how to surf tips intermediate
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Surf Tips for the Intermediate Surfer

Transitioning from beginner to intermediate stages of surfing can be difficult. Learn what the key aspects of that transition are with 10 great surf tips the OMBE team provides.

Surfing progression might be tricky, especially when a beginner surfer moves onto the intermediate stages. If that's the case, the nature of your surf lessons will change: you'll need to catch unbroken waves, you'll spend a considerable amount of time perfecting your pop up technique, and you'll need to adapt to new types of surfboards more suitable for an intermediate surfer.

Some of these changes can be difficult for novice surfers. No matter how many surf sessions they have on a day, they might find it hard to transition smoothly due to a lack of proper guidance. Luckily, the OMBE team is here, and we have some tips that'll ease your progression on your way to becoming a competent and confident advanced surfer.

surf tips intermediate

Tip #1: Understand the Surfing Progression

We have a surf lesson called "Waves of Progression" in our free Surfer Assessment program. That particular lesson aims to acquaint you with what you can expect from your surfing journey once you start progressing and prepare you for the mental labor you're going to spare.

For example, a beginner surfer rides what we call white water. Whitewater is the foam-like wave residue that forms after waves break. It's small, mellow, and mushy, and therefore ideal for novices to learn fundamental surfing skills on, like how to maintain balance, how to pop up to a proper surfing stance, and how to generate speed.

However, the waves the intermediate or advanced surfers ride are not at all similar to whitewater. Once you progress, you'll start catching unbroken waves that require different skills, more physical effort, impeccable timing, and a different mental approach. Moreover, you'll need to change your surfboard, too.

Unless you're not ready to forget what you learned in the beginning stages of your journey and adapt to a new understanding of surfing, you'll likely fail. However, by knowing what you can expect and having proper guidance from your surf coaches, you'll have little recollection of your habits as a novice surfer and progress more easily.

In addition to Surfer Assessment, you can find our Surf Psychology program helpful on your quest for an unwavering mental attitude, too.

Tip #2: Find the Right Wave

reading the waves

The question of the right wave sounds like it may cause some mild explosions in the heads of certain philosophers, but once you know what you're looking for, it's actually quite an easy question to answer. After all, nobody expects you to go to Nazaré and challenge Laird Hamilton's or Maya Gabeira's world records. 

Finding the right wave entails an understanding of waves in the first place, and it requires a more profound understanding of the ocean: how waves are formed, why and how they break, and how to read them. Speaking of, you'll also need to learn how to read a surf report and how to act on it. All of this knowledge will help you pick the right waves in accordance with your skills and increase your wave count.

Of course, we are aware that these can only provide you with a theoretical understanding of the ocean and might be easily forgotten when paddling towards a wave. If you wouldn’t like that to happen, let us encourage you to body-surf!

According to the legendary Kelly Slater, body-surfing is an amazing way to connect with the ocean and feel the energy of the waves. It's also the most efficient practical way to develop an intrinsic and instinctive understanding (or, even, a feeling) of the ocean. Our Waterman program that contains lessons on body-surfing, body-boarding, and finless surfing can surely help you with that.

In addition, our guide on how to increase your wave count and our Catch More Waves and Surf Science programs will surely improve your wave knowledge, so you'll start to catch waves more easily.

Tip #3: Know Your Surfboard

surfboard shapes

As a result of our experience in surf coaching, we have many observations about beginner surfers. One of these is that they approach their surfboards as a tool of influence: their surfboard pick is either the one their favorite surfer rode, or they want to impress people around them with aesthetic appeal.

We all can relate to that. However, a surfboard ridden by a pro is rarely a perfect fit for a beginner or an intermediate surfer. They're pros; they've mastered the basics and then some, so it feels like an extension of their bodies to them no matter what type of board they ride. On the other hand, your needs are different: you need more buoyancy, easier paddling, and something that allows you to put in less effort when it comes to catching waves.

If you want to improve as a surfer, you need to know which surfboard shape is good for what. The reason for all the different surfboard shapes you see in surf shops isn't aesthetic appeal either. You need to know why some are ideal for beginners, some are perfect for intermediate surfers, and some are strictly advanced.

Even further along the line, you need to understand the logic behind the different tail, nose, and rail designs, and learn about the importance (or the inconsequential character) of surfboard volume. Only then can you make an informed decision when purchasing a surfboard, and only on a suitable surfboard can you really start progressing.

If you have more questions about how to get the right surfboard, we happen to have the very program for that, too.

Tip #4: Practice Frequently

If you already have a surf coach, you can skip this part, as you probably have surf sessions almost every day. However, if you're going solo, it's as important as a tip gets, even though it might sound a bit too self-evident.

Of course, you know that if you want to get better at anything, you need to practice frequently, but it’s easier said than done when it comes to surfing. For one, not all days are “surfable” days. After all, it's an outdoor sport, and some days, the weather conditions will be your arch-enemy.

It might be cold and rainy, and you might not have a proper wet shirt to wear during your surfing sessions. The wind might be unpredictable and cause unrideable waves. It might be the off-season in your local surf spot, and you might not have the means to travel.

Yet, none of these really mean that you cannot practice. There are a couple of surf practices that'll help landlocked surfers improve as well. For instance, certain yoga poses will help to improve your balance, mental attitude, and strength. If yoga isn't really your cup of tea, BOSU ball exercises will help you with your body coordination and rotation.

Neither yoga nor BOSU balls can satiate your thirst for surfing? Well, then, surf-skating in your garage or a roofed skate park will surely help you master your turns, and we have a program that can aid your progress on land.

In short, there's no excuse or reason to not practice frequently, and there are ample exercises for those who want to get better.

Tip #5: Be Brave in the Ocean

guy being very brave in the ocean

We acknowledge that this particular point is worded a bit too vaguely and can be interpreted in many ways. Go wrestle with sharks as if you are the Vladimir Putin of your surf break? Not really. Set on a hunt for a wave nobody's ever ridden before on uncharted territories? Not at all. Surf naked on a beach frequented by conservative people? Do it if you really must, but that's not what we mean either.

As we said in the intro, beginner surfers are encouraged to ride whitewater waves so that they can learn to surf as easily as possible. However, if you don't get rid of the habit of sticking to the flats quickly, you'll encounter certain difficulties in the later stages of your learning process. Furthermore, even when you think that you're not a beginner anymore, and even when you are simply disgusted whenever the white foam is mentioned, you might inexplicably find yourself on the flat white waves.

How? Well, the answer is quite straightforward: instincts. Especially for intermediate surfers who just made the transition, the unbroken waves will seem like giants from mythology that came to life. That's understandable, too, as the ocean is mostly a fearsome force of nature. However, when the fear kicks in, you'll find yourself running on the surf line towards the flat shoulder of the wave.

You need to know that the flat shoulders lack the “surfing power” necessary for you to improve. Instead, that power lies in the scary pocket of the wave, and that's what'll help you generate speed, accomplish turns, and bust airs. So, don't be afraid of the pocket and ask yourself what's the worst that can happen.

You're afraid that you're going to get wiped out and fail? Well, let us tell you that sticking to the shoulders when you’re no longer a beginner is an even worse failure than getting wiped out.

Tip #6: Learn How Your Body Works

bosu ball exercise for surfers

Yes, you know that your body works a lot during surfing, but do you really know how it works? Are you really aware of how your foot positioning affects the board and your performance? Are you in control of your hand-eye movements, and are you sure that they're coordinated?

These are very important questions, and when you ask a novice surfer, the responses you'll get will probably be a mixed bag of falsely placed confidence, confusion, and certain indecipherable grunts. A good surfer should know how the human body works and how it's designed to move, as that's what in no small part determines the quality of your pop-ups, balance, and turns.

In that sense, the first aspect to consider is the standing position. You can observe some beginner surfers and skaters stand sideways on their board, yet the human body isn't exactly designed to move sideways. Being sideways restricts your peripheral vision and liberty of movement to a great deal. Your knees, hands, and eyes should face forward. In other words, you need to surf front-on.

Once you understand the importance of moving forwards, your pop-ups will be more accomplished, too. See, a quality pop-up requires you to immediately jump into the proper surfing stance and maintain balance afterward. Once you understand how your body works, do enough land drills to get it right. You'll see how effective it'll be.

Tip #7: Less Is Generally More

There are a couple of reasons we opt for more when less is quite sufficient. We want to impress people, we want to appear like we're really putting in the effort, or we're just suffering from anxiety and fear because we're afraid to lose control, which in turn causes us to lose control.

To convince you how less can actually be more, we have a couple of examples:

  • Your surfboard won't kick-start like a motorcycle when you're jumping on its tail, nor will you be able to generate speed like that. Speed in surfing has little to do with your movements and more with where you position yourself on the wave. Tap into the wave's energy, which is in its pocket, and you'll generate speed.
  • Flailing and waving frantically is a general response to anxiety when you fear that you're going to lose control. However, more movement doesn't mean that you're going to regain control; on the contrary, it'll cause your surfboard to wobble and eventually dump you. What you need to do is make sure your body is positioned right, your hands are steady as those of a tightrope walker, and you're looking at where you want to go. 
  • Paddling for a longer time doesn't necessarily mean that you're a good paddler. On the contrary, it means that you don't know where to lie in wait for a wave; that you lack wave knowledge. Moreover, when you burn too much energy paddling, you might find yourself running out of breath once you take off. So, know where you should wait for a wave, paddle less, and have a better ride.

Tip #8: Study the Surfing Greats

The surfing heritage is what we owe everything we know to. Even when there was no YouTube or worldwide broadcasting of surf competitions, we had VHS tapes of our idols. We'd put them on and watch them while constantly rewinding to understand how Tom Curren pulled off that bottom turn or how Dane Reynolds busted that air.

So, there's nothing wrong with imitating the moves you see on your TV set or at competitions you attend. It's rather merit, especially considering what it would take to replicate the moves of a master.

You'll need to study the move extensively, you'll need to envision it when you close your eyes, you'll need to put yourself in the shoes of the pro (or on the surfboard), and you'll need to simulate it. In other words, you'll need to do some “mind surfing.”

Don't be afraid about the puzzling character of it, though. The mental envisioning of surfing is quite a stimulating practice. When you have a deeper understanding of the waves, the human body, and surfboards, you'll be able to identify mistakes and accomplishments once you close your eyes. And that's surely a gratifying experience.

If you want to learn more about simulations and mind-surfing, our Mind Surfer program can help you.

Tip #9: Be Your Own Coach

You already have a competent surf coach, so you're wildly protesting this tip? Even if you have the best coach in the world (i.e., Clayton Nienaber), you should still coach yourself.

Of course, we don’t expect you to be a surf instructor before you actually become a surfer, but you can record your surf sessions (or have a friend record them for you from the shore) and judge them on the following criteria:

  • How do you relate to the ocean during your ride? Are you looking where you want to go, or are you keeping the wave in check by looking back or down?
  • What part of the wave are you riding? Are you too far away from its power source, i.e., its pocket, or is the lip of the wave licking the tail of your surfboard? (Sorry, that was unintentionally sensual!)
  • How is your body movement? Are you aware that subtlety is the key to a good ride, or is it a museum-worthy display of fear and anxiety? 
  • How is your connection with your board? Did it slow down when you wanted it to?

Based on these questions, you can identify your shortcomings and focus your exercises accordingly.

Tip #10: Go On a Surf Trip

indonesia surf spot

As we said in the section above, there will surely be a season when the waves in your local surf spot are not accommodating to your surfing skills. If that's the case, it's the perfect opportunity for you to pack and go on a surf trip to a location where the world-class waves are abundant, and an amazing surf community is present.

We have a guide on the best places to learn to surf that can provide you with a lengthy traveling checklist. Even if you're well past the beginning stages, you still have no reason to be deceived by the phrase "learn to surf," as almost all the top-notch surf spots in the world have waves that can appeal to everyone no matter their skill level, like those in Indonesia or Costa Rica.

When you travel, surf on new waters, and spend a few weeks in a surf camp among fellow surfers, you'll gain a new perspective about surfing. Your understanding of the ocean will improve as a result of your encounter with different types of waves, you'll learn a lot from the surfing community, and you'll have more experience than you'd think you could.

In addition, if you plan your surf trip timely, you may catch a surf competition or two where pros display their skills. Getting to experience it firsthand and maybe even chancing upon the possibility to have a conversation with them are wonderful opportunities you can't overlook.

Also, surf spots are some of the most beautiful places on earth, so it's quite certain that you'll at least have fun, which is very important in surfing.

An Extra Surf Lesson: Don't Forget to Have Fun

The need to impress others and ourselves, the ambition to get better, the fear of failure, and the constant urge to practice are pretty dangerous feelings. They might kill your passion and make you forget why you took on surfing in the first place. It happened to many surfing greats at some point in their careers as well, and some of them ended up questioning what any of it’s worth.

We don’t want that to happen to anyone else. So, here's a reminder: we love surfing because it's fun, and fun should be the first and foremost reason why you're practicing. If you realize that you stopped having fun, it might be better to take a breather, go away for a couple of months, or replace surfing with a new passion and wait until you can attribute a new meaning to it.

As they say, the best surfer is the one who's having the most fun.

Wrapping Up...

Surfing can sometimes be hard on both your body and mind, but it's nothing to be afraid of, especially when you have a guide to walk you through, like a good surf coach or like this article.

Learn what you can expect from your journey and accordingly, keep your expectations realistic. Make sure that your understanding of the ocean and your equipment won't fail you going forward. Practice amply no matter the weather, keep a strong mental attitude, and do physical exercises in relation to what you need to improve as a surfer. Most importantly, though, don't forget to have fun.

As long as you keep up with these criteria, you'll progress through the surfing stages smoothly. And maybe, just maybe, we'll see you doing a bit of moonwalk on the beach.

Written by
Jeremy Dean
surf coaching