The floater is regarded by many as surfing’s most functional maneuver. Somewhat like the pocket-knife of surfing, a good floater serves the practical purpose of getting up and over a breaking wave section, while also adding a touch of flair to your surfing repertoire.
Floaters range from a mellow cruise over a bit of whitewater to a hair-raising transition across the most critical part of a wave. In either case, learning how to execute a good floater is an integral part of every surfer’s development.
When and Where
Although the maneuver itself isn’t extremely demanding from an athletic standpoint, learning to pull off a good floater takes a bit of practice. As with everything in surfing, timing is the most important aspect to floating a section, and you need to be able to pick the right time and place in order to pull it off cleanly. An ideal section for a floater is one that is closing out and offers a nice crumbling roof to glide over. Once you’ve found a good section to float, make sure you begin angling up the wave face at the right time. If you go too early, you’ll get caught in the lip; too late and you’ll just get stuck in the foam. Also be sure not to go too far over the lip line, or you’ll end up slipping off the back of the wave.
Up, Over, and Across
As you begin to angle your board towards the crumbling lip, bend your legs and eye the section you want to float over. Put your weight towards your back foot so the nose and front part of your surfboard can clear the chunk and crumble. Ascend the whitewater, keeping your arms and legs loose in preparation of your descent. Once you’re gliding over the “roof” of the wave, give your board slight adjustments in order to maintain your position. As you begin to lose your forward momentum, it’s time to come back down the wave towards the trough. Pick out a good landing spot and angle the board back down the wave. Stay low and let your knees absorb the impact of falling back down to the bottom of the wave.
Hot Tip: Speed, Speed, Speed
To put it bluntly, if you aren't moving, you aren't floating. You need to have a substantial amount of power and forward momentum to propel you over the section, so make sure you approach your floater at an appropriate speed. Pump down the line to pick up speed, and don't come too hard off the bottom. Going too slow will cause you to get stuck in the crumble, and the wave will quickly pass you by.
There’s not a ton of variation between the front side and back side floater. The main difference is that your balance points will be inverted.
Instead of angling your toe-side rail towards the section, you’ll dig your heels back. Similarly, when you drop back down the wave face, your weight should be positioned towards your toes rather than your heels. Remember to stay low on your re-entry, and keep your weight back.
Trick it Out
Once you have the basic components of the floater worked out, you can begin to experiment with different tweaks to give your floaters more stylistic flair. You can angle the nose of your board at the back of the wave, or turn the other way to slide your fins out the back. You’ll also become progressively more comfortable executing floaters on bigger waves and across more critical sections. Remember, the floater is all about function, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with it.