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The intermediate surfer trap and why you aren't improving

By trying too hard in your surfing, you make it even harder to achieve what you want to do. It seems backwards, but by forcing things to happen you move worse or disconnect from the movement.

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The Full Guide

For a lot of surfers, the idea of doing a turn better comes down to pushing harder or doing something harder.

But power is an illusion, you're not fighting the wave, you're trying to flow with it.

Instead... If you want to do something better, I want you to think "move more efficiently".

This is connected to some of the previous episodes, improving your technique and style, how to improve your surf skating, the bottom power zones etc. 

All of these have something in common and that's moving with more efficiency.

But what does that mean and what are the traps most surfers fall into?

The typical intermediate trap

There are a few key intermediate traps surfers usually fall into:

  1. Not understanding power and movement
  2. Trying too hard
  3. Overpowering the wave

In search of power

You may have heard this before. "The back foot must be on the tail pad and to turn with more power, you must push harder on the tail pad."

Just think about that and break it down a bit. What message are you sending to your board?

Take out a turn and think about just trimming, picking a line.

If you stand on the tail and push harder with your back foot, are you not just going to make your surfboard do something like a wheelie?

Yep! You're going to lift the nose, and the boards going to drag.

Now as always, there is nuance to surfing and everything is based on what you are trying to do, where you are on the wave, what you are riding etc. There are some occasions where this may be what you want to do based on that nuance, for most intermediates, it is not what you want.

What's the solution then?

Using the rail and moving more efficiently. 

If you put this into the context of a cutback, the movement is more important than the power.

A cutback is a type of twist and if you slam the tail during that twist, you're going to slow down. The tail of most boards has a sharp edge to disengage and part the water, this then allows you to transition from rail to rail or end a turn. Whereas the rail is meant to hold and keep you in the turn.

Movement is key

Moving efficiently, moving with control and using the rail to maintain speed and flow is far more important. Regardless of what you are riding or what style of surfing you are doing, move better and more fluidly and your cutback will be much better.

Trying too hard is holding back your surfing

You might have done this yourself, maybe you've gone out for a surf with a clear goal or something you "must" try or do. You want to paddle out and have a big go at something in your surfing.

We suggest that here at OMBE but there are differences and levels to it.

What I am referencing is when you are forcing something to happen.

This is the wrong approach, when you force something, you put too much pressure on yourself or parts of the movement. 

By forcing things, the efficiency of movement goes out the window and it comes down to accentuating something, and most likely, what you end up doing is moving worse and/or bringing stress and tension into your surfing.

The easiest way to flow and move well

If you want to move more efficiently, you can release tension and stress, removing the physical blockers stopping you from moving easily. This can be fear as well or anything that makes you anxious, like external life pressure.

Or the other method is learning how to move more efficiently, learning the correct technique and just trying to simplify those movements rather than forcing it to happen.

How to make sure you don't try too hard

Go out with a purpose, focus on one thing that you want to improve but don't put that on a pedestal. Success is not guaranteed, failure is accepted and all you are going to do is try that manoeuvre or skill if the opportunity arises. Don't try to manufacture it. Match it to the conditions. 

If you want to work on getting barrelled, closeouts are a great day to work on that, it's very likely you will get a heap of opportunities. High tide, mush, crumbly waves is not a good opportunity.

Sure those two conditions are easy to pick apart but understand what you want to do and what conditions suit that. If that day gives you lots of opportunities, let it happen.

Don't go force going right when that day is 95% lefts, go with the flow of the waves and conditions. Respond to what the wave is telling you to do and don't force the wave to do what you want it to do.

Don't overpower the wave

Consider this next part and extension of the power zone episode from a few weeks back.

Wave's aren't solid, they have power which is roughly based from the size, how quickly they break, how they are standing up and from the swell's period.

The idea of this is, you're not going to lean hard on a bottom turn for waist-high soft mushy waves that are barely standing up. You won't put the same amount of effort into that bottom turn as you would head high waves, with a long period that are breaking with a well-defined shape to them.

If you bottom turn too hard on a wave with no power, you will overpower it, resulting in you bogging rail or face planting.

Matching the power of the wave

I recommend this and overpowering the wave when you are trying to feel out your bottom turn, learning how to lean, but as you perfect and work on that bottom turn, you need to match the power of the wave and flow with it.

This takes time and experience, feeling it out. There's no formula or anything like that, everything in surfing requires you to feel it out, try to make sense of that feeling and adapt.

Swell periods

Swell periods are really interesting as it is a rough idea of if the swell has much power in it and you can see that ahead of the session.

The swell period is that number in seconds next to the swell in most surf forecasts. This is measured as the time between swell lines.

Wind swell, ground swell and period times.

Short swell periods tend to be wind swell, coming from short distances and are usually single digits. Ground swell, is associate with longer periods and is a much deeper, faster swell line approaching the shore. Typically ground swell travels from much longer distances and produces better surf.

The longer that period is, the more power that swell has and the faster they will be moving. A 20 second period moves at approximately 30 knots whereas a 10 second period moves at approximately 15 knots. 

So what do we do with this information?

When you read your forecasts, you'll see the forecast and can make some assumptions based on the period and swell size.

Understanding the period to help each session

By knowing if the waves are weak or moving fast and then applying that to your local break and the tides etc, you'll be able to make a guess at what the conditions will allow you to do.

Therefore, can I lean harder on my bottom turns, can I push it a bit more or do I need to be careful to make sure I'm not overpowering the wave and just taking what the wave gives you.

How these traps can hold you back

Rather than surfing the wave, using the energy it gives you, you are spending your time fighting the wave. You're aren't in sync with the wave or conditions.

Instead of working on what you can, doing what the wave tells you it wants you to do, you are forcing things to happen.

When we force things to happen, we don't move well and it can be the wrong time to do that movement, which can impact the feeling or learning experience you get from that session.


Don't fall into the usual traps for intermediates. 

Don't overdo movements by accentuating one part of that movement. Learn to move more efficiently for the whole movement. Improve parts of it that make you move better and not overdo one part that changes the movement.

Relax, don't try too hard, match what you are working on to what the conditions will allow you to do. Don't force things to happen, let them flow and respond to the conditions.

Finally, don't overpower the wave, tap into and use the waves energy rather than fighting it. Understand when to lean hard and when you need a softer approach to suit the conditions.

By understanding these three parts, you'll be able to progress your surfing easier than simply trying to make things always happen.

Written by
Luke Hardacre
surf coaching