How to catch an unbroken wave
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How to Catch a Green Wave

Do you want to break out of the whitewash and start surfing green, unbroken waves? Learn everything from positioning to the pop up in one guide.

Beginners start their learning process by riding soft and flat white waves, which is also referred to as riding the foam. Riding the foam is easy because the water is predictable and it just carries you. That’s why it’s ideal for beginners to know their bodies and boards, find their balanced stance, and diagnose their shortcomings. 

But, it’s going to get boring in quite a short while, and you’ll be eyeing the distance in longing for great, green, unbroken waves to ride. There might be a little bit of worry in that eye, too since catching and riding a green wave is not at all like riding the foam, and you’ll need to relearn lots of things to succeed in this transition. That means starting from scratch; it starts from the moment you introduce yourself to the wave.

In this tutorial, with the guidance of Clayton Nienaber, we are going to break down everything you need to know about catching a green (unbroken) wave. There are five simple steps to successfully catch such a wave: positioning, waiting, feeling the lift, looking, and taking off (the oreo biscuit). Below, we are going to cover each in their respective order.


When you look at wave formations from a bird’s eye perspective, you’re going to see lots of different shapes. A wave curves into another from one side, and yet another creates an upward slope from the previous. First, you have to be wary of how these formations will transform in due time. In other words, you need to gauge whether an opening you see will close soon due to another wave.

In addition to that, you need to think of it in terms of catching a bus. See, you don’t need to generate speed when you catch a bus because the bus has its own motor and wheels and all the speed you need to get from point A to point B. It’s the same with the waves. The wave already has the speed you need. The trick is finding the entry point so that you can make the most of the momentum of the wave. For that, you need to find the wave’s apex and position yourself there.

By positioning yourself at the apex, you’ll be giving yourself lots of flexibility in terms of further movement. You’ll have the ability to see in all directions at once and the freedom to go in the direction that’s most feasible for your ride. Therefore, positioning yourself at the apex is key to catching any wave, no matter the color and shape.


Contrary to a layperson’s opinion, a great deal of surfing is actually paddling and waiting. These two might seem like trivial matters for a beginner, but they play a definitive role for the rest of your ride. Therefore, knowing how to paddle efficiently and how you should be waiting for a wave are crucial aspects of surfing.


Let’s start with paddling. Most beginners might be thinking that they need to paddle faster to catch a wave. So, you see them trashing water frantically as if they are drowning and blocking their range of view. The frantic paddling might be due to anxiety, but if you can’t see what’s going on elsewhere, it’s only going to create even more anxiety. Even worse, you won’t be accelerating, and even if you do, it won’t have any purpose because you’re unaware of your surroundings. In the end, if you get too lost inside the water with your chin down, you'll soon be wiped out.

When you swim and paddle slower, on the other hand, you’ll stay above water and the whole process will be a lot smoother. That way, you’ll be able to see what’s going on around you and know when and how to pace yourself. You’ll also see the wave approaching and whatever anxiety you have about it will dissolve.

Furthermore, paddling slower will spare you valuable energy. More time spent observing the wave and identifying your entry point will give you the best of lifts, and the rest is technique. Keep your feet flat while lying down and lift your back to create a big arch. That will put pressure on the back of the board, so the wave will push you forward. After that, you can gently pop up, see where you want to go, and point your hands in that direction.

Feeling the Lift

To start with, let’s reiterate the last moments of paddling: you keep your upper body high on the board and feet flat so that the tail stays in the water. What happens when you keep your head, chin, and the rest of your upper body low in that situation? Well, you don’t know how the tail of your board will react to the force of the wave. It means that you will lose control of the board and the tail might turn towards any angle, leaving you in a position with no idea where to go.

When you keep the tail down, on the other hand, the water underneath it gives it a push. It gives the board an almost automatic drive, acceleration, and purpose. We are talking about catching a wave here, but if you get this right, it’ll be more like letting the wave catch you and carry you wherever you want to go. For that, you just need to glide a bit as described above and then pop up.

You might see lots of rookies trying to paddle in front of the wave with their backs to it. But, they can’t see what the wave is doing; they burn lots of energy by over-paddling and they try to do impossible—paddling faster than the wave. 

However, when you paddle smoothly and see what the wave is doing, you can position yourself for the lift. As soon as the wave produces an inclination, you’ll reach 30-40 km/h. That will also allow you to achieve planing speed, which is more important for a good ride than over-paddling.

Looking (Where You Want to Go)

In our tutorial video, you can see that Clayton doesn’t do much paddling. He takes his time and waits, measuring his surroundings. That’s one of the most important aspects of catching a green wave.

Slow and smooth paddling allows you to see your whereabouts and where you will go next. But, that counts for nothing unless you’re looking in that direction. In our tutorial video, you can also see that Clayton glides, gently pops up, and then looks where he wants to go and points his hands in that direction while adjusting his stance accordingly. His knees and chin are also turned toward his destination.

The Oreo Biscuit

The last key to successfully catching a green wave is the technique we call the Oreo Biscuit. It lets you generate speed without doing anything about it. We’ve already covered how to maximize your entry point and mentioned how you should let the wave catch you. The Oreo Biscuit is about using the lift of the wave as a speed boost.

In the video, you can see how effortlessly Clayton keeps on riding after he catches the wave. He doesn’t splash, he doesn’t create bubbles, and he doesn’t do anything to gain speed at all. He just glides peacefully. He doesn’t paddle much and therefore he doesn’t have to catch his breath once he’s up, but that’s not all. 

When he’s in the pop up position, he lifts his upper body, arches his back, and keeps his feet flat on the tail of the board. That allows him to put pressure at the back of the board, so the wave doesn’t push all of the board but only the back end of it. Ultimately, that didn’t only provide Clayton with the lift he needed for the takeoff but also with speed that allowed him to glide for the rest of his ride.

In short, when the wave cannot lift the back of your surfboard as it does the front of it, it’ll give it a push, which will be all the speed you need to make it to the shore.

Common Mistakes

Since we went through all the steps of catching a green wave, let’s reiterate the common mistakes you can make:

  • Over-paddling: Understandably, you always want to be one step ahead of the wave, but paddling at the same speed with a wave is actually scientifically proven to be impossible. When you try to paddle too hard, you end up tiring yourself, running the risk of waves washing you over, and losing your whereabouts in the water. None of those are particularly pleasant.
  • Waiting in the swells: Swells might be peaceful to wait in, but that is the case only when you don’t want to ride a wave. The wave will not produce a lift in the swells, so they are not good entry points. You need to identify where the lift is going to be and wait there.
  • Paddling out of position: We have to look for the draw of the wave from the bottom of the ocean and see the crestings and the breaks in these crestings. But sometimes we misidentify them and paddle out of position to find a different apex. Therefore, doing your homework is important. Waves close to a certain shore will probably break in similar points. Observe them before going out for a ride.
  • Tilting your head down when the wave comes: It’s an understandable mistake for rookies since it’s an automatic reaction when you feel fear. But, it’s a mistake with very obvious ramifications: you won’t be able to see where you want to go. Awareness of your surroundings is a key aspect of surfing, and that mostly comes down to seeing. So, don’t put your head down.

Wrapping Up…

In almost all of the aspects we listed above (including the common mistakes), one factor was repeated over and over again: the importance of paddling, or why you should spare your paddling efforts and focus on waiting instead. And honestly, once you get your entry position down by studying the waves, it all comes down to waiting.

Therefore, at the end of our tutorial, we urge you to wait for your next training session. Not in the comfort of your home, of course. Just go out, pick a wave, identify your entry point, and wait instead of paddling ahead of it. You might not get your takeoff timing right, you might mess up during your pop up, or you might not catch that lift, but they are all okay.

Just wait. Waiting is an art. It’s a new branch of sports. Waiting is the new cool. 

Written by
Jeremy Dean
surf coaching