SURF GUIDE CHAPTER SIX

How To Pop Up On A Surfboard

In this guide to surfing and self coaching we cover surfing best practices, how to’s & tips for new & developing surfers. Learn techniques used by surf coaches, discover common errors and clear up misconceptions.

Each chapter of the guide highlights different key areas that enable surfers to develop From how to catch more waves to understanding how to judge wave height or how to duck dive, each chapter is crammed with actionable detail to help you understand and improve your surfing.

surfer girl popping up a big blue wave

How do you know when to pop up

Gauging the timing of when to pop up is possibly the most difficult and crucial few seconds in each of your surf sessions. Popping up requires good upper body strength, strong core muscles and an understanding of timing within surfing. 

Being flexible and agile will certainly help you as well. 

The first indication that it is time to pop up will be as the nose of your surfboard dips down the wave face, this means you have matched the pace of the wave and gravity is starting to pull your bodyweight down the wave.

Once you feel your board become weightless this is the time to pop up!

Popping up too soon

Popping up before the nose of your board dips down the wave face will result in you missing the wave.  

The movement of transitioning from your paddling position to getting up to your feet will cause your board to loose speed.

Without the forward momentum of you paddling and without gravity pulling you down the wave, your board will slow down too much and the wave will continue to roll underneath you towards the beach.

How to pop up

Step One. As the nose of your surfboard starts to dip, paddle two, three or more extra strokes to force your board down the wave face.

Step Two. Place your hands by your chest and your toes on their toe tips - ready to spring!

Step Three. Simultaneously arch your back and twist your leading hip down in preparation to lunge forward. (same side as your leading foot)

*It is imperative that you twist your leading hip down before attempting to pop up as this opens up your truck and allows you to push your leading foot forwards easily.

Step Four. Push off the board and pop forward with your back foot, at the same time thrust your leading foot in between your hands. 

Make sure that you are looking up and in the direction that you want to go. Keeping low in your stance once on your feet but with a straight vertical back - your hands should be the last thing to leave your board. 

Popping up too late 

There are two common scenarios that can occur from popping up too late:

1. Pearling - Pearling will occur when the angle of the wave is too steep for the reactions of the surfer, or caused by the surfer being in a critical part of a wave without enough speed.  

For beginners surfers the angle of the wave is too great for them to lean their body weight back enough to compensate for that angle.

The result is the surfer and surfboard being lunged forwards towards the trough of the wave with gallons of water being forced into your mouth and up your nose.  Timing is everything with surfing, so when catching a wave remember:

Never take your eye off the peak!

Action: The most basic skill that needs to be applied when paddling for a wave is looking over your shoulder to see how the wave is forming.

By keeping a constant eye on the wave you are able to assess how the wave is forming and changing as you paddle yourself into position. 

If the wave is moving quickly and beginning to look too steep you may wish to slow your paddling down and get ready to pop up.

If the peak is still forming then you may wish to paddle harder to get ahead of the wave to where you anticipate the peak to break. 

Only by keeping a constant eye of the ever changing and forming peak will you be able to asses how to direct your surfboard and adjust your speed. 

The more that you analyse and adjust your assessments of how steep a wave is the quicker you will learn. 

Common misconception when catching a wave:

If you have not matched the pace of the wave but are in the correct position often new surfers will find the back of their surfboard being picked up by the wave, throwing them forward head over heals.

This is called ‘pearling’ - If this is happening quite often to a new surfer, logic tells them that they were too far forward on their board for that wave, thus moving back on their board. 

This isn’t always the case and can often result in a surfer moving further back on their board needlessly. 

Over the duration of a surf session the knock on effect is not being able to paddle into position or build up enough speed to catch a wave - ultimately repeating the experience of the wave lifting up the back of the board and pearling once again. 

How to gain extra speed when paddling

Once you have reached your top paddle speed there are still one or two techniques that you can utilise to make sure you get yourself onto the wave.

A common misconception when paddling for a wave is to keep your back arched as you attempt to paddle into the wave. Although this is recommended when paddling in general this isn't beneficial in the last few strokes in your attempt to catch a wave.

Action: Once you have reached your maximum paddle speed and the wave is immediately behind you, lower your shoulders and push your trunk weight through your chest forcing the nose of your board down the wave face. 

For a final last ditch effort to get onto the wave push your chin down onto the board and kick your legs. 

Contrary to your instincts, forcing the nose of your board down the wave as early as possible will save you from pearling.