Surfing Waves

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General Information

What Surfing Is All About

Surfing or "he'e nalu"1 is an activity 2 involving a surfer
3 and often some type of water craft. Usually surfing is done with the aid of a Surfboard4
Surfboards have a range of lengths.5 On your first few attempts, using either a fun-sized board or longboard will greatly aid in your ability to ride atop a surfable wave.6
A surfer uses a surfable wave's energy to move them along the water's surface. A wave rises due to its impending demise as it strikes the shore. This creates a hill of water upon which the surfer tries to slide down. The surfer does their best to match the speed of the wave by paddling (see below). When the surfer has reached a sufficient speed, they will begin to slide down the "face"9 of the wave. If you are riding on top of some type of wave riding device, you shift your weight to turn and steer right or left, faster or slower. If you are trying to engage in stand-up surfing, this is the point when you rise to your feet, hopefully some place close to the board's centre, and use your balance to maintain yourself in a mostly vertical position.

It is important to have an idea of the rich history surfing enjoys. If you live in an area lucky enough to have waves, it is very likely that there are surfers living near you. With a bit of knowledge, you will better understand other surfer's lingo and better appreciate surfing's culture. It is interesting to note that once you have ridden a wave, it is likely that you will forsake work, education, family, and other persuits to be on your board, trying to feel the 'stoke' (joy) that wave riding offers.

Surfing's Roots -- See Surfing's History for a complete background.

Board Surfing has existed for centuries in the Hawaiian Islands and was practiced by the native Hawaiian people for both religious and recreation purposes. A hula girl playing the ukulele But by the turn of the 20th century, surfing was near extinction. But as luck would have it, in 1901, a hotel opened along Waikiki Beach. Luck then told someone at the hotel that it would be a good idea to advertise with the image of someone surfing at Waikiki and the hotel in the background. The tourists showed up in droves to lean to surf, effectively saving surfing from extinction.

By 1915, Duke Kahanamoku 10 had brought surfboard riding to Australia. By the 1950's, surfing was in its Golden Age, with 1000's of gremmies11 taking to the waves and beaches like never before.

Now that you know a bit of surfing's history, you should now be concerned with getting the right board for your abilities.

Initial Considerations

Choosing the Right Equipment

The issue of what type of board is best for the novice surfer must be addressed. Generally, the longer the board, the easier it will be to float, paddle, stand, and ride atop. However, with added size comes the dificulty in maintaining control of a large mass. You should look for a board that will allow you an opportunity to get a feel for paddling out, moving around the line-up, and paddling into waves. Generally it is a good idea to start with a board that is between 8 feet and 9 feet 2 inches (2.5m - 3m), some what wide and a little thick. Don't expect wonders your first time trying to stand up. You are going to fall -- a lot. Imagine yourself trying to run on ice and that will be something like your first attempt.

Where to Go Your First Time

In order to catch a wave, a surfer must first be in the right place. You can't just go into the ocean and hope that a surfable wave is going to come to you. Usually, you can see where other surfers are grouped together, this is called the "line-up." You can find line-ups all along any coast that has waves. However, a good place to try surfing, if you have never surfed before, is at a place with a slow moving, gentle breaking wave - something a more experienced surfer may call 'crumbly' or 'mushy'. Don't worry about finding perfect surf with an 'A frame' shape. You just need something with a little face to get going, a small wave that will allow you an opportunity to get the basic feel of riding atop the board.

Another good idea is to go out when the waves are not too big. Too often, beginners will go out in surf that is over their head and they tend to get into trouble. If you have never been on a surfboard, don't be too concerned with catching the waves and standing up on your feet. Instead, try and get the feel of paddling out through the waves, keeping your balance as you move the board through the water. You will likely find just lying prone on your board difficult at first. You will need to find a good balance point on the board to paddle. You should also practice turning the board around to face the beach and then around to the open ocean.


First Time On Your Board

Body Position

Generally there are two (2) positions in surfing. The first, is the paddling position, and the second is the standing position. Each has a spectrum of variations, but the only thing that really matters when doing both is looking cool.13 Paddling is the method by which you move the board, and yourself, accross the water. The majority of surfers paddle while facing the deck (top) of the board, lying prone. If you are riding a longboard, it is also possible to paddle while kneeling on the deck, but this takes a lot of practice and balance to master. In either case, the surfer's weight should be shifted slighly toward the rear, making the nose (front) of the surfboard rise slightly out of the water, but not by very much. If you are on a shortboard, your legs can be kicked to add thrust. If the board's length precludes kicking, then keeping the legs inline with the board is important to reduce water friction.

It is much easier to turn a board around if you sink the tail and get the front or nose of the board out of the water and then pivot the board around the tail. Doing this reduces the water friction you would experience if you were to turn the board while laying flat. You can use the energy stored when you sink the tail by aiming and angeling your board to utilize this energy. After you have turned and lined the board in the right direction, you bring the nose down quickly and use the energy that is released as the board rises to the surface. This will give you an easier time paddling as you will have a little help from the boyant board when you start moving.

Paddling Out

Normally, you will paddle out through the waves. 14 This is going to take some practice. Breaking waves can be very powerful and can do damage to you or your board if you do not know the right way to approach the waves. A broken wave, or one that is about to break, can put thousands of pounds of pressure on you and your board. You can minimize the amount of energy you experience by reducing the surface area that opposes the direction of the wave's energy. Think path of least resistence.

If you are on a shortboard, you will need to learn to 'duck dive,' that is, you must push the nose of the board under the water so that you and your board go under the breaking wave. This is done while paddling by first pushing the nose down slightly, with a bit of a side to side angle too, so that the board is just below the water. Then you use your momentum to shove the board under the breaking wave, using your arms, and then your knees and feet. After the wave has passed, the boyancy of the board should bring you to the surface. Pull slightly upwards on the front so that your board will gain some forward speed as it rises. It will take a lot of practice to get this right. The good news is that if you were smart with choosing your surf spot, you are going to be in a place that the waves are not too big and getting this wrong will not result in mortal injury. Another option is to use the methods for longboards.

If you are on a longboard (or you haven't gotten the duck diving thing down on your shortboard), you can do one of two things. You can go over the wave or you can go under the wave. On small waves, it is best to just try and paddle over the wave. However, as the size of the wave increases, the more difficult (and dangerous) this can be. Forward speed is your best ally when attempting this maneuver. Keep paddling as you intersect with the wave. If the wave is steep, you will likely drop a bit on the back side of the wave after it has passed -- therefore, it is a good idea to brace yourself as you pass over the wave to avoid broken ribs. If the wave has already broken and the white water15 is approaching, you can also try and go under the wave by 'turtling' or flipping your board over so that you are under water and the bottom of the board is facing skyward. By pulling the board close to you while the wave passes over, you can avoid loosing your board to the force of the wave.16

The Lineup

Surfing is an individual activity that is almost always done in the company of other surfers. This causes surfing to be a some what selfish activity because there are only a limited number of good surfable waves to be had at any location and everyone is trying to catch them. Most surfers want to ride waves without other's being in their way -- either paddling out, sitting around, or paddling to catch the same wave. Therefore there is a series of rules that must be followed to avoid accidents and confrontations.

The first and most important rule is Do Not Drop-In17 on another surfer. Generally speaking, the surfer closest to the breaking part of the wave, the curl, has the most rights to the wave18. However, if a wave has yet to break, the surfer who first stands up on that wave has the right of way and their position in relation to the curl is irrelivent. In any case, if you are not sure, don't try and stand up. Instead, pull out and wait for the next wave. If you don't look both left and right to make sure your are clear, you may end up dropping in on someone you shouldn't have. This can result in bad vibes and a negative response which can result in a very negative experience.

Waiting is a very important part of surfing. If you are impatient, you will try for every wave that comes near you, and this will likely resut in you catching none of the waves. That's because most new surfers do not know where's the "right place" to wait and which waves are going to be good for their particular spot in the lineup. Too often, new surfers will make themselves tired by trying for all the waves, when instead, they should be saving their limited strength and stamina for a good wave near their location. Unless you have a strong swimming background, plan on being tired and feeling worked after your first few times surfing.

You should give consideration to how you are going to fall off the board, the inevitable wipeout. If you fall, try not to yell as you will be drawing more attention to yourself. Instead, think about why you fell and try not to do that thing again.

Surfing is a feeling for how to ride the board on the waves. Your improvement in catching waves will be directly related to the amount of time you paddle and build up your coordination and strength. Your improvement in riding waves will be based on numerous factors. If you are learning at a place where there a many waves and you are able to catch lots of well shaped waves, you will improve more quickly than if you are at a place you only get a few waves an hour and they are slop. Your natural internal balance will be a big factor. If your balance isn't very good, don't expect miracles -- but don't give up, you can improve your balance through practice in and out of the water.

Surfing is about being in the water, learning about the ocean, and learing about yourself. Surfing is not simply an activity or sport, it is a way of life that can deeply and profoundly change who you are, where you live, and how you live.

Surfing Terms

Aerial - Part of a maneuver where the surfer and his/her board leaves the water. Various moves are then performed in the air.
Air - After a good bottom turn with lots of speed, head up the face, off-the-lip, and into the sky! You can now perform an aerial maneuver.
Barrel - A hollow faced wave where it is breaking from the top and throws forward to create an open area under the throwing lip that has a round shape.
Blown-out - winds blowing so hard as to chop up the surf and render it unridable.
Bottom - referring to the ocean floor or to the lowest part of the wave the surfer can ride on - the bottom of the wave.
Bowl - a hollow spot on the face of the wave, the wave breaks a little faster and harder.
Bumpy - choppy water or it could be a decent wave but still the face could be bumpy.
Caught Inside - a surfer on the shore-side of a breaking wave (then he's going to take-it-on-the-head.)
Channel - a relatively deep spot where the waves don't normally break.
Choppy - Very small waves on the surface created by local winds.
Clean-up Wave - A wave that breaks outside of the line-up and dumps on the entire line-up.
Close out - when waves break all the way across a bay or normally safe channel rendering a surf spot unridable (because surfers can't paddle-out to the line-up.)
Covered (up) - Same as "toobed."
Cut-Back - A 180 degree turn that's done on either of the two rails of the surfboard. Turn back toward the curl or breaking part of a wave.
Da Kine - Hawaiian style talk: The best kind of wave, as in, "I jus caught da kine wave, brah."
Drop - The initial downward slide on the face of wave after taking off and before the bottom turn.
Drop-knee - On a longboard, your turn is done facing some what forward with one leg stretched out toward the tail of the board and its knee almost touching the deck. On a bodyboard, it's one foot on the bodyboard, with the other hanging off the back. All Style.
Face- The front part of the wave. One rides on the face of the wave.
Floater - Where the surfer rides his board loosely along the top of the breaking up or foam of the wave.
Foam - Material most surfboards are shaped from. Usually covered with fiberglass and resin.
Goofy-foot - Rider who surfs with right foot as lead foot.
Grom(et) - From grommet. A young surfer.
Greenroom - Inside the the breaking wave. Getting a deep cover up. - Sweet
Gun - Around seven feet or longer. Used for big-wave riding.
Hang Heels - While surfing on nose of board, turn around and hang your heels over the nose.
Hang Ten - All ten toes on the nose. Gotta be on a log to do this one.
Hollow - extremely concave curling wave (a good thing!)
Hodad - A beginner or non-surfer.
Inside - Refers to where you are in the line-up, or a place relative to the break. Inside would be on the side of the face of the wave; toward shore. Also refers to a position relative to the shore line, as in, "he craked his head on the inside reef."
Knee Paddle - A method of paddling by kneeling on board (should be done on longboards only).
Kook - Surfer who doesn't know anything. Surfer who knows something, but doesn't know the rules. Surfer who knows the rules but doesn't follow them.
Lip - The top of a breaking wave where the peak begins to move forward ahead of the wave.
Mow Foam - To shape a surfboard out of a foam blank.
Mushy - Slow, sloppy waves of little power. (Better than no waves.)
Outside - Refers to where you are in the line-up, or a place relative to the break. Outside would be on the back of the wave or it would be at the outer most place one could wait relative to the shore yet still catch a wave.
Over-the-falls - Pulled over a breaking wave into the impact zone. Very bad.
Line-up - Place in the water where the wave breaks. Naturally, all the surfers "line up" there and wait for the perfect wave.
Log - Longboard, nine feet and longer.
Pit - Place directly in front of the crest of the wave. Usually, if you get in the pit you lose speed, get caught and pounded.
Lip - The top of the face of the wave. Usually curling forward some.
Make a wave - To go for a wave and "make it" as opposed to getting tossed off your board and pounded by the wave.
Pitched - Tossed of the lip of the wave and usually off the board.
Prone - Most common way to paddle a surfboard. You can also ride with your belly on the board. The most common and easiest way to ride a bodyboard.
Ripping - Executing drastic and radical moves on the wave. Having it your way with a wave.

Re-Entry - Attacking the lip, usually going vertically and then turning nose down and re-entering the wave.
Short Board - About six feet long or less.
Shore break - Waves break very close to the beach.

Slop - Bad, messy waves that provide little push and have bumpy, blown out faces.
Sponge - Bodyboard. Called sponge because its core is made of a sponge like material. Your bodyboard.

Sponger - Somebody that bodyboards.

Standup Surfing - To stand up on the board and ride.

Stick - Surfboard.

Stoked - Very Happy. Internal fires are burning hot. "I'm stoked man! I just got toobed!"
Stringer - Wood strip or strips that provide structural rigidity to a surfboard made of foam or other light material.
Swell - Wave engery that has an organized direction. Usually a good thing.
Tailslide - Part of a larger maneuver in which the surfer purposely makes his/her fins lose their grip and the board slides.

Take-off point - The best spot to be in the line-up to catch the best part of a breaking wave.

Toes-on-the-Nose - Riding a wave with one's toes curled around the nose of the board.
Toobed! - Riding inside the "tube." In the green room.
Top Turn - Similar to the re-entry but the approach is less vertical and usually performed to gain speed.
Tube - When the crest falls over the hollow barrel, it forms a pipe shaped wave.
Tube-Ride - Where the surfer rides behind or inside the broken curl of the wave. Also known as "In the Barrel"
360- A maneuver done wherein the board (and rider) spin 360 degrees on the face of the wave.

Surfs up!- Surfable waves are breaking . . . I'm outta here!
1"He'e nalu" is a Hawaiian term for the sport of surfing. The first half, "he'e," means to run as a liquid. The second part, "nalu" refers to the surfing motion of a wave, hence he'enalu, or wave-sliding.2The Guide does not wish to enter into the spat about whether surfing is a sport or simply an activity.3A Surfer is someone who is trying to use the energy of a wave to push them through or over the water..
4A Surfboard is a buoyant device that is specifically created for riding on waves. They are usually made of foam and wood , wraped in fiberglass and a polyester resin. However, they can also be made of only foam or only wood or various other materials that have a high strength to weigh ratio -- it shouldn't sink.5Shortboards are normally between 5ft and 6 ft 11 in, Fun-sized boards are between 7ft and 8 ft. 11in. (2.25 m-2.9m). Finally, Longboards are anything over 9ft (2.9m), but rarely go over 12ft (3.9m). 6A surfable wave is created by a swell's 7 energy striking something below the surface. When a swell's energy hits something large and immovable, like a continent or reef, the wave begins to 'break' or crash upon the thing that's blocking its path. With the right combination of wave energy and surface shape of the object being struck, a surfable wave is formed. The more these factors harmonize, the better the surf's shape.7
Swells are created by the wind action upon the oceans. The more wind, the larger the swells. This creates a paradox for surfing. That's because the best surfing is done when the face of the wave is smooth ('glassy'). And that's the problem, smooth wave faces usually occur only when the wind is calm.
So for the surf to be both big and smooth, the wind needs to occur very-very far away. But here too is a problem. As a swell's energy travels through the ocean, its energy dissipates from water friction and counter swell energy. So what surfers are really looking for is some type of fierce storm brewing really, really far away pushing its energy toward their part of the world. As you can imagine, this makes those individuals who live in the part of the world where the storm is raging really, really miserable, and their surf really blown-out.8
8Blown-out surf occurs when the local wind causes chop or bumpy, spraying conditions that are not fun to ride. 9The Face of a wave is the section of the wave where the wave has risen up because of its encounter with something and has not yet folded over upon itself.10'Duke' is likely surfing's most captivating persona. Along with being an internationally known surfer and Olympic Gold Metal winning swimmer, Duke was a famous lifeguard and actor, he eventually became Wikiki's official ambasador and is remembered by all surfers for his 'Aloha' attitude. 11Young surfers. 12 That is, don't turn your back to the ocean without knowing what's coming. And that should be done only for brief periods of time. What may have looked like a nice wave way off in the distance could actually be a huge wave very close, and moving in on your position. Keep your eyes open and remember to keep looking out toward the ocean to see what's going to happen next. 13This is a difficult requirement for the beginners because it's really hard to look cool when you are making outlandish faces while flying uncontrollably into the ocean.14Some places have a channel that allows you to paddle to the lineup with out having to go through any breaking waves, but usually these areas also have big waves and should be avoided by novice surfers. 15White water also known as the soup, is a result of a wave that has broken, incorporating air into the water, making it foamy white.16As a novice surfer, you should be wearing a leash (leg rope) that is attached to your board. This avoids the long swims that will occur when you become seperated from your board. A leash is normally made from rubber cord and has some type of system (usually a velcro equiped band) that allows you to quickly attach the rope to your body.17Dropping in occurs when a surfer is rightfully on a wave and another surfer goes infront of the surfer with the right of way. Most of the time, this occurs when a surfer has paddled into a wave, has stood-up and is riding along the wave when another surfer wrongfully paddles into the same wave.18There are times when a surfer will catch a wave close to the curl, and then move away from the curl to execute maneuvers and a second surfer closer to the shore, or inside, will catch the wave inbetween the surfer and the curl. The second surfer has wrongfully (snaked) the first surfer and is basically dropping in behind the first surfer

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