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A Better Way to Teach Surfing?

A Better Way to Teach Surfing?

I wrote the first version of this article back in 2018. I have been thinking about it recently, as I've been increasingly convinced of the benefit of being a wave riding generalist. (More on that here.)

My theory is... I think we teach surfing backwards.

So much of the emphasis in the surf coaching process is centered around the "pop up".  

Even now, my Explore page on Instagram is filled with online surf coaches demonstrating how to properly pop up on your surfboard.  

And while this step is no doubt critical (we literally never stop talking about the importance of catching waves early in their formation so you can get to your feet before the waves breaks) the true goal of learning to surf is to master the ability of catching waves and harnessing their energy for a free ride down the beach

Which equipment you choose to utilize on a given day will be dictated by the conditions at hand and your personal preferences. 

The emphasis during the early stages of learning to surf should be centered on reading waves, catching waves, and riding them as long as possible.  All of these things are more easily accomplished from the prone position.  

Yes, I'm talking about lying down on your surfboard (or body board) and learning to ride waves before you start worrying about popping up to your feet. 

If you rode 20 waves on your belly before you ever tried to get to your feet, I believe it would shorten the learning curve and ultimately get you thinking about the right things when you're in the water.

I talked about this in Almond's Guide to Your First Year of Surfing and my experience in 2018 was recently echoed by Erica Swanson after her family trip to Waco Surf in Texas...
All the rules change when you substitute a surf park for the beach. The number of waves that you can catch at in a wave pool is many times greater than what you will catch in the ocean... and all those extra reps leads to many more opportunities to learn.  
An hour session in a wave pool might yield you 20+ waves. An hour session in the ocean might yield you 5 or 6.
In that instance, I would say you can probably skip the belly-riding segment of your learning and just use the sheer volume of reps to practice all of the steps (paddling, wave catching, popping up, and riding a wave), because if you fall another wave is coming.

Wave pools aside, if you are learning—or teaching someone—to surf, my humble opinion is to focus on riding a whole bunch of waves on your belly.  Getting comfortable and familiar in the surf zone is far more important than getting comfortable standing upright. The standing up portion will come in time. (And even then, I'm a fan of staying low and crouched.)

Whichever equipment you choose to employ, make sure you match it for the conditions of the day and master the art of reading, and responding to, the waves.

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