Stop Missing The Waves You Paddle For
Whenever I stand on the beach and watch the surf, I'm amazed at the number of people I see regularly paddling for and missing waves.
Sometimes it's poor reading of the wave, oftentimes its poor choice of equipment, and a lot of the time it's poor paddling effort.
Fortunately, every one of those variables is within your control. If you're on the right board for the conditions on a given day, you should be catching 90% of the waves you paddle for.
Sure, every once in a while a wave kinda hits a deep spot and might never really stand up, but that should be rare if you are studying what the waves are doing an adjusting your approach accordingly.
Reading The Wave:
When you are sitting in the lineup, a good portion of your time is spent waiting between waves. During those lulls, your only objective is to stay alert and try to predict where and when the waves are going to break before the folks around you. Don't get caught day-dreaming or seagull watching. Late recognition is the difference between being in the perfect position for a great wave, and getting caught inside (either taking a wave on the head or getting in someone else's way who was paying more attention than you).
Poor Choice of Equipment:
Foam is your friend. (In this instance, I am referring to the overall volume of your surfboard, not the construction.)
So often, the folks I see continually paddling for wave that they have no chance of catching are riding what appears to be a 1992 high performance shortboard. While those boards were awesome in Kelly Slater's Black and White, it's probably not the board for two foot waves at Blackies.
I exaggerate, but only slightly.
When the waves are small, soft, or infrequent, stack the deck in your favor and grab a board with a bit more foam.
Poor Paddling Effort:
When it is your turn, paddle like you mean it.
To get to the point of paddling for a wave, you had to leave the house, drive to the beach, wiggle into a wetsuit, brave the cold water, wait out the crowd, and position yourself properly for an oncoming wave.
Don't half-arse the paddle. This is not the time to look casual and relaxed, this is the time to go grab what's rightfully yours.
Paddle with purpose.
Paddle with efficiency.
And catch that darn wave EARLY.
Even folks who do catch the wave are often getting to their feet so late that the wave is passing them by. What they may have chalked up to being a "closeout" was actually just a wave that snuck past in their inefficiency and late takeoff.
The physics rule for catching waves is this: You must match the speed of the wave you wish to catch.
The next time you surf, pay attention to what the waves are doing and try to match your focus, equipment, and effort to catch 90%+ of the waves that you paddle for. Keeping in mind all the while that you are just one of likely many folks in the water. Being efficient with your waves doesn't change your role as a thoughtful member of the lineup.