How To Catch Better Waves
Ever wonder how that other surfer always finds better waves than you do? If only you could get just one of those! There are tons of reasons why another surfer might consistently be catching better waves than you: he or she could know the surf spot better, have more experience in wave reading, be particularly lucky that day, have a better paddle technique, etc.
Reading the ocean and finding great waves is an art that takes years to master, but here are important questions you can ask yourself during your next session:
Are you sitting at the Right Spot?
Where you decide to sit and wait for waves greatly affects the quality of the waves you catch. While making sure you respect surf ethics (see “Surf Ethics article), you should try to sit near the peak (highest point of the wave, the first one to break).
Especially on days that aren’t too crowded, waiting for waves near the peak will provide longer, more enjoyable rides. Many beginners and intermediates make the mistake of waiting too far on the shoulder of the wave.
Surfer A is waiting near the peak. As she pops up, she will enjoy a long, peeling shoulder. Surfer B is waiting too far on the shoulder. Even if she catches a wave, it will be a short, weak ride as the wave has almost finished peeling.
Where do you Take Off?
If you followed tip #1, you are already sitting near the peak, waiting for your next wave. Because each wave breaks differently, especially on beach breaks, you still need to position yourself for your take-off at the proper spot: right on the peak.
This tip is often underrated by beginner-intermediate surfers. Taking off on the highest, steepest, most powerful part of the wave is what sets you up properly for your first manoeuvre. During your next surf session, notice where the best surfers do their take off. Their approach is always calculated to get plenty of speed and power.
Surfer B was sitting near the peak, but turned around and paddled for the wave without paying attention to the peak. Surfer A was sitting close to surfer B, but when he saw a wave coming, he paddled towards the peak, and then turned around to catch it right at the highest, most powerful point. This is the perfect spot to enjoy a quality ride. Had he paddled even deeper, past the peak, he could have been too deep on the wave, not being able to make the section of the wave breaking.
Are you looking at the Shoulder Line?
As surfers gain experience, they have a better idea of how a wave will peel before it starts breaking. You want to find waves that peel at a speed that is proper for your surfing level.
Beginners that have been surfing for just a few days or weeks should look for steeper shoulder lines, as these waves peel slowly. As surfers progress, they get better at generating speed and they look for faster, more powerful waves. Experienced surfers can ride waves with shoulder lines that gradually drop, creating fast peeling waves.
When you look at a wave out to the horizon, identify the highest point of the wave (the peak). From the peak, look at the shoulder line. If the shoulder line drops gradually, the wave will peel faster. If the line drops abruptly, the wave will peel slower.
If a wave’s line is totally straight, not showing any sign of drop, this means it will close-out. There isn’t much to do except taking off and going straight on a close-out. It might be good to catch if you need to practise your pop up technique. Once you get past that level, you want to avoid close-outs and find waves that peel and offer a more enjoyable ride.
What Angle to use when paddling into a wave?
You will catch better waves if you are constantly looking at the shoulder on which you want to surf. You want to be taking quick looks at it when you paddle to a wave, when you turn around to paddle into it, and as you take off.
If you don’t look at the shoulder, you won’t be able to know if you should paddle straight and carve down the bottom of the wave, or paddle with an angle an trim through the middle of the wave’s face. Often beginners and intermediates blame the quality of the wave, without knowing that the wave itself was fine, the problem was how they “entered” the wave: the angle they took while paddling into it and the way they dropped into the wave.
You can practise paddling into waves with different angles according to the wave’s shape. Is it going to peel very fast? Give yourself an angle during your last few paddle strokes and drop the wave with an angle to fly down the line. Is the wave going to peel slowly? You might want to paddle straight and surf to the bottom of the wave, then carve in the direction you want to go to. This will give more time for the wave to take a better shape.
Did you look behind at the Next Wave coming?
If you’ve been surfing for a little while, you’ve probably noticed that most waves come in “sets”: sometimes 2, 3, 4 or more consecutive waves. You also might have noticed how not all waves are the same. In a 5-wave set, for example, there could be 2 very good waves, and 3 average ones.
Next time a set of waves comes, try to look out to the horizon and select the one that will have the best shape. Taking the 2nd, or 3rd wave of a set also gives you more time to position yourself properly at the peak.
More experienced surfers are usually more patient. Instead of rushing for the first wave that comes by, they often take the time to analyze if better waves are coming in the back.
Do you look for Reference Points?
It’s a good thing to know where you are in the ocean. Sometimes it gets difficult to constantly sit and wait for waves in the same area, because of the currents that are dragging you in different directions.
Look back at the beach and try to identify a tree, a house, or anything as a reference to your position in the water. This way, when you get a good wave, you can remember where you were positioned and paddle back near the same area. This works particularly well on beach breaks with different peaks according to the sand banks.