Catching Waves Before They Break-Surfing Green Waves

"You'll never forget your first real wave!"

This is probably one of the biggest challenges for people learning to surf. Timing is everything! I always tell our students to watch the waves, when you are in the water and out. Imagine where you want to be on the wave at the point when you are ready to stand. Get really familiar with what a wave looks like during it's stages of approaching the sand bank, building up and breaking.

The good thing about this is that surfing is one of the only sports that you can look at your playing field for hours and not get bored (someone famous said that, I just can't remember who!)

Surfing a Green Wave
Riding a Green Wave

In general, the idea is similar to catching the whitewater. Start paddling early as the wave approaches. You should be reaching full speed as the wave comes underneath you and lifts you up, this is the time to give those last few power strokes. The time to stand is when the board starts to plane on the surface of the water, there is the feeling of weightlessness as the board starts to slide down the face of the wave, this is the time to stand up.

Standing to early, you probably will fade off the back of the wave, standing to late you run the risk of pearling/nose diving, or if you do get up, the momentum you had going down the face has gone and the wave will probably outrun you.

The Break Down of Catching a Green Wave

The 4 important factors for catching a green wave are timing, positioning on the wave, paddling speed and practice.

Positioning on the wave

Sit on the beach and look at a wave as it is starting to break, notice the 3 areas of too steep, gliding area and not steep enough (too fat or full), the gliding area is where you want to be. Because waves move, the gliding area does too, a split second too late and your beautiful gliding area will become too steep, causing you to nose dive.... Lots of fun 🙂

Later as you get better and your pop up gets faster, you will want to practice taking off on the steeper part of the wave, giving you more speed and opening the opportunity to get barreled.

Positioning on the Wave
Positioning on the Wave

Timing of Waves

Timing is making sure you are not going too early or too late. Starting to paddle too early can cause you to be out in front of the wave with 2 fun possibilities. Being on the too steep part of the wave and nose diving, or getting so far in front that the wave breaks on your back.

Nose Diving
Too steep-nose diving

Paddling too late will cause you to miss the wave, or nose dive, because you are not going fast enough and the wave sucks you back up the face instead of you gliding down the wave.

Too Late-Missing the Wave
Too Late-Missing the Wave

Paddling Speed

How fast you paddle is about getting yourself gliding down the wave. When you feel yourself going up the wave it is not the time to stand. It is the time to give 2 or 3 more power paddle strokes to get you gliding down. The best way to know if you are going fast enough is to lift your chest off the board, if the surfboard starts gliding, pop-up, if the surfboard slows down, you need to paddle more.

Being in the position of standing on your board as the wave passes you by is very uncool and should be avoided at all costs.

More things to Consider

Timing and paddling speed are difficult to separate, as the consequences of poor timing, or poor paddling speed are similar.

One consequence is nose diving. If you are nose diving, when trying to take a wave, don't make the common mistake of thinking you are to far up on your surfboard.

When people think this, they move back on the board. By doing this you have now made it even more difficult to catch a wave as now your body weight is at the back of the surfboard, which is essentially like putting on the brakes, making it even more difficult to get the speed you need to be gliding

In fact we actually try and lay as far up on the surfboard as possible, without nose diving. Your fast paddling will help give some lift to the nose of the board. We are trying to go down a wave, as we no longer have whitewater pushing us forward.

Practice, Practice, Practice!

Getting the concepts of positioning, timing and speed takes practice and lots of it. You will fall off a lot, nose dive and miss many waves, but the more you practice the better you will get.

So what are you waiting for? Get out there and start practicing!

Next >>> Rogue Waves

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2 thoughts on “Catching Green Waves

  1. Hi
    I am a beginner surfer, and I need help. I just went out to try to surf today, and the nose of my board kept on diving down, causing me to flip.

    I use a 7’6” board, and conditions were waist high and semi-clean.

    What happened was I would get to the top of the wave, and even though I tried to keep my weight back, the nose would fall.

    Am I standing up too late or am I positioned badly in the water?

    1. Have just been watching some of my surf students lately and noticed that they are nose diving their surfboards a lot when they are on their own surfing.

      The reason has been because they don’t have enough speed when paddling for the wave. If you are not going fast enough the wave will suck your surfboard backwards causing the nose to go under.

      Wave selection is also critical. Most people starting out, have trouble identifying waves before they get to them and then start to choosing the easy to see waves. These waves are usually getting to steep to paddle for, as you have no time to get paddling speed before you stand. A good tip is when you feel yourself going up the wave as you are paddling, give three or four power strokes before you stand.

      If you don’t have time to do these strokes it means you have chosen a wave that is already too steep to catch. Timing and wave selection are the biggest learning curves in your first months of learning to surf. Wave selection is definitely another long story, but these are combined and take time to learn.

      If the waves are a bit steep, try taking off a little sideways i.e. paddling at an angle to the shore not directly towards the shore. A sucky or steep wave is difficult to master the take off when paddling straight.

      Read about Reading Waves

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