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Learning to Surf: Popping Up

Sep 11, 2008
You are not actually up and surfing unless you can pop up and stand on the board while it is on a wave. The act of popping up is a very scary endeavor at first, yet it is the key to surfing success. Getting the hang of this vital surfing move really is just a matter of practice. Practice, practice, practice. Most beginners find that practicing a pop-up on the beach helps tremendously before trying it in the water. Learning this skill is good exercise and builds muscle and strength.

When you are starting out, it is a great idea to practice popping up on a surface that's stable and flat. Anything like beach sand or grass will do. Your living room floor works great for this! Start with your belly on the ground. Then, like a push-up, push your arms and torso up, keeping your belly button pressed close to the floor. One second after that movement, swing your knees through your arms and jump up into a crouching position with your stronger foot slightly farther back. Throughout this movement, concentrate on your balance. Your knees should still be bent and will act as shock absorbers while riding down the face of the wave. Practice popping up on land several times in a row, making sure your end position is the same each time. Your weight should slightly favor your front foot once you've popped up into your crouched standing position. Eventually that initial crouch position will feel automatic even when you're on the board in the water.

Balance is the critical ingredient to popping up. As you catch the wave, your body should be positioned perfectly in the center of your board. If you are too far forward on your board, you will "pearl," which means the nose of your board will catch the wave and you will fall forward before being able to pop up. If you are too far back on your board, you will not be able to catch the wave either. Find a happy medium in the center of your board before you begin paddling for the wave, which you can remember by the feel of it and also by some marker or label on the board itself. Usually, there is a surfboard label on the deck of the board that you can use to situate yourself before paddling for a wave.

Paddle hard for the wave before it comes. Get at least three good strokes in―five or more is ideal to ensure you catch the wave you're after. When you feel yourself being propelled by the wave, push the board down with both arms and lift your torso up. At the same time, you should apply just a little more weight to the back of the board. As soon as you feel ready and when you feel the board actually move forward on the wave, jump up to your feet in the crouched position with your weaker foot in front of your stronger one, just like you practiced on land.

Popping up is always easier during the first 30 minutes of each surfing session because, though you might not realize it, this action takes a great deal of energy. You usually have better rides during the first half of the surf session because you are more committed and have more energy. Since you will have greater success when you're fresh in the water, try to concentrate your practice of popping up early on in each surf session. Eventually, you'll get this motion right and it will come easier and naturally to you.
About the Author
Robb Bailey works for South Coast Surf Shops, San Diego's premiere surfboard distributor and surf apparel dealer for more than 30 years. He has been inducted as a lifetime honorary member of his college surf club, the Cal Poly Surfer's Association, and has traveled the world surfing for the past 11 years. Find out more about Robb at SouthCoast.com
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