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Learn to Noseride in 5 Steps

Learn to Noseride in 5 Steps

Becoming a true master in the art of noseriding is an ongoing process, however if you surf consistently and work on building these fundamental steps on top of one another—like building blocks—you will make MASSIVE strides in your goal toward noseriding proficiency (in a very short amount of time).

Since you're working on improving your noseriding, I am going to assume that you’ve been surfing for a few years, and are pretty comfortable dropping into a wave and riding it—but something about getting to the nose (without falling) just hasn’t clicked—yet.

Other folks make it look so easy... cross-stepping weightlessly, but you feel anything but “weightless” when you go to pick up one foot and step your way forward on a board that in spite of the wave powering you along, is still just balancing on top of the water.

Recently, I wrote an article called “Learn to Noseride”, and while all the principals in that article remain very important, today we are going to get more granular and break down the progression from where you are today to getting those piggies over the nose, in 5 days (more specifically 5 focused surf sessions).

If you can’t surf 5 consecutive days, it is important to try to fit these sessions in as small of a window as possible. Can you fit 5 surf sessions in, in two weeks? That’s only 5 days in a 14 day period, 36% of the days you need to make time for surfing. When building on your progress, fitting your sessions into nearly consecutive days will help tremendously.

Important reminder:
Noseriding is a signal that all of the variables are working together in harmony: the wave, the board, and the rider. If one of those variables is missing (or off) the whole equation falls apart. So before we paddle out, let’s take inventory of the 3 basic ingredients to the formula for success…

The Conditions

There is such a thing as a good noseriding wave and a bad noseriding wave. The very best surfers can still surf extraordinarily well, even in bad conditions, but for the rest of us, we need the right types of waves to help us out.

When learning to noseride, the ideal surf conditions would be a waist-high wave that is peeling cleanly. Not so soft and mushy that the wave feels gutless, and yet not so steep and powerful, that the wave is hollow and pitching. We’re looking for something just right. Again, noseriding is a signal that all of the variables are working together.

The Equipment

The second part of our equation that needs to be working is the board. There are surfboards that are designed with noseriding in mind, and there are surfboards that are not. Trying to learn on the wrong equipment will inevitably lead to frustration. A noseriding longboard should be wide, heavy, flat through the nose, have some concave in the nose for creating lift, and a bit of flip in the tail (rocker) for slowing the board down in the pocket of the wave.

If the board you are learning on is too thin, has too much nose rocker, and doesn’t trim effortlessly through the water, you may want to consider borrowing or purchasing something better suited for your goals. If you have several longboards to choose from, this exercise is probably best done with the longest one you have available.

The Surfer

This means you. The one who is going to be perched on the nose soon.

Surfing requires a whole bunch of little fast-twitch muscles in your legs to be firing—making small micro-adjustments to your balance as you read and react to what the wave is doing (and what your feet are feeling below them). When I have been out of the water, those little fast-twitch muscles are the first thing to go. And in no part of surfing is this felt more than cross-stepping. Those effortless, weighless steps to the nose that you see Andy Nieblas perform can feel like lumbering stomps when your legs are out of practice. With that in mind, part of our 5 days to noseriding is going to be mental (how to read the wave, how to dial in your approach) but part of it is also going to be physical (training your body to do the things you want it to do).

Noseriding should never supersede effective wave-riding, it’s just one more exciting, fleeting moment to add to the experience of surfing. And a moment we are going to add to your repertoire in 5 short days. You can’t microwave success—commit to the process.

Day 1: The Takeoff & Finding the Pocket

Today, our only focus is cleanly and consistently dropping into waves, and positioning your surfboard in the pocket of the wave. The pocket of the wave is the area right in front of the breaking section of the wave, where the majority of the wave’s power is.

One of the foundational principles of all surfing is to find the pocket of the wave and spend as much time there as possible. Don’t think about anything else today except finding the pocket and working to keep your board in the pocket for as long as possible on every single wave you catch today.

If you find yourself falling behind the wave, take a slightly higher line.
If you find yourself out-pacing the wave, rock your weight to your back foot to stall slightly and slow the board down.

Stay single-minded in your pursuit today. Find that pocket and apply whatever forces you need to apply to your board, in order to stay in the pocket. We are building toward your goal of getting to the nose, and this is the foundational block.

Day 2: Cross step backwards 1 step

Now that you have spent an entire surf session dedicated to finding the pocket, we want to start to explore more parts of your surfboard. In addition to where you are on the wave, success surfing a longboard is greatly influenced by where you are on your surfboard.

But before we can go forward, we need to get comfortable going backward.

Today, the goal is to get to your feet, get going down the line, and then take one very small cross-step backward. If you are goofy-footed, like me, that means taking your right foot and bringing it back behind your left foot—then quickly bring your left foot to its natural position behind your right.

Pause here for a moment and notice how your board slows down.

After a few seconds here—before the wave races past you—bring your left foot in front of your right foot, then quickly bring your right foot back to its natural position in front of your left. You should be right back where you started, firmly planted in the center of your board.

If you’re a regular footer, invert the directions like this:
Bring your left foot behind your right foot—then quickly bring your right foot to its natural position behind your left.

Pause here for a moment and notice how your board slows down.

After a few seconds here—before the wave races past you—bring your right foot in front of your left foot, then quickly bring your left foot back to its natural position in front of your right. You should be right back where you started, firmly planted in the center of your board.

Today, all I want you to do is repeat these steps above. Every good fin-blasting top turn is made possible by a strong bottom turn, and every trip to the nose is made possible by a strong, foundational stall in the pocket. Continue to practice this until you can comfortably do it 3 times in a row. (If it’s a long enough wave, you can practice this several times on the same wave).

Day 3: Cross Step backward 1, forward 1

Yesterday, you spent the session working on taking one cross-step backward. The ability to take small, light-footed cross-steps will serve you incredibly well.

We are building on yesterday’s progress by adding one new step.

Today, we are finding the pocket, taking a small cross-step backward, returning to the middle of the board and then… immediately taking a single cross-step forward.

Note: This single cross step forward should get you nowhere near the nose of the board. In fact, the smaller the step the better. We are still essentially operating in the middle ⅓ of the board.

  1. When you cross-step backward, you will feel the board slow down.
  2. Take one small cross-step to return to the middle of the board.
  3. Then take another small cross-step forward—left over right if you are a goofy-footer. Right over left if you’re regular. You will notice your board picking up speed—ideally, you want the nose of your board pointed straight down the line, not angling out into the flats. 
  4. As your board begins to pick up speed—and before you completely out-run the wave—cross-step back to your familiar spot in the middle of the board.
The ability to comfortably cross-step forward and backward is paramount to all noseriding success. By starting small, cross-stepping backward and forward in the middle ⅓ of the board, you are accomplishing several things:
  1. Building up the little fast-twitch muscles required to maintain balance while taking steps.
  2. Getting comfortable and familiar with the way your position on the board affects the speed of the board.
  3. Learning to use the speed of your board as a means of keeping your board in the pocket of the wave. 
Avoid the temptation to venture beyond the approximate middle third of your board. We are building a foundation that will serve you for many years, there is no benefit to skipping steps.

Note: The tail of the board is where all of the turning will initiate from, so the more comfortable you can get back there, the more control you will have over your longboard.

Spend all of Day 3 just making small steps forward and backward, never straying far from the familiar place in the middle of your board. You should be building your confidence and technique by mastering the little mechanics of these baby steps.

Day 4: Cross step back 1, stall, and then forward 2

Today, we are building upon the progress we made yesterday. You are on your fourth surf in a relatively short timeframe.

To review, we have already spent a day surfing the pocket of the wave, a day practicing taking a small cross-step backward (stalling the board), and day practicing cross-stepping in the middle third of your board.

Today, we are going to extend our range a little further.

If yesterday’s emphasis was on the middle third of the board, think of today as the middle two-thirds. Instead of one step back from center and one step forward from center, today we’re going for two steps.

The only difference is, you likely will not need to take two steps backward toward the tail, in order to properly stall the board. Getting that far back on the tail can be good for kick-outs (kicking your board up and over a wave that’s closing out) but is probably not necessary for stalling. Rather, I prefer to do my one, small cross-step backward, and then slide my left foot (right if you’re regular) back a little further and rock my weight back there to get the right amount of stall.

Think of it like easing your foot on the brakes of your car to slow down, you don’t need to slam the brakes, but gently apply pressure until you are happy with your rate of travel.

Once you have stalled and are positioned deep in the pocket, you want to take 2-3 cross-steps forward until you are almost to the nose (but stop short)—relying on your rail being firmly set in the steep part of the wave and your tail being buried deep in the breaking section of the wave to give you the support you need to advance toward the nose.

It will help you tremendously to keep your eyes on the stringer of your board, because your feet will tend to follow your eyes.

Keep your body weight slightly on the up-hill (toe side) rail of the board. You should be traveling quite fast across the face of the wave, out-pacing the breaking section behind you.

The steep section of the wave face is what is keeping you securely in place, the further out ahead of the wave you get, the less steep wave face there will be to support you… so… before you wash out, retreat back to your familiar place in the middle of the board.

Note: As you do your cross-steps back you will notice an interesting phenomenon: not only are you walking backwards, but the board is actually slipping forward on the wave as you do so. Your steps backward are actually encouraging the board to speed up, because the force you are applying matches the direction that the board is already accelerating. You may witness—or experience yourself—that when you go to cross-step backward, you fall flat on your butt on your board, because you weren’t prepared for the sensation of the board sliding forward under your feet. Just something to be aware of as that feeling becomes more familiar.

Once you find your comfortable position in the middle of the board you can decide what the wave will allow for next, if it’s a long enough wave, you can stall again and repeat the entire process. If it’s a shorter beach break wave, you can get way back on that tail, kick out, and paddle back out to wait for the next wave.

The progress you have made thus far is significant, and to be honest, many people tend to get stuck here. There is no shame in being able to navigate the middle two-thirds of your board, accelerating and decelerating as needed—always able to find (and remain in) the pocket.

If all you ever cared to do was to surf like this, you could have an incredibly productive and enjoyable lifetime of longboarding—every wave just an exercise in glide.

But if you’ve read this far, it’s likely because you want to get those toes over that nose. So, we continue on…

Day 5: Hang 5

Today is Day 5. We have covered a lot of ground so far—and if you’ve been sticking to the plan, you’ve covered a lot of ground making tracks back and forth up and down the length of your longboard.

You should be a relative master at finding the pocket of the wave—and be able to feel the difference between when you are and aren’t in the pocket.
You should be incredibly comfortable taking one small cross-step backward.
Cross-stepping forward may still feel a little heavy-footed, but that’s okay, as your small, fast-twitch muscles improve, those steps will feel lighter.
You should be getting more confident at recognizing how your position on the board affects the speed at which your board travels through the water.
You should be practicing getting most of the way to the nose, by doing your stall and the 2-3 cross-steps toward the nose (stopping 6” to 12” shy of the nose)

Again, the sum total of everything listed above is a remarkably well-rounded longboarder who is aware of many things that other people might not be thinking about. (There always seems to be a kid in his early 20’s who can resist the temptation to just run straight off the nose every time he gets to his feet. Yes, I'm generalizing, but I’ve seen a hundred iterations of that kid and I was him once.)

The last step to linking this all together is getting that foot out and those toes wrapped over the nose. For goofy footers, it will be our right foot. For regular footers, it will be your left.

Getting most of the way to the nose is nine-tenths of the battle, but like many home improvement projects, sometimes you think you’re 90% finished and realize that the final 10% is more like 50%.

In an ideal world, you want your final step with your left foot to be placed perfectly 12” to 24” from the nose, so that as you bring your right foot forward, you can place it directly on the tip of the nose of your board.

Your back knee should be bent and your weight should be ever-so-slightly on the up-hill (toe-side) rail of your board. If being in the steep section of the wave was important for getting most of the way to the nose, then it’s even more critical for getting all the way there.

Now, we are going to take all of our building blocks and link them together.

Your steps should be:

  1. Cross-step back
  2. Stall
  3. get deep in the pocket
  4. cross-step forward 2-3 times
  5. stop just shy of the nose
  6. bend your back knee
  7. and reach that foot (right if you’re goofy, left if you’re regular) over the nose of the board
  8. Keep your eyes focused down the line of the wave
  9. Retreat backward with 2 cross-steps back to the middle of the board.
  10. Claim it with both hands and a loud woot. (Kind of kidding)
  11. Cross-step back to the tail
  12. Kick out
  13. Paddle back out to the peak 
  14. Repeat.

If you have been following along with our previous articles, you know that I’m a big believer in two things: catching waves earlier in their formation and bending your knees to get your hips closer to your surfboard and closer to the wave.

If you find that you are having trouble keeping your balance when hanging-5, try crouching for a Paul Strauch classic, the “Cheater-5”. Demonstrated here by Jack Martin:

Like we said in the introduction, mastery in the art of noseriding will be a life-long journey, which is actually good news. If it was as simple as doing a simple trick once, you would grow bored. Noseriding is more of a tool in your tool-belt, as a well-rounded surfer.

Every wave is slightly different and will call for a slightly different approach. Remember the foundations of what we discussed here and practice them often.

Surfing is about reading and reacting to the wave. Get really good at reading waves and predicting what they are about to do next, and you will always be one step ahead.

What’s Next?