Novice Surfers – mistakes when catching waves
After surfers overcome the hurdle of learning how to stand and ride waves, there is a period in their development which can be called the “novice” stage of development. This is where surfers are learning the foundation skills of the sport and every surfer, right from Joe Blow at your local beach to Kelly Slater, must pass through this stage to create consistency in their performances.
The skills I am talking about here are the skills of positioning in the line-up, catching waves paddled for, successfully taking the drop, and consistently riding waves from beginning to end. Notice, I haven’t mentioned the performance of surfing manoeuvres, as learning to perform moves, comes later in the developmental process.
The typical novice performance is one where the surfer would paddle for lots of waves, but catch only a few. Once they catch a wave, they usually pop-up slow, ride their waves by going straight through the middle of the wave, and kick-out before the end section, normally because of a healthy aversion to being smashed.
But initially, most mistakes occur around the takeoff, and these can be categorised into two main issues.
1. Novice surfers typically try to catch their waves from the shoulder of the peak, primarily because of a lack of confidence or fear of being pitched at takeoff. If you like, they take the cautious approach, but you can’t catch waves if you aren’t on the steep face of a wave. In the surf yesterday I heard a father advising his novice son to paddle in deeper to catch his waves, indicating that he was too far out on the shoulder. The direction he gave was correct, but the terminology was wrong, as the novice surfer needs more specific instruction, as in his mind, he was thinking he was already deep enough. It would have been more correct and effective if the father had said, “Paddle over and catch the wave from where it initially breaks”. With this direction, the novice surfer has a picture of where they need to go, and with that comes the direction to position themselves in a more positive way.
2. Most novice surfers get hung up in the lip at takeoff, causing then to fade over the back of the wave or to get pitched. What should be understood, is that there is a ledge at the top of every wave that must be broken through to achieve consistency when taking the drop. This ledge is really the lip that will pitch out as the wave breaks. In soft waves, the ledge is narrow and easy to break through, but in hollow and large waves, it is a significant size that requires forceful paddling to break. Once broken, the drop down the waveface is much easier. To overcome getting caught in the lip, novice surfer should take 2-3 more strokes than they think they should to break the ledge and with that, more consistency when dropping down the waveface.
Positioning oneself on the peak and breaking the ledge are fundamental to creating confidence when surfing, and are foundation skills that will enhance all other aspects in a surfing performance.
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