There are 3 ways to take off on surfing waves for foam and real waves. There are certainly more techniques but a few principals can serve you well.
Wave Catching Principals
The first principal that works on foam and real waves is moving before the wave arrives to build momentum and bridge the board speed with the wave speed. The bigger the wave, the faster it is moving. If the surf board is not moving at impact, the surf board gets tossed.
On a foam wave, surfers should start paddling 20 feet before the wave arrives at an easy pace and then five hard paddles as the wave starts pushing the board. The surfer can put their hands on the board after the board is in front of the wave. The surfer can feel the board take off.
On a real wave, there are a few approaches. It is common to see a short boarder or long boarder race to meet the face of the wave as it peaks to get a jump on reaching the pocket. Moving at the speed of the wave makes the pop up easier.
A second approach especially for a short boarder is to let the wave come under the board and as it arcs above the surfers head, to paddle and kick hard a few strokes to get down the face.
A small adjustment is often seen as the short boarder points the board towards the pocket after getting pushed by the wave before putting his hands on the board for a pop up.
Where to Position as Waves Break
Surfers like to take the wave deep which means close to where the foam first comes over the top. This is the point of maximum speed and steepness. This means the surfer has the right of way on the wave, is going fast to reach the pocket, and the degree of difficulty is greater if he is in a competition.
Taking the wave at the corner or further down from where the foam first comes over the top may mean the wave is not as steep and is not moving as fast so catching the wave and the pop up are easier.
It pays to study the steepness of waves and how they break to improve wave catching on any day. Watching other surfers is helpful in deciding how you want to catch waves for your capabilities.
New students need to learn how to do the surfing pop up to ride the surf board. There are supporting techniques and skills that have to be learned in conjunction with the pop up as it is one step in several for riding surf board.
In surf board lessons, I first instruct students on lying on the board balanced with feet at the back and chest up when paddling to avoid pearling (nose of board goes under water when wave pushes from behind)
Catching the wave requires timing and technique. The main point in riding foam waves on a soft top is to start paddling easy before the wave arrives and then paddle hard as the wave impacts the board.
The Beginner Pop Up
This is where the pop up begins. After catching the wave where the board is paddled in front of the wave (not jumping up as soon as the board is impacted), the student puts their hands on the board in a man’s push up position under the chest.
I have students count out loud with each move so paddling is one and then hands under the chest is two. On three, the student pushes up and in the beginning pop up pushes up off the board, places the rear foot on the board, and then using the force of the hands and the rear foot, brings the front foot forward to place between where the hands were and stands up.
I use the count of three for the push up and putting the feet on the board and by the count of four, the student is standing up looking at the beach. There are two important aspects. 90% of the pop up is getting the front foot to the middle of the board. Just as important, when the student is standing, the hips and shoulders should be squared to the front with both hands in front so they can be seen. (See video)
The Advanced Pop Up
In the advanced pop up, the student moves both feet at the same time. The proper posture for either method is the front foot in the middle of the board. The back foot is shoulder width apart and perpendicular to the two rails (sides). The knees are flexed. The body weight is equal on front and back leg. Hips and shoulders facing forward and hands in front.
The same pop up is used on foam and real waves. The technique does not vary even for bigger waves. Only greater levels of courage are needed to move to bigger waves.
One of the most fun aspects of surfing is to catch surfing waves. Even when beginners can’t pop up on the board they find the speed of riding waves as a natural phenomena is great fun. The board is a porpoise without flippers.
Catch Surfing Waves
There are many surfing techniques that precede and follow the act of catching the wave.
The surf board has to be positioned whether looking for a foam wave or real wave. The surfer has to start moving for momentum. When the foam is about to impact the surfboard or the real wave comes under the board, the surfer paddles hard.
This is the point where beginner surfers have difficulty. On foam waves, the biggest mistake surfers make to catch surfing waves is they don’t paddle long enough. Beginners pop up as soon as the wave impacts the board instead of paddling until they board takes off in front of the wave.
On real waves the biggest mistake beginners make is trying to paddle over the top to catch the wave instead of letting it rise under them and then paddling three hard strokes.
Position, Patience, and Courage
To catch a surfing wave, beginner surfers need to be in control of the mental process. They have to have the patience that comes from experience to seek the right wave.
In foam waves, new students should look for a straight wall of white foam that is large enough to push the surfboard. Students often just jump in front of anything to paddle and then waste a lot of energy.
In foam waves, the surfer must paddle before the wave arrives and then hard once it impacts the surfboard. Many students start jumping in front of the wave like they were on a boogie board and get turned over instantly.
With real waves, it takes courage to get in front of the wave before it arrives. Beginners have to learn the intersection point of getting the board to the place where the wave is going to arc. Paddling while waiting for the wave to get momentum and then paddling hard when the wave is under the board makes it easier.
Advanced surfers line up where the waves are breaking, spot a wave starting to form, and know where to position to catch it as it peaks. It takes courage to get in front of the wave because if the judgment is wrong, the wave breaks with all its weight on the surfer.
The Techniques Before and After to Catch a Surfing Wave
The beginner riding foam waves has to be positioned correctly on the surfboard. Feet have to be at the back of the board, the nose in the middle and the balance of the board set with the butt.
Students should roll on the surfboard before it arrives pointing straight ahead at something on the beach and paddling toward it. Too many students roll on the board at an angle to the wave coming in and get turned over immediately.
Students want a pop up that puts their front foot in the middle of the surfboard and their hips and shoulders facing forward. Hands in front of the face control the hips and shoulders. The board should go straight without much work balancing.
On a real wave, the same balancing for paddling the board is required, but a great pop up is necessary with the feet landing precisely. With real waves, lacking this accuracy results in more severe punishment.
On a real wave, surfers want to start accelerating in the pocket immediately to stay ahead of the breaking lip. This begins with a bottom turn into the pocket or the wave taken at an angle into the pocket. Accelerating is accomplished on short or mini long boards by running the nose of the board up and down the pocket with the front foot.
Beginners Start with Soft Top Boards
All these techniques can be learned on practiced on 8′ soft top surf boards. Learning to catch a surfing wave is easier if the surf board is higher volume so the techniques can be mastered before moving to shorter boards that make everything more difficult and frustrating.
The Four Count Surf Method is a great process for all beginners learning to surf. The system or strategy links body movement to four counts from paddling to the finish standing up position.
Why The Four Count Surf Method Works?
Students taking surf lessons or people trying to learn on their own have little idea of how precise the fundamental timing and motions are to keep the surf board balanced while popping to the proper stance.
Consider that a relatively light piece of technology relative to your weight is going to catch a foam wave and move to the beach at 15 mph while you try to go from a lying to standing position. Factor in that if this surfboard is ridden properly it has almost all the high performance capabilities of tricks you see in the movies.
New students have to move in a rhythmic precise motion to keep the
board balanced and pointing straight. Each movement occurs in a sequence to accomplish this feat and rhythm is more important than speed.
I have students counting out loud so that they slow down the much faster account that occurs in their racing mind as it tries to comprehend everything that is occurring around them compounded by just a little anxiety and panic.
Students who count out loud though this process have testified over ten years of my instructions that it definitely makes a difference in setting up their rhythm. With the process, most students are surfing within a half hour or even the first time run to the beach.
What Are the Counts in the Four Count Surf Method?
The Four Count Surf Method isolates or narrow’s the student’s focus to four movements that occur in the middle of many influencing forces. The idea is not “to think” but to move the body as suggested by each count.
The first movement is paddling. On the count of one when I push beginner students into waves, I want them to say out loud “one” and paddle until they catch the wave. When a surf board catches a foam or real wave there
is a feeling of it “taking off”.
The second movement is a transition from catching the wave to doing a pop up. It is placing hands on the board under the chest in a man’s push up position. This is the count of two I want students to say out loud. It is also an “assessment” moment (one or two seconds) every surfer needs. Is the board level, am I in the wave, is my body right on the board?
The third movement is the beginning of the pop up. While lying flat on the board with the chest up and the arms not yet extended (crucial), the student pushes up in an explosive movement as they bring the front foot under the chest and place it in the spot between where the hands were placed. (I will explain the finishing posture soon).
On the fourth movement, the student is standing up right in the finish posture and riding to the beach in a foam wave or ready to bottom turn to the pocket in a real (green) wave.
What is the Finish Posture in the Four Count Surf Method?
This finish posture takes issue with many of the finish postures taught by instructors and demonstrated on YouTube. Experience has shown that students who have learned in these lessons do much better once they begin this “posture”.
The body is on the surf board with feet shoulder width apart. The student’s weight is equal between the front and back leg and the upper torso is upright between the two legs. (no leaning forward so head is over front foot)
Most important is the hips and shoulders are squared to face forward as opposed to having the butt over one rail or riding sideways on the surf board like snowboarders. One way to keep the shoulders and hips facing forward is to keep both hands in front of the body so that the arm opposite the front foot keeps that shoulders squared.
Every child from six years old up can learn to ride the surfboard to the beach if they assume this posture. (My video below demonstrates).
In this finish posture, the knees are flexed (slightly bent) and the body is loose so that it can absorb turbulence under the surf board as it heads for the beach. From this posture, a student can easily learn how to start carving.
Catching Waves in the Four Count Surf Method
The timing in the method also includes catching the wave. The method is occurring while the wave is approaching, impacting, and then pushing the surf board.
The timing in each of these three phases is very important.
First, the approach of the foam wave. Surf boards like to be moving before the wave impacts the surf board. Students should roll over properly onto the surf board when the wave is about 20′ away. The student paddles easily to get momentum and checks over their shoulder until the wave is about five feet away (depending how big, bigger waves require earlier starts) and then paddles hard for three strokes before the wave impacts the surf board.
Second, the impact on the surfboard. At this point, beginners without instructions jump up immediately before the wave is pushing the board and fall off as the wave continues to the beach. The correct timing in foam or real waves is to continue paddling hard for three more strokes (depending on the size of the wave) and when the board takes off, the student puts their hands on the board.
Now, the wave is pushing the surf board so the student can make a smooth transition to standing up. At this point in the Four Count Surf Method, the student is going to execute counts three and four.
Physical Conditioning Required to Execute the Pop UP
Certain sport specific muscles and capabilities are needed to execute smooth pop ups. First, students need to be flexible. Athletes that never stretch are going to be tight in the hamstrings, buttocks, and lower back. (or if you sit at a desk all day and never stretch).
Upper body strength is important for pushing off the board in count three. This is often called the power to weight ratio. People that are over weight have most likely tilted the ratio in the wrong direction as they have probably stopped exercising. Push ups are the first “go to” remedy.
Core strength is helpful as the student pushes up and brings their front foot forward to place between their hands.
Finally, stamina is important so students can practice for an hour lesson. Many sedentary students are finished in fifteen minutes.
Practicing the Four Count Method Pop Up in Your Living Room
The pop up can be practiced out of the water before and after lessons. Lay on your living room floor with hands under the chest in a man’s push up position. Place a book where the hands are touching the floor next to your body.
When practicing the four counts of the Method, counting out loud, be sure the front foot reaches the book on the pop up. Secondly, notice how your shoulders are situated. Is one shoulder more to the rear than the other? The ideal posture has both shoulders even facing front.
If shoulders are not squared, notice how hips and shoulders square when
you move the hand opposite the front foot as far forward as you can reach. This is the shoulder and hip posture you want.
When students can achieve this posture and incorporate the Four Count Method, they can ride the surf board the first time up. It happens in my classes all the time.
One secret to catching waves is to paddle ahead of them before they arrive. When I teach Oceanside Surf Lessons to new and intermediate students, the one technique everyone needs to improve is catching waves. It seems as it would be so automatic, but it is not.
Three things are important; judgment, timing and position. You don’t want to ride every wave. Waves come as part of larges sets of waves that have mixed with swells from different directions. Some waves are better than others. It pays to be selective. Secondly, you have to be in the right place when the wave arrives and that has to do with paddling to the right position. Thirdly, the position, especially on real waves is important.
In foam waves, you want to be on your board at least 20 feet infront of the shore break foam waves. You are paddling and when the wave is close you paddle hard until you are in front of the wave before you do your pop up. On real waves you want to be in front of the wave as it rises under you.
One great secret for both is the faster you are moving when the wave hits, the easier it is to do a pop up.
When I am riding real waves and they are breaking slow, I try to get way in front so that I am moving fast as it curls under me. When I am catching steep waves, it is real important that I am in front of them and paddle and kick before the wave arrives to make it easy to go down the face.
If I am ready to pop up as soon as I am on the face, it is much easier to get to the pocket and in front of the lip to have a great ride. The longer it takes to pop up on the face, the more likely I will get caught in the foam as it comes over the top and then I will only have a short ride toward the beach.
If you are looking for surf lessons in Oceanside, see my Home Page