The ultimate list of beginner to intermediate surfing tips, tricks, and techniques
If you want to progress from a beginner to an intermediate surfer, you'll need to know your equipment better, understand and read the ocean, as well as know your limits.
So here you are. You’ve learned how to put on and take off a wetsuit in under an hour, you’ve put some mileage on your surfboard, and you’ve finally gotten the hang doing a pop-up on your board at least semi-reliably. Congratulations, you’ve officially graduated from being a beginner surfer to an intermediate surfer.
Going forward you really have two choices that you can make when it comes to what kind of surfer you decide to be.
- The first choice that you can make is to keep practicing and only develop the skills that you already have. If you’re quite comfortable with the bigger volume board that you have and are very happy with simply enjoying yourself on the waves, then this is a good choice. This way you can get better at tackling small to medium-sized waves and simply have fun with the sport the way that you want to.
- The second choice is to expand your skillset, upgrade to a smaller and more maneuverable board, and try to tackle some of the more challenging aspects of surfing. This is for people that are looking to get a bit more of a thrill and won’t be satisfied until they go up to a properly big wave and ride into the barrel like a real pro.
If you’re one of those people that want to get better and see everything that this sport has to offer, then there are a few tips that we think might help you push your surfboarding skills to the next level.
Change out your surfboard
When you were just starting out you most likely chose a bigger board that was easier to balance while on the water. This probably means that you went for a foam surfboard or a longboard. These are perfectly good types of boards and are in fact great choices for people new to the sport. However, if you’re looking to improve, then you’ll need to get something that can turn more quickly and can give you a bit more freedom on the waves.
Shortboards are sort of a double-edged blade. They can be used by some surfers to tackle the larger waves, but they can also hinder other surfers by throwing them off without much warning. In essence, the shortboard is a great choice for tackling big waves, but you need to have a certain level of skill in order to maintain your balance and fully utilize the maneuverability that they can provide.
The biggest advantages that the shortboard has are the rocker, the short length, and the narrow width. The small size allows you to do turns on a dime, while the rocker can prove to be a better “fit” for the curl of the wave. Whereas longer boards are more likely to cut into the water much more severely and cause you to lose balance, the shortboard is designed to let you effortlessly tackle the biggest waves.
The fish starts out looking like a longboard due to the wide nose but slowly gets narrower towards the back, where it finishes in a double-pointed V-shaped tail. This is a good intermediate type of board that can help you transition from a longer board to a shorter one.
The extra volume that the wide nose provides will give you some of that added volume that you’re accustomed to, while the narrow tail can help you pull off some crisper turns. Though these are small surfboards, they aren’t as quick as shortboards, nor are they as well designed for big waves. However, they can help you learn some more advanced tricks and abilities with much greater ease than their more precarious cousins.
If even the fish proves to be a bit too much for your current level of skill, then look no further than the funboard. It’s shorter than a longboard, longer than a fish, and it’s just wide enough to provide you with a decent level of stability without hindering your movement all that much. The funboard is the perfect in-between when it comes to short and long surfboards, even more so than the fish. However, that's also its biggest flaw.
A funboard is a reliable choice for every surfer, but it doesn’t have the same speed and maneuverability that you’d get from shorter surfboards, nor does it have the stability and volume of the longer types of surfboards. While this does mean that it lacks any one particular strength or specialty, it also means that it’s a jack of all trades that can be at least useful in pretty much every type of surf.
Learn to read the waves better
New surfboard acquired, the next step is to start watching the waves more carefully. In the past, you could have been forgiven for paddling out at any point of the wave and simply going down the shoulder, but that’s not gonna fly anymore. If you’re looking to generate more speed, then you’ll have to change a few habits.
Where you paddle out is important
Paddling out is one of the trickier aspects of surfing that every beginner needs to get good at. But now that you’ve got the timing down, you’re also going to need to get the angle down as well.
- Just stop and observe the waves for a while. Watch where the waves are breaking, and paddle up as close to that point as you can before you turn towards the beach and start paddling.
- Close your fingers. Yes, we’re completely serious. Most people subconsciously spread their fingers when they paddle because it’s easier to push their hands through the water that way. That may be so, but it’s also a more inefficient way to catch a wave and should be avoided at all costs.
- Check over your shoulder and make sure that the peak of the wave is behind you. If you want to get the most power out of the wave, then you’ll need to aim at the highest point, let it come to you as you paddle towards the beach, and let the wave take you up towards the peak naturally.
Pumping is when you surf up and down the face of the wave in order to use the force of the wave itself to keep going towards the top and keep moving forward. This technique makes full use of the power of motion that you get from the wave and uses it in order to allow you to either ride the wave or pull off some fun tricks.
Smaller “pumps” allow you to simply move forward by utilizing the motion of the waves, bigger “pumps” consist of sharper turns downward and upward on the wave and can serve to launch you off of the top of the peak. You should really try to practice both of these motions in order to get a better feel for how to pump the waves and how to control your board better.
Body positioning tips
The title of this section says it all really. Here are a few mistakes that you might be making when it comes to how you’re using your body when surfing and how to correct them
- Don’t be stiff while you’re on the board. The knees are the most important part when you’re pumping a wave. In order to go upwards, simply angle the nose of the board upwards. When you’re at the top, crouch down on your board and create downward pressure, then when you’re near the base of the wave, angle the board upwards again and this time push off with your feet as if you’re trying to jump off. Repeat.
- Don’t keep your feet static. There are times when you’ll want to get more speed out of your board, and there are times when you’ll want to pull off sharper turns. The back foot is the key. Keeping it at the back of the board allows you to put more pressure on the tail and make faster turns. On the other hand, if you want to generate more downwards force and gain more speed, then you’ll want to move it a bit closer to your other leg.
- Use the rest of your body. Turning on your surfboard starts with your head, transfers to your neck, then to the direction that you throw your arms in and swing your hips in order to steer the board with your legs and feet. This means that a more dramatic movement of the arms can sometimes help correct your balance on your board and get you back on track. We’re not saying that you should start flailing your arms for every little movement, but rather that sometimes some more exaggerated movements can stop you from getting wiped out.
Know your limits
There are going to be surf spots that aren’t for you and waves that are too difficult to handle at your current level. If you go to a surf spot, and you see that the surfers are pulling off tricks and turns that you’ve never even seen before, take that as a warning rather than a challenge. What we mean by this is that the area you stumbled into might not be suitable for your skillset.
You might be a really talented surfer, and we fully admit that we have absolutely no way to gauge the abilities of any of the readers that are going through this article right now. But we do know two things for certain:
- Going into an area with waves that are much bigger than you’re accustomed to will either lead to you constantly wiping out and getting frustrated or to you actually hurting yourself as a result of the waves batting you about.
- It’s no fun for anyone if the other surfers have to constantly keep an eye on you to make sure that you don’t ruin their run or do something that might hurt them.
Take it slow. As you improve, you’ll slowly get the confidence and skills that are needed to surf with the best of them. However, until then, make sure that you’re realistic about your abilities and don’t try to rush ahead too quickly.
Surfing is an incredible sport, and people can choose to go on the waves either for the thrill or for the sheer enjoyment of the ride. But nothing says that they can’t do both. Surfing is an experience, so we hope that our article has helped you see in which new ways you can experience it for yourself.