how to perfect your pop up
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Pop up Masterclass: How to fix your pop up and find your stance in surfing

Everything you need to fix your pop up and perfect it, as well as tips and techniques to make it easier and more consistent.

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Do you struggle with your pop up? 

Feel like you have great technique when practising on land but in the water, it goes out the window? 

Or do you just sometimes feel at odds with your surfing at times and not sure what the problem is?

Well, most likely, you don't have a pop-up problem, you have a looking problem. A looking problem? Great English there...

But let me explain. Just like riding a bike, jumping, or pretty much any movement, where you are looking is where you are going.

How this impacts the average surfer

We've seen this time and time again, regardless of where your surfing is at and what you are struggling with in your surfing. The most common issue average surfers are making is that they are looking in all the wrong places.

Falling on the pop up? Looking down at the bottom of the wave and not lifting your chin up to create space and look to where you want to go.

Surfing flat across the mid-face of the wave? You're looking across the wave when you bottom turn and not up at the lip right where you are.

Can't complete your turns? Not looking through the turn to where you want to turn to. If you never look at the foam, you will never cut back to it.

Where you look is where you go

fix your pop up and get more waves
Man or dolphin?

Right, this guy... 

He's body surfing and surfing better than all of us without a surfboard. At the start it's chin up, looking where he wants to go. 

Opening the chest, using his body and that position to create lift from the wave's energy. Chin goes down, bodyweight goes down and he goes down. This is exactly what happens when you look down on the pop-up.

Don't believe me?

Drill: Fixing your pop up

I want you to try this, find space where ever you are and I want you to just do your pop up, whatever version it is and just think about how it felt. What worked, and what didn’t?

Drill 2: Looking down

Now I want you to go back and do it all again, the same way with one change. 

I want you to focus on keeping your head down, looking between your hands or just in front of them the whole time.

Same thing, how did it feel and what was it like?

Most likely, it felt horrible.

Creating space was a nightmare, it felt uncoordinated and you probably couldn’t bring your legs up easily.

What is also happening is you are throwing your centre of gravity off, you are sending this signal to say I want to go down to the ground, head first.

Your centre of gravity is not within your stomach at this point, it’s not balanced, and it’s not sending you in the direction you want to go. It will tell your board to go down and probably nose dive if you can’t control it.

This is what happens when you look at the bottom of the wave and go “ahhhh crap”. This is your looking problem.

Drill 3: Looking up

So, same thing again now, do the drill except this time you need to be looking up 100% of the time.

No looking down to check your hand placement, no looking at your feet, none of that crap.

If you look down, it will do exactly what you just learnt not to do.

You need to trust that your hands and feet know where they want to go and can get there.

If they can’t, it will just need some training or you may have a physical limitation and should go see a specialist if that’s the case. 

So, no looking down, what so ever.

You will want to pick a spot in front of you, roughly chest level or higher and keep looking at it, this is similar to you looking down the line of the wave and seeing what's happening.

Do your pop up and think about how that felt. It probably felt easy and space to get your body to move was easy.

This is what you want.

Your board is moving forward and is being pushed with the wave, you want to match that and stay with the momentum of the board. Head up will project your movement to go forward with the board. Not down.

The Explosive pop up

Think about your pop-up. In what part of your everyday life or other scenarios, is this explosive pop-up used and does it even seem functional?

The harsh reality is no, and when you see people doing this explosive pop-up, they usually have no control or balance and often end up in pooman stance as they haven’t allowed space for their body to efficiently and smoothly move into position.

Think pop-up to lock up. Stuck in a bad stance and unable to move out of it.

Here’s where this gets annoying, you already know a better way to get up to your feet on a surfboard, you just haven’t applied it to surfing yet.

It’s what we call the walk up and that’s because it’s so simple and we do it all the time.

Drill: The simplest pop up

If you’ve got space around you, I want you to try another drill now. 

All it is, is you laying down on the ground, on your stomach, look up to a wall or object somewhere in the area near and simply walk to it and touch it or grab it.

That’s it, just to get up from the ground and walk forward, head held high, your entire body coordinating forwards to the direction you want to go and always looking to where you want to go. 

You know how to do it, guaranteed and I would be shocked if you managed to stuff it up.

So how does this convert to surfing?

It’s the same thing, back foot first, not front foot, simply because back foot first means you get up matching the direction of momentum, forwards. 

Front foot or knees means you get up forwards and then to get up, you are pushing your weight slightly backwards and against the direction of momentum. 

It can work, but you might find it harder to balance. If you can’t do the back foot first, it may be an issue of mobility, flexibility or bad technique. Look up and lift the hips, making space for the body to move.

Anyways, to convert this to surfing, it’s the exact same movement but it’s only that first step forwards. 

So do it again but now just take one step forward and continue looking at the wall or object. If you look down, you will project down with your centre of gravity. If you were doing this to walk to the wall, you wouldn’t do it. So don’t look down during the pop up.

What the hell do I do with my hands?

This one is funny as a surf coach.

what do I do with my hands?

Quite often, surfers struggling with their pop up will have wild arms as they get up to their feet.

This is not what you want, you want purposeful movement and controlled and coordinated.

As you are popping up, your arms and hands just need to lift.

This isn’t explosive push-ups, your legs are the main part of the body lifting you off the ground, and the arms just need to do their job.

As you make that final step forward, your arms just need to raise with you. Think lift.

They will lift off the ground and you want to keep them up and in front of you.

One arm forward and one arm back is just classic pooman stance and horrible balance.

You are moving forward and want to keep your arms in front to control and balance, as well as looking and pointing where you want to go.

So your arms will never wildly flail and come up off the board where they get thrown backwards almost.

This is what you see in most average surfers struggling with their pop up, their arms go wild as they get up and it throws them off balance.

uncontrolled pop up

Go back and do the same drills as before, looking up the whole time and then just make the awareness of your arms and get them to just lift and finish in front of you, roughly pointing to where you are looking and want to go.

The final few pieces to the pop up

There are a few things that will hold you back in your pop up.

The biggest one is making space for your body to move freely.

Lifting the head and chin up is the first step.

Lift the hips to create space

The next step is easy and it’s just ensuring you lift the hips.

This creates space and allows your legs to get into position. You can’t get up off the ground by being a lizard and laying your pelvis on the ground. 

You don’t need to go full downward dog and lift your bum high in the air, but you want to find that sweet spot where you are looking forward and you can raise your hips that won’t compromise you looking forward.

Remember a downward dog will want to send you down into the ground or nose dive.

If there are limitations to this and you can’t get the hips up, flexibility work on those hips will be a game changer.

Back Foot first, front foot second - don’t do the knees trick

As I mentioned before, your board is moving forwards and you want to go in that same direction.

If you go front foot first or knees first, you are then forcing yourself to get up forwards and then finishing it by getting up backwards and against the direction of travel.

This is just going to through you off balance.

People will often do this because they can’t or don’t make space by lifting their hips and looking up and where they want to go.

It’s the same as what you did in the drill for walking forward to the wall.

Neutral stance is where you want to end up

At the end of your pop up, you want to be in a neutral stance. This means, your knees are slightly bent and your back straight, with your chest and shoulders roughly pointing forwards in the direction you are going.

Your back knee will be slightly turned towards the front knee, almost as if they are kissing. This is going to drastically improve your style and allow you to balance in all directions.

improve your surfing stance
How to kiss the knees and be in a neutral surfing stance

This is going to give you great balance and control, as well as allowing you to see everything in front of you.

You don’t want to end the pop up with your back bent and you bent over your knees. If you want to be low, compress into the knees and keep the back upright to maintain balance and control.

Catching a wave and perfecting the pop up

There’s a key step most people miss when they go to catch a wave and do their pop up

They are too eager to get up and completely stuff it up. Too early, fall off the back or rush it and lose balance.

As you paddle in, there is this point where you want to glide.

That is where you want to glide into the wave, and you are at that point where you have stopped paddling and deciding on the final seconds when to start the pop up.

This is done by initiating a cobra pose - sort of.

catch more waves

You will push up and arch the back, if you are familiar with OMBE, it’s the oreo biscuit

This is that point where you are feeling the wave’s energy lift the board up and you want to hold that position for a bit.

You can push up into cobra pose, arching the back and pushing off the arms to feel and observe the wave. If it’s too much, just compose yourself, but if it’s not a distraction, you want to be looking down the line at what the wave is doing. 

This is your steps to learning to read the wave better. It’s also your chance to make sure you don’t drop in on anyone, decide to take the wave and which way you want to go.

This will help you just calm yourself, check the wave and then decide yep, I am ready to go. 

It is something you’ll want to try and being in this position will give you a lot of control for setting up the pop up.

For complete beginners or people struggling, this is a position I suggest you ride the whole wave in, as this will teach you to control the rails and the board from here. You will feel the wave and get used to this position.

The mental side of popping up

There are a lot of things going on during a pop up. Fear and anxiety will commonly ruin any attempt at your pop up and is generally why you run hot and cold on it.

Here are a heap of guides to help with the mental side of popping up and any fear you may have:

Next Week

Or is this something you already do and love it?

I’d love to know, you can reach out anytime, message me in the app or send an email to anytime.

Next week I am going to dive into picking the boards you ride and why you should rethink what you prioritise in a board design.

Written by
Luke Hardacre
surf coaching