How to Catch a Wave : Everything You Need To Know

How to Catch a Wave

Is it your lifelong dream to ride the waves on a surfboard? Are you keen on trying out surfing but too nervous to paddle out in the ocean to catch your first wave? You’ve come to the right place! Learning how to catch a wave is a fundamental skill that every beginner should learn and master. If you don’t want to end up a nuisance in an ocean of surfers, it’s always imperative to learn about the basics. One of the most fundamental skills to acquire is how to safely and properly catch waves. In this guide, we will teach you essential pointers to catch your first wave and proper surf etiquette, too.

It is important to note that surfers are a discerning bunch. While some will welcome you with open arms, most are typically reluctant to welcome newbies in their territories. The cold and sometimes aggressive reception should never be tolerated. However, there is a good reason why most experienced surfers are less than happy to share their paradise with newbies. Beginner surfers are careless, and with a sharp surfboard in tow and minimal skills to guide them on their first surf lesson, everyone in their paths is put in danger. Through these tips and tricks, we will guide your first steps into the fun-filled and adventurous world of surfing.

What exactly is catching waves?

In essence, catching the wave is the point wherein the wave hits the tail of the surfboard. The waves will push you forward as you paddle to catch the wave. One general rule is to never catch the wave as it is in the process of breaking as this technique almost and always result in a nosedive, also known as “pearl.”

Are you using the right surfboard?

Are you using the right surfboard?

Before you set out into the ocean, you need to check whether you are using the right surfboard or otherwise. If you feel a lot of drag when you’re paddling or you’re not making any progress despite constant practice, you may be using the wrong surfboard for your size and skill level.

Make sure to use a board that is proportionate to your size and ability. The goal is to catch waves, and unless you are physically fit and have fundamental knowledge on how to catch a wave, it’s best to stick with a board that features more volume.

Keep a positive mindset

Keep a positive mindset

Avoid negative self-talk and be confident in your physical abilities. Establish a more positive outlook to reap positive results. You need to be more confident as you learn the basics of catching waves. Embrace every fall, nosedive, and failure as these things will help you improve over time. Do not beat yourself up if you’re not keeping up with fellow beginners and learn at your own pace.

Steps on How to Catch Waves for First-Timers

Steps on How to Catch Waves for First-Timers

Step 1 – Learn everything about your wave

Before heading out, make sure to take a good look at the ocean and its waves. Through ocular observation, you will have a better idea of your surface area- the best spots to catch the wave and hazardous spots that you should avoid. No two beaches have the same topography, as each has its own distinct sets of rocks, reefs, and sandbars- all of which can affect the breaking of waves.

Don’t be in a hurry. Carefully assess the conditions and take notes so that you are more prepared once you head out into the ocean. Go ahead and ask surfers what they see and seek for pointers if you want to make the most out of learning how to catch waves. Use online sources to learn more about the beach you’re heading to.

The Perfect Waves to Start Surfing On for Beginners

Look for small, close waves. Look for small breaking waves that you can easily walk out to. The waves must not be too large, so you can have fun while you learn catching waves. Remember that the best position to catch a wave is in the pocket next to the breaking point where the wave’s shoulders is steep.

Surfing lesson safety tips during

  • For beginner surfers, make sure you are not holding the board in a position where a wave can easily knock it back onto your face that may result in an injury. Firmly hold the board out at arms’ length with a hand positioned on each rail.
  • Jump over oncoming whitewater waves as you walk your way back to shore.
  • Make sure to be vigilant of your surroundings, so you don’t get washed into someone else’s path and vice versa.

Paddling outStep 2 – Paddling out

Waves come in sets of three or four. Hence, the ideal time to paddle out is the delay between these waves. The most efficient way to get out there is to paddle left or right of the breaking waves.

If you are a first-timer, you may opt to use an inflatable paddleboard to learn how to catch waves. These boards are known to be more buoyant than traditional epoxy boards. Whether you are using an inflatable paddleboard or a standard surfboard, you may want to get on your knees while paddling out.

When doing a surfers paddle, always adjust the front tip of your board above the waves. The combination of surface tension and hydrodynamic forces allow the water to move smoothly under the surfboard. An alternative position of paddling out is by lying flat on your stomach.

More experienced surfers go on the very edge of wave breaks, and that is where you need to head out to. You may ask seasoned or local surfers on certain breaks which will help you learn how to catch waves faster.

Here are some useful tips for a beginner surfer like you on correct paddling technique:

  • Start paddling forward while accelerating to a speed that will make it easier for you to catch waves.
  • As the wave starts approaching you, push the water towards the back of your board. The force that you exert when paddling will direct the water to push you in the opposite direction.
  • Keep your board perpendicular to the shore, lest you want to roll and get tossed off the wave.
  • Keep your strength and balance as you paddle faster to catch the wave.
  • As the wave arrives, make sure you’re on the pocket.
  • Make sure to move at the same speed as the wave. You can gain more speed by moving forward and paddle hard when you see a wave coming and starts rolling in.
  • Keep your weight at the centre of your big board. If you are too far back on the board, you end up missing the green waves. On the other hand, if you’re too far forward, you will end up tumbling off the point resulting in a nosedive.
  • Always remember proper surfing etiquette when attempting to catch a wave. If other surfers has right of way, stop paddling and the wave will simply roll under your board.

Catching your first waveStep 3 – Find the first wave

Once you reach the break zone, give your body and mind some rest. Catching the ideal wave is part of your mission as a beginner. Wave patterns are crucial, so make sure to observe the wave sets coming in and gain a deeper understanding of the tempo of waves.

Understanding waves

In essence, waves are orbital and progressive by nature. They are made by water molecules that travel in a circular motion as they move along. Waves generate their speed and power from the wind. Features such as form and heigh depend on wind strength, how long the wind has been operating in your area, and finally, the ocean’s surface area. Ideal surfing conditions are typically right after storms.

As the waves move towards the shore, the intensity and speed of the waves start slowing down but the wave while wave height gets taller. The back portion of a wave accelerates more than the front end resulting in a wave break, which then creates the perfect surf zone. As water depth goes shallow, the swells transform into broken waves. Breaking waves usually happen over a reef, sandbars, and on the shore.

Make sure to determine the depth of your breakpoint, so you can reduce your chances of getting injured over sharp reefs. Waves generate vast amounts of momentum and power, which makes them extremely dangerous at times.

Your goal is to catch waves that are peaking close to you as they will most likely break on top of you. Find a smooth rolling wave approximately 50 ft away from you and make a decision whether you catch it or otherwise. Catching waves is all about good timing, so take the time to find the perfect one and be ready to ride it.

Step 4 – Getting beyond the whitewash

If you are about to deal with a whitewash wave that has already broken, simply bring the front of your board up to pass over the whitewater level and bring yourself up over the top of the wave.

Finding Your rhythmStep 5 – Find your rhythm

Focus on finding yourself in a rhythm. Usually, the longer it takes to catch the first wave, the harder one finds to get going. When you find ourself out the back, make sure to take off on green waves you can find. You don’t have to catch a green wave on Day 1, but little progress will motivate you to get your feet in the wax in your next few sessions.

Step 6 – Get through unbroken waves

Beyond the whitewater, you will soon face crashing waves. There are many ways to deal with oncoming waves that are about to hit you. Start paddling but try avoiding the breaking waves altogether by duck diving or turtle rolling. Over time, you will feel tired of using these techniques as the wave arrives, but it’s imperative to choose a good technique that suits you best.

Step 7 – Gain speed

This is simple and straightforward. Paddling faster will help you catch the best waves. Not only will you be able to physically take off into the waves, but it also increases the margin for error as you can take off on waves as early as possible.

Step 8 – Looking for where the waves are pitching

Reading waves is not rocket science, but you need to pay extra attention to their patterns and movements. If you are not a pro surfer, it’s going to take a lot of effort to read waves, but you can always start with the basics.

First, you need to focus your attention on where the wave peaks. It is at the peak where it’s best to take off from. It is also the most difficult place to catch a wave. Seasoned surfers will position themselves at the peak where the drop is much steeper than the shoulder. The more you become familiar with wave pitches, the more confident you find yourself catching more waves and reading the rest of the wave.

Step 9 – Always keep your chin down

This is a simple hack that your surf coach may teach you during your first surf lesson. Beginner surfers who use this technique use this to increase their wave count.

When you are paddling on flat water, remember that the length of your board planes smoothly through the water. On the other hand, when you’re paddling for a wave, the surface of the water becomes more curved resulting in uneven weight distribution on your board. The majority of your weight will shift to the back of the board and cause drag.

To fight this, most surfers will push their chins toward the deck of the board. This technique will help distribute the weight forward, and thus will help you take off under the lip rather than the top of good waves.

Step 10 – Ready to pop up

Once you have successfully caught a wave, you need to get up on your two feet or the pop-up. You may stop with the paddle and push yourself up with your arms and hip straight onto your two feel on one motion. For a beginner surfer like you, it may be easier to place your knees on the board before standing up. Ideally, a beginner surfer should master the first suggestion, as getting on your knees means you will need more time to learn the technique of popping up the board in one swift motion. Before surfing, learn this movement first on dry land before heading out to your surfing practice.

Extra Tips for the Beginner Surfer

Extra Tips for the Beginner Surfer

Everyone wants the best ways, but most often than not, the perfect waves come with the thickest crowds. If you are still looking to improve, your wave count is far more important than the ride or wave quality. The ocean is an ever-changing canvas, and each coming wave should be considered a new opportunity to learn new at this stage of your surfing journey.

Avoid following the crowds. Leave yourself with just two waves each session. Set your expectations low and get tons of waves first before attempting the more challenging surfing take-off spot in the area.

Surfing is a complicated and challenging sport. Catching waves does take time, effort, patience, and hours upon hours of practice. Do not feel discouraged if you can’t catch bigger waves on your first session. Surfers don’t learn this movement at the same time, as everybody has their own learning curve to beat. It will take time for you to learn the basics, such as how to beat white water, how to properly paddle, and identifying the perfect takeoff spot. But over time, you will learn all these and more. If you are dedicated to learning how to surf, you will end up triumphant after a few sessions.

By practising how to ride in small waves at the best beach and under ideal conditions, you will finally start to find your rhythm and determine the best timing to pop up and enjoy the waves. You will experience many nosedives, pearling, and wipeouts as you go, but this does not compare to the fulfilment you get once you’re able to catch waves with wisdom and ease.

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Picture of Lisa Hayden-Matthews

Lisa Hayden-Matthews

An avid Skier, bike rider, triathlon enthusiast, amateurish beach volleyball player and nature lover who has never lost a dare! I manage the overall Editorial section for the magazine here and occasionally chip in with my own nature photographs, when required.
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