You’ve been surfing for a few months and you’re comfortable with all the basic elements of surfing. You can paddle. You can stand up. You can drop in. But your surfing… well, it ain’t pretty. Why? It’s likely that the next area you need to work on once you’ve dropped into a wave is generating and maintaining speed. There are several important aspects to keep in mind when working to draw speed from a wave, the first of which has more to do with your knowledge than your skill.
By now you’ve probably become well-acquainted with a variety of wave sizes and types, from ankle-high to overhead, mushy and slow to hollow and fast. Different waves offer different possibilities when it comes to riding them, so the first way to increase your speed prowess is wave selection. Understand which waves will allow you to go fast, and which ones won’t. Walled up waves tend to produce faster sections, breaking with force from top to bottom. Slow waves are usually flat and soft. Surprisingly, wave size is not necessarily an indicator of how fast a wave breaks; you can surf much faster on a rifling, chest-high wall than on an overhead mush-burger.
The other factor that has less to do with your actual surfing and more to do with your knowledge is surfboard selection. Generally, the more foam a board carries (and thus the more buoyancy), the faster it will plane over the water’s surface. Tail shapes, concaves, and rail types are all potential speed factors, and boards with a flatter rocker will hold greater drive than boards with a curvier rocker. Different types of fins, as well as fin configurations, also alter a surfboard’s speed. For example, twin-fins usually supply more drive than the traditional thruster, although they lack the control of a tri-fin.
Although the average surfer doesn’t need an extensive quiver of surfboards, it’s true that every type of wave can benefit from a specific type of surfboard. Slower, softer waves can be utilized best with a thicker, flatter board (or a longboard), while curvier rocker and a pin-tail shape are the preferred shortboards for fast, down-the-line type of waves. As you head to the surf shop to make your next board purchase, keep these important questions in mind:
- Do you know what type of waves you want this surfboard to work best in?
- Do you want more speed? More volume and a flatter rocker are the two most important speed-enhancing board characteristics.
- Do you want a board for bigger days? Remember that half the battle in surfing overhead days is paddling power. Select a board with generous length and volume.
- Do you want a small wave board? Go thick and go flat. Consider a fish or a longboard.
Setting Up For Speed
As you begin to conceptualize the surfing approach that will allow you to generate maximum speed, the first aspect you need to examine is your bottom turn. If you find yourself stalling out as soon as you execute a bottom turn, it’s likely that you’re coming too hard, or square, off the bottom. This means that your turn is too sharp, causing you to lose all the momentum gained from your initial drop down the wave face. Drawing out your bottom turn by taking a wider-arching line will help you maintain speed. Bend your knees, stay low, and feel yourself projecting forward toward the wave face. Also be sure to begin your turn at the appropriate time, not starting too early or waiting too long (in which case you’ve already lost all your speed).
Have you ever watched a great surfer launch a massive air or lay down a huge, arching cutback and think, how did they do that? At the core of every maneuver is surfing’s most important facet: speed control. And in most cases, going fast is the key.
To get down the line with a lot of speed, you need to know how to pump. Pumping basically describes the action taken to maintain a surfboard’s forward momentum by constantly re-adjusting the board with the wave face. Pumping usually happens on a steep section of wave, or wall. Here are the basics:
- Find the right section. You’ll need a steep, walled-up wave face in order to gain maximum velocity.
- Once you’re on a steep wave, concentrate on staying high on the wave face. A pump will take you part of the way down the wave before you need to adjust back up.
- Compress your weight down into your board. You will naturally begin to head back down the wave face.
- Before getting too far down the wave, decompress your legs and spring back up the wave.
- Beware of excess body movement. Don’t flail your arms and keep your head and eyes forward.
- Repeat as necessary, but don’t go overboard. A few good pumps will be plenty.
The term “trim” refers to an angled path across a wave face, or a sustained glide across a wave. Most commonly associated with longboarding, trimming is one of surfing’s most simple, and refined, maneuvers. In a reference to its unadulterated purity, many surfers refer to the act of trimming as simply “the glide.” It is an action based on inaction; an act of harmonious cohesion between surfer and wave. The steps to setting up a perfect trim are as follows:
- Select a wave that tapers long and evenly. A warbled, closed-out wave face will simply not allow you to sustain a trim line.
- Once you’ve come off your bottom turn, set your inside rail at an angle that will allow you to stay high up on the wave face.
- Relax and hold your line as long as you desire.
- Get stylish. Bend your knees, lean back, and feel surfing’s ultimate soul maneuver.
Earn Your Wings
Along with the drop and the bottom turn, the ability to generate and control speed is an integral part to successfully surfing a wave. Behind every hack, air, or snap is speed, so don’t expect to be able to execute any of these maneuvers without first knowing how to fly down the line.