How to catch more waves in a crowded line-up
If you want to read waves and catch more waves, here's a quick guide to increasing your wave count, without getting frustrated or dropping in on anyone
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The Full Guide
Crowded line-ups. Do they make you avoid surfing altogether or do you find yourself getting frustrated? Do you wish you could catch more waves and improve your wave reading ability?
I'm going to give you some surf coaching, a few tips and break down how you can navigate the crowds and always put yourself in position regardless of the crowd and without resulting in dropping in.
You can easily do any of this regardless of how experienced you are in a line-up.
This guide follows two previous guides that will help you in this area. Surfing Etiquette Explained and when paddling for a wave you should paddle to the peak and not to the beach.
Increasing your wave count - finding the peak
No matter where you surf if it's beach breaks, reef breaks, points or the wave pool, this is the same principle.
To catch more waves, you want to identify where the peak is first. The peak is where the wave breaks first. Reading waves and the conditions will drastically help in finding the peak. As the waves approach, they change shape, stand up, and the lip threatens to break.
There is no quick fix for this one, you need to spend the time reading the ocean to get better at this.
You need to learn to read the ocean better.
Most surfers get to the beach and just paddle out where the crowd gathered. They never take the time to stop and assess the conditions. Advanced surfers can do this pretty quickly and it comes with experience but if that's not you, I suggest taking a few minutes each surf to observe the conditions so you can get more waves.
What you are looking for is where is the wave consistently breaking, how is the water moving, how fast is it breaking, where are the sections, where do you want to sit and where do you want to paddle out.
Seriously spend the 5 minutes watching the surf and figuring this out.
Forget the crowd to find your place in it
What you also need to do and this is what changes this whole experience is to ignore the whole crowd. Imagine they aren’t there. Forget them, they are a distraction.
They are usually giving away the wrong messages.
If you think about most of the average surfers, they are sitting way out on the shoulder and out of position. So why follow them and sit with them? Sounds like a recipe for disaster to be honest.
So forget them, your task of looking at the conditions and not looking at the crowd will tell you where you want to be. If you identify where that peak is, you’ll start noticing a lot of the crowd is not there.
Now you can look at that crowd and go, oh right, most of these people might as well just be swimmers because they are so out of position.
What you also want to observe is, who is actually in the right place and getting the right waves. Who is making it look easy? Note them because if you see them still out in the water, you can use them as a marker to help position better. Basically, follow the more advanced surfers.
You can now paddle out with a bit more certainty of where to sit, how to ignore the crowd or follow certain people in the crowd. This can change the whole way you start that surf, your expectations and whether this will be a positive surf or not.
Finding the peak in a crowded line up
When you are out in the line up, you need to look at these conditions again, it’s now harder because you are in the painting and not standing back from the shore and looking at it.
To find your place and ask the same questions, look for the more advanced surfers and what they are doing. Are you sitting where you said you would? Have the conditions changed? Do you need to move or stay? Take your time, this is important.
You need to be able to one, read the ocean from a third-person perspective, which is from the shore, and then from a first-person perspective which is when you are in the line up. Obviously, your view from within the line up is the most important but if that isn’t up to scratch, the time you took before paddling out will then inform you when you are actually out there.
This is a very fast way to improve your ability to read the ocean. The only other part of reading the ocean you need is when you are riding a wave, but that’s for another guide.
Look at this image of a crowded break. The majority of the crowd is all sitting on the shoulder. From a glance, I could say most of them aren't even catching waves and I'm going to explain to you how you can tell that just from a photo.
Minimizing the crowd
When a wave breaks, it follows the sandbank and continues to break along it. The previous image shows the whitewater left behind after the waves break. This is what we call in OMBE the Treasure Map.
This whitewash pattern shows the path the wave took to break and is where the pocket/peak of the wave is. As your paddling, you can use that to find the peak and that is what we call finding the Bus Stop.
So looking at the whitewash map, the crowds of surfers aren't anywhere near the peak.
Reading the Treasure Map
When you are sitting out in the lineup, spend your time observing the waves, always watching the conditions.
Either look out kat the swell in coming or every so often watch a wave behind you breaking and look at the whitewash left behind.
After the waves have broken, that whitewash is your key to positioning but also how fast, how the sections are breaking and what it wants you to do.
If the whitewash treasure map is practically straight and parallel to the beach, it’s closing out. It’s saying everything is breaking at once.
If it looks like a triangle, it says the tip of the triangle is the peak and it has a right and left. Now if you look at both sides of that triangle, the more shallow or flat that angle to the whitewash means the straighter and faster that wave was.
If the whitewash is on a very steep angle, it’s breaking slower and means it will have more sections. This can also show you how to stay in the pocket knowing the wave is slow and doesn’t want to race.
You have to start observing this and matching it with how the waves are when you ride them. Obviously, also slow down and watch the wave, don’t be afraid to waste a wave and just read it first.
The difference in points, beaches and reefs
This will change based on where you surf. Reefs can be a bit more predictable as the reef doesn’t move compared to a sandbank and then it's a game of what is the tide doing and what are the conditions, but again still applies the methods previously mentioned.
Point breaks are great, and more predictable than the beachies, they break one way and the rough rule of thumb is go position more on the inside, closer to the peak and less on the shoulder. If you are struggling to catch waves in crowd, at a point, ask yourself should I be closer to the inside?
By this I mean, should you paddle across the line up to position closer to where it’s breaking, this is not to be confused with paddling up the point. Up the point means following along the line it breaks, but if you are too wide, you will still miss waves. If you are sitting in a good spot and don’t want to paddle up the point but are a bit wide, go paddle across and position more on the inside. Pretty much every point break has about 50% of surfers sitting way to wide and out of position. It’s an easy win and by no means does paddle towards the inside mean surf the inside smaller waves, it’s just about positioning better to the bank where the waves are constantly breaking.
Beachies are hit and miss and this is the main reason you want to do this. Especially if you live in the UK or parts of Europe where the tides and conditions change so often. Some days, the amount of waves you get will depend on how well you read and adapt to the changing conditions and how well you forget what the crowd is doing and position to suit.
Catching waves easier
We can't talk about catching more waves without mentioning the oreo biscuit and how to glide into waves instead of stress paddle and miss them. If you aren’t aware of this, and it deserves its own guide, the oreo method is our simple technique for catching more waves and using the wave's energy. You’re never going to paddle as fast as a wave so it’s all about how well you can tap into the wave's energy to get that push and feel the lift.
The trick to this is that if everyone else is stress paddling and paddling wide, this will help you get more waves. The problem with most people and where they go wrong with it is, they are sitting wide. This works best when in the pocket or closer to the peak. You need to use the wave's energy and it’s weakest on the shoulder and stronger closer to the pocket.
The other main issue is people being afraid of the lift the wave gives them and bail or back out instead of committing. I don’t mean bailing from the wave I mean stopping the oreo biscuit technique. It’s this moment of oh crap what’s happening, I am being pushed. This is what you want to feel and then just glide in, control it, take the wave's energy and get waves easier than the rest of the crowd.
I’m not going to deep dive on volume but you don’t need extra volume to solve this issue. That is a quick fix in most cases. Yes, there is the argument of the right tool for the right job but I will always look at this as, what’s the board I want to be riding when I catch a wave, not what board am I taking so I can just catch a wave. This also obviously needs to take in your skill level and what you are comfortable with.
What I am trying to say is, that getting a bigger board to deal with a crowd is not the answer. It’s a bandaid that allows your bad habits to keep existing. Improve your ocean awareness, reading the ocean, confidence in the line up and managing the crowd will do so much for you and that doesn’t cost the price of a board. That just takes a bit of patience and working on it each surf.
But, that is not to say you can’t surf a bigger board etc, just surf the board you want to suit those conditions regardless if there is a crowd or not.
Taking this into your next session
When you next go for a surf, observe the crowd before you get in. Usually, most of the surfers aren't even on the peak / bus stop and are paddling for the shoulder.
Before you get in, find the bus stop. Are any surfers actually sitting there? Are they getting any waves or just bobbing around in the surf? Who's getting more waves than the others and how or what are they doing to get more waves?
Then look for the treasure map left behind the waves. The whitewash left behind all waves that show how the wave broke and where the bank is. Ask yourself, is that whitewash map consistent, do I need to move to the peak and how are the waves breaking?
You've now identified where to sit and how much competition you have in the water. It's now a case of navigating the crowd and using the wave's energy to catch waves easier.
Your goal next surf in a crowded line up
When in a crowded line-up, your goal is simply to out position the rest of the crowd. That's it.
If the other surfers aren't going to sit at the peak or the bus stop, that's their issue and not yours. Don't result to paddling for the shoulder because a bunch of other surfers are sitting there. You won't catch many waves on the shoulder, just get a good workout paddling.
What paddling is meant to do for you
Remember that your main goal is to position better and your paddling isn’t about paddling in towards the beach, all you are doing is moving away from the wave, you need to move over to where the wave is breaking, meaning sideways across the beach, position better and then when the wave is closer, then paddle towards the beach and tap into the waves energy to catch it. You can’t match its speed.
You’ll be surprised how many people only paddle towards the beach and not to the peak, or how many waves pass people by and they could have paddled 10-20 metres sideways to position themselves for it and catch it.
Etiquette in the crowd
The obvious question is then, how do we do this without being "that surfer" in the lineup. Don't drop in on another surfer, always look to your inside and check first before you get to your feet. If someone is there, you can paddle for the wave, waiting to see if the person on your inside will get it or not. If they don't, go for it. If they get it, pull out without crumbling the wave.
Positioning in the crowd
Don't paddle around someone. What this means is, if you're paddling out and there is someone sitting right where you want to be, don't paddle around them, sitting just on their inside. Basically next to them. If they are not at the bus stop, go paddle to the bus stop.
If they are sitting at the bus stop, sit on their outside, let them get a wave and then paddle to where they were and sit at the bus stop.
Be friendly, smile and say hello. Nothing worse than that grumpy local getting all the waves. If you're friendly, people won't be mad you're getting all the waves.
Before you get frustrated, do this
If you are struggling to catch waves and paddling for the shoulder, see if there is a surfer who is getting all the waves. If there is, go sit with them, learn from them, and use their positioning. You are doing nothing wrong by sitting with them, you may get fewer waves, you may get more, but you will learn from them and understand where to sit better.
Handing "That surfer"
If you see a surfer in the lineup, getting every single wave, it's a slow day and it's becoming frustrating, paddle over to them and start a friendly conversation. This is the easiest way to disarm that one person getting every wave.
It works on me every time. I will suddenly be less focused on every wave coming in and will also let the person chatting to me, take waves.