You don't have a pop up problem, you have a looking problem
If you are having an issue with your pop up in the surf, it can sometimes be technique, but more often, it is a problem with where you are looking and where you are projecting your centre of gravity.
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, 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
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 waves 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?
Practice your pop up right now, where ever you are (props if you do this in the office). Do it once while looking down and then do it again but this time keep your chin up 100% of the time and tell me you don't feel the difference.
How this impacts turns and everything else
If you can't see something, you can never direct your board there. Shortboard, longboard, mid-length... It doesn't matter what style of board you surf, it's the basic principle. If you look up where you want to go and focus on that, you can direct your body to go there. If you can't see it, your body won't ever be able to know how much to lean or engage your rails to tell the board to go there.
How to try this outside of the surf
I use to coach a few mates in a car park with a slope to it. To train this, I would make them ride a surf skate and call out cars nearby. The trick was they had to tell me what the number plate was. They had to turn until they could see it, read out the number plate and call it out. Simple and silly at first, but I was forcing them to use their eyes the entire time they skated. Look first, move second. Go try it, or something similar in a bowl or a slope.
You'll want to watch this Surf Hacks Episode
Ok, so this episode is actually jam-packed with great coaching like this. There is so much in here I could write about 10 guides from it. Clays insight is so spot on. Between breaking down the body surfing to average surfers in the wave pool, to the pro's in the wave pool. I suggest you go through and listen closely to Clay and pay attention. There is nuance in what he is saying and a lot of it is simple changes to your surfing.
Change where you look, change the way you surf.