is no longer on the front of the board, there are curves that ease takeoff and riding a wave, and there are lots of curve designs suitable for specific surfing needs. Moreover, the front is now mostly made of the thickest and least sensitive material that the board consists of.
I don’t know whether the needs of the surfers led to the evolution of surfboards or the optimized boards resulted in changes in the surfers’ technique, but it’s safest to assume that it was a two-way street. And one thing is for sure: how to achieve a balanced stance depends almost entirely on the design of your surfboard.
For a majority of the new surfing boards, a balanced stance means that the front foot is locked in place, and the subtle changes in the position of the back foot are how you control the board and ride a wave.
I am saying subtle and subtle is an important adjective in modern surfing. Unlike the back foot stance of days long gone, surfing now depends on the subtlety of weighting, and the stance of the surfer is not a stable one if you only put weight on your back foot. If you do that, you’ll soon realize that you have started waving your hands and putting the responsibility of turns and twists onto your upper body. Obviously, your upper body can only do so much to control the board. You’ll give up all your bodily flexibility, capability of maneuvering, and ability to ride a wave smoothly if you assign the task to your upper body.
There is no cause for worry (yet), though, as we have all been there. Getting the balance of feet wrong, over-stressing the upper body, looking like you’re on the verge of drowning while waving your hands and whatnot, and returning to the shore without pulling off even the simplest of airs are common for all newbies. You can overcome these difficulties by getting the hang of your board and learning what you should do in order to achieve a balanced stance.
Get to Know Your Board
So, how can you get to know your board? First, check out its curves and edges. Apply pressure on the curves with your foot while you are on the wave, and the board will let you change course. Weigh down on a flat edge, and you’ll gain speed as long as you are on the right side of the wave. To stand in balance on a wave while also changing direction and adjusting speed, you have to constantly change your positioning with tiny motions in your lower body: knees, ankles, and hips.
However, if you try doing that with your feet positioned parallel to the sides of the board, you’ll quickly see how difficult it is. So, we are coming to the second part of knowing the board: stand on your board when it’s not on the water but on a smooth surface with the foot at the back angled 45 degrees to the side, and try to get the feel of the board by shifting your weight from flat edges to curves and vice versa. You can rock your foot while doing that, from heel to toe and then from toe to heel, and witness how it affects the positioning of your knee. In that position, even just the subtlest movements of your toes, such as a roll from the big one to the little one, will require you to shift your weight and change the overall position of your body.
How to Explore the Board
The benefits of the practice I just recommended will be multiplied when you lock your other foot on the front of the board. But that foot is not going to stay locked, either. You also have to practice some back-and-forth rocks between your feet while changing position, leaning towards edges and curves, and rolling towards one foot or another. Be careful to observe how the other foot reacts when you change the position or pressure of the first. Keep mental notes of their movements. Explore the edges and curves of your board carefully with those weight shifts. With enough practice, you’ll soon be able to ride the waves in a perfectly balanced state.
While you are at it, you can also try practicing for a very basic stance shift. First, remember: your focus is not your feet but your weight and how you can shift it with the subtle movement of your feet. Then, turn your back foot which was angled 45-degrees towards the nose. During this very simple move, you’ll see that the position of your upper body has changed as well. It’s a very simple example of how your feet are able to shift and redistribute your whole body weight on board.