Catching Real Surfing Waves at an Angle

How to Catch Real Waves


When I teach Surf Lessons in Oceanside, students learn to ride foam waves straight to the beach. When your position and posture on the board are correct the board will go straight with very little balancing effort. The ability to make the board go straight is important as you advance to riding real waves. 

The next step for my students riding  8′ soft top boards is to paddle out and start catching bigger foam waves. I also start instructing on catching small real waves and catching waves at an angle. On real waves, the nose points down and you have to either pop up quickly to bring the nose up or ride out the real wave with your chin high until you hit flat water.

One of the best ways for a mini long or long board to ride real waves is to catch them at an angle pointing toward the pocket. The timing is waiting for the real wave to come under the board, paddle 3 times to catch the wave, and when the board is moving, point it towards the pocket before popping up. 

The advantage is you don't have the pearling risk of riding down the face and you are ahead of the falling lip quicker.  On big close out waves, the angle in the corner may be the only way you can ride the wave. This means you move further from the falling lip and catch the wave where it is not as steep. 

It is a matter of timing and knowing where the waves are forming. I like to paddle so I am moving before the wave forms and when I see it, I can decide to paddle towards it, parallel to it or toward the beach. Moving in advance makes you more likely to catch it and get position on other surfers who are sitting idle.

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Catching Waves

Catching Steep Surfing Waves


When I teach Surf Lessons in Oceanside, beginners start with riding foam waves. But I explain that the technique we learn is expert and would be the same technique to ride big waves. In my Oceanside surf lessons, I paddle out with intermediate students to ride steeper waves.

Riding the Steep Requires More Courage

Dropping down the steep face of a wave is one of the most thrilling parts of surfing. It is the part every surfer talks about when he says the waves are really big today. He is talking about making that first drop.

When you see a surfer on video riding the giant waves, the most dangerous or trickiest part is dropping down the face and surviving to get into the pocket. Once you are down the face of a wave, the rest is relatively easier.

The Secrets

There are three real secrets. You have to be willing to paddle in front of the wave. You can’t paddle over the top as many intermediates are doing on local breaks. The wave comes up behind you and then you have to give it a few fast strokes once the wave has you to be sure you are down the face. You then have to pop up with a low center of gravity to stay on the board during the speed of the drop.

The steeper the wave, the more you are forced to drop down the face before you can make a bottom turn or carve into the pocket. Surfers on bigger waves start using bigger boards, but the pros have used their 5’9″s on Pipeline so it can be done.

Get an Angle Towards the Pocket

If the wave is not too steep and fast, a surfer would like to get an angle at the top of the wave so that he is in the pocket quicker and away from the falling lip. The big reef waves are not close outs like we experience in Oceanside so the surfer is looking for a long ride down the pocket or a barrel. With Oceanside close outs, the whole wave only stays up a few seconds.

If you can’t get an angle at the top of the wave, you hope when you hit the bottom you can carve and outrun the lip to the pocket. On the steep closeout waves, they often collapse on you before you get very far unless you started near the corner.

Sometimes a surfer will grab a rail to help hold the rail in the wave and improve speed and stability as he out races the lip to get into the pocket. Grab your courage and your board and go for a spin.

For Surf Lessons in Oceanside, see the Home Page



Executing the Surfing Bottom Turn


When I teach new students in Oceanside Surf Lessons, we do not get as far as bottom turns in a first lesson. The first lessons are about going straight to the beach on a foam wave. 

As students advance, they learn how to go to the outside and catch bigger foam waves. In intermediates lessons, I start mixing the opportunity to catch small waves at an angle in with catching outside foam waves. Catching waves in the pocket is a combination of timing, paddling, and wave recognition. Theses are not easy skills to learn for a new student and mainly come with experience. 

The advanced skills after a student learns how to ride small real waves and then bigger real waves are carving waves. Carving can consist of changing direction of the board which is accelerating, cut backs, and bottom turns.

The bottom turn is an extremely important technique in the surfer’s arsenal. It is both offensive and defensive. Surfers like to catch waves at an angle so they are headed straight to the pocket which is the ultimate objective.

Sometimes the wave is too steep and you must head down the face first because taking it at an angle would cause you to get rolled and taken over the falls. So you drop down the face, but as soon as possible, in the middle of the face or at the bottom, you carve towards the pocket. This is usually achieved by turning the eyes, head, shoulders, arms and hands toward the turn as you put slight pressure on your toes or heels depending on the direction. You want to be pressuring into the face of the wave.

The second time you use a bottom turn would be to travel up the face while riding in the pocket to perform ripping the lip, a trick, or an aerial. You will observe most surfers in a low center of gravity and dragging their trailing hand in the water as they turn their upper body toward the lip.

The third time you can use a bottom turn is a defensive motion. The wave is collapsing in front of you and you need to get over the top and to the back side. You execute the bottom turn, go over the lip and avoid getting toppled by the close out.

Practice makes perfect.

For Surf Lessons in Oceanside, see the Home Page



Catching Surfing Waves


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.

For Surf Lessons in Oceanside, see the Home Page

For a video on Catching Green Waves



Short Board Surfing


When I teach Oceanside Surf Lessons, we begin with nice stable 8′ or 9′ soft top surf boards. I like to take the board out of the equation when teaching new surfers the basic techniques. Concentrating on the necessary moves getting up on a board is better if the board is not too much of a factor.

Once all the basics of catching foam waves and riding to the beach have been mastered. Students can learn to ride real waves. The dynamic changes because now you not only have to ride down a face and anticipate the pearl, you have to intercept the wave at the right time, and look for corners when waves are closing out.

The first skill, I like to teach is keeping the surf board moving while patrolling the spot where you have figured the waves are breaking. As soon as I see a wave start to rise, I anticipate whether I have to move out further to catch it, keep moving parallel, or paddle in to catch it. I want the wave to rise under me so when I have risen just under the lip, I can paddle hard and kick to get down the face.

When I am paddling in front of the wave, I am also watching both right and left to see which way the wave is breaking best. I also watch the other surfers to be sure I will have the right of way when the wave arrives. If the wave is going to be a close out, I can feel it and back out. If it is going to crash on me because I have out run it or it doesn’t break like I thought, I can still evade or be prepared.

The most important aspect is to learn to get in front of the wave and let it come under you so the lip is over your head. This takes courage until you learn the timing. Do not try to paddle over the top each time, chasing it. It takes more courage to get in front and there will be more errors, but it is the best way to get good rides and to the pocket after catching the wave.