How to move with purpose and improve your technique and style in surfing
A lot of surfers have bad technique and style, with this one adjustment to your surfing, you can improve your technique and style, as well as understand how to move better.
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The Full Guide
Bad technique, bad style and bad surfing can be visually described with one image. One of those inflatable tube men with their lower and upper body completely out of sync and going in different directions.
If you think of bad surfing or bad surf skating, it can sometimes look reminiscent of this.
You may know a mate or this could be you, where your surfing and/or skating is a series of wild movements.
What you'll also notice with people who do this, is their bodies moving a lot, potentially their boards moving a lot but from the perspective of the wave or the skate ramp, they are barely moving.
So what's going on here and how do we fix this? Because this, will negatively impact your surfing and hold you back from improving.
Fixing wild, out of control movement
The main issue here is there is no control, there may be an illusion of it, or there can be this perception that you are surfing well, but the reality is you are just sending mixed signals to your board. No movement is held, controlled or maintained.
It's a wild mess.
The typical beginner surf skater
There is another potential issue, and that's a complete disconnect between the body and the board. It can be usually seen in most beginner surf skaters.
Their upper bodies are moving all over, but their lower bodies are barely moving at all. They are sending no signals to their board.
When you see this, it ends up looking ridiculous and is the typical cliche of surf skating. All this wild, uncontrolled movement but nothing happening. Everything looks extreme body language-wise, but they are just not moving or doing anything to match the movements.
Foundations to advanced surfing
This is a major foundation to more advanced surfing, regardless of what style you are doing. Being able to move effectively and convey that movement to your board is key.
You don't control your board with your upper body, it's not strapped to your hands, it's connected to your feet.
You could be flailing your upper body, but if no signal is being sent to the board, it will not move.
The goal of your surfing is to move with purpose and control, both parts of the body in sync, moving together.
Until both halves of your body move together, you will hold back your surfing and surf skating.
Create a connection with your upper and lower body
Let's start with some basics.
If you think about a twist, the movement starts with the upper body, you begin by moving the head to look to where you will twist to. If you aren't looking where you want to get to, you will not get there.
The shoulders follow, both of them, not one (typical beginner/intermediate mistake there). This twist then continues down through the body, connecting to the hips, then knees and finally at the feet.
If your twist doesn't reach your feet, how is that signal being sent to your board?
If it stops at your waist, your board is barely going to respond to that movement. The signal is weak and you will mainly just put yourself off balance as you move but the board doesn't.
Think of a lean, you have to lean on your toes, your ankles supporting the lean. You can reach your arms out from your body, but if you don't connect with the feet and rest of the body won't send a signal to your board.
You can then deepen the lean through various ways of moving and using your upper body, but it all has to connect with the movement of leaning and sending that signal to the board.
Your lower body is the workhorse, there's a reason long waves at a point break are called leg burners and not arm burners. You don't flap your arms to move.
Same with skating a bowl, your legs will feel like jelly after a long run. If they don't then you aren't using your legs.
If you've watched the Coaches Eye series with Clay and Ant, then you may have noticed comments about this before.
Barrel riding and the lower body
You'll notice in clips like this one of Taj Burrow, the legs are doing all the work, they are constantly adjusting as he is threading the tube. As he reads the wave, the legs adjust to match that and in this situation that is a lot of work and effort.
Busy legs, quiet upper body.
The hands, are his control, ensuring the upper body can help the lower body pick the right line and balance. The hands almost become a steering wheel.
You can see a similar thing with Mason Ho and how he controls his movements with the legs and the arms are subtle.
The Upper body
Think of your upper body as control, even a flight conductor, everything is moving with a purpose and directing the rest of the body to move in that way.
Remember there is always a lot of nuance in surfing and everything depends on where you are on the wave, what you want to do, what you are riding etc.
Your upper body will initiate a lot of movements. If you think back side bottom turns, the leading arm has to lift up to create the lift and open space for the body to get inverted, matching the angle of the wave. That allows the rest of the body to move. If you're arms go down, you are telling your body to go down.
Typical Surf Skating issues
As I mentioned before, you'll see a lot of surf skating looking awkward. This is because the arms are wild but legs aren't moving.
To fix this, rein in the arms and move with purpose. Stop exaggerating the arm movements and match the amount of movement, leaning, twisting etc that your legs are doing. Then I would suggest that if you are still not moving much "exaggerate" the legs.
What I mean by that is exaggerate the movement of the legs, don't just suddenly push hard or do soemthing that overpowers everything or out of sync with the rest of the movement, I want you to exaggerate the movement.
What you are most likely feeling is no movement. By exaggerating the movement you are using a pattern interrupter to get you to start beginning to actually move.
Think trying to pump in a skate bowl, the legs barely move but the arms fly up wild, not much happens, you looks slow and awkward. If the legs don't move, the arms are just flailing. So exaggerate the legs, move them move, compress more, extend more with them. Break the bad habit by actually using the legs. This exaggeration is meant to show you that you aren't moving and that the exaggeration is probably what you should be moving to.
So in reality, it's not an exaggeration at all, just normal movement.
Summary: Do less, feel more
If your style is wild and your surfing or surf skating looks wild with a lot of movement and not much happening, try the movement on land and see how the movement is connecting with your entire body and your board.
If you have no feeling in the feet, then you have no signals being sent to the board.
The lower body is your workhorse, especially in skating a bowl and pumping. The upper body is subtle movments and control, opening up space and directing the movement.
If you want to improve your technique and style drastically, do less and feel more. Connect the two parts of the body together and move with purpose that is controlled and directed. By doing this and getting the legs to start working with the upper body, reigning in the wild movements, you can start to feel more.
Nothing in surfing is a sudden movement, there is no feedback for sudden wild movements, you won't go anywhere and worse, you'll just look terrible.