Learn How to Surf: A Step-by-Step Guide for Beginners

Bodhi Surf + Yoga / Surf + Yoga Camp Blog / Learn How to Surf: A Step-by-Step Guide for Beginners

In this learn how to surf guide and accompanying seven-part video tutorial series, Bodhi Surf + Yoga surf instructor, Spencer Dunlap, outlines the surf lesson methodology that we have developed in our 12+ year history of Bodhi Surf + Yoga. It is informed by the International Surf Association (ISA)’s curriculum as well as the cumulative wisdom and experience of our various surf instructors.

The aim is to provide you with the necessary knowledge and skills to become an independent surfer. The theory part of our lessons are important, but so is the practice.

With that said, we recommend you follow up completion of this series with an in-person visit to participate in one of our one or two week surf and yoga vacations here in beautiful Bahia Ballena, Osa, Costa Rica!

Surf stoke

Table of contents

Why choose Bodhi Surf + Yoga

Why choose Bodhi Surf + Yoga?

  • We have been successfully teaching people how to surf for over a decade (1,000+ new surfers, over 500 excellent reviews)
  • ISA-Certified Instructors + Lifeguards
  • The only B Corp Certified Surf + Yoga Camp in the world, “Best for the World” Winner 2017-19 + 2021, 1% for the Planet member
  • Ambassadors to the Transformational Travel Council, Center for Responsible Travel Platinum Sponsor
  • 2021, 2022 TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice Award Winner

Our learn to surf methodology

Our “awaken your inner surfer” methodology has been developed using The Circle of Courage, a model that integrates Native American philosophies of belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity.
We are confident that structuring our surf lesson methodology using these four stages—or “waves,” as we refer to them—will provide you with the necessary knowledge and skills to become an autonomous surfer.

Bodhi Surf + Yoga Online

Wave 1 – Belonging: a sense of connection

As a visitor to Costa Rica, it is important you feel comfortable in your new surroundings. Entering the ocean in a novel environment can be daunting when you don’t know what to expect.

We address this “strange feeling” by taking adequate time to familiarize you with this new ecosystem and foster a sense of belonging. By doing so we maximize harmony, allowing you to relax and focus on surfing. During this initial stage you will:

  • Become familiar with the beach and Marino Ballena National Park ecosystem
  • Learn about wave conditions, tides, and currents
  • Learn basic ocean observation and safety
  • Get to know your surf instructors
  • Learn how to bodysurf

Wave 2 – Mastery: achieve and accomplish

The need to achieve and accomplish our goals gives us inner satisfaction. During the mastery phase, we will provide you with abundant opportunities for meaningful achievement. Some of the basic skills and knowledge you will need to master in order to become a competent surfer include:

  • Surfboard anatomy and management
  • Entering the ocean and navigating the whitewater zone
  • Proper positioning and paddling technique on a surfboard
  • Catching whitewater waves and standing on a surfboard
  • Speeding up, slowing down, turning frontside and backside
  • Paddling out past the impact zone
  • Reading waves and distinguishing rights vs. lefts
  • Catching “green” or unbroken waves

Learn how to surf guide

Wave 3 – Independence: self-imposed goals

One of our favorite things in the whole wide world is watching you catch waves independent of our assistance. For us, it is amazing to watch a non-ocean goer learn to catch waves and surf with grace in such a short amount of time.

Providing guidance without too much interference is a delicate balance that we strive to perfect. During the independence stage you will:

  • Set personal surfing goals
  • Hone your previously learned skills and knowledge from Waves 1 & 2
  • Enjoy the freedom of surfing “green” waves on your own

Wave 4 – Generosity: giving back to Mother Ocean

As surfers, we appreciate the ocean; as humans, we can’t live without it.

We love sharing our passions—surfing, yoga, cooking, reading, hiking, or discussing the importance of protecting the environment. We encourage you to keep the surf stoke alive by sharing what you have learned during your time with us, especially when it comes to environmental stewardship.

Of course, we don’t expect for you to become a surf instructor or professional surfer, but we do hope you become an Ocean Guardian by giving back to Mother Ocean and your community via service projects, either back home or abroad.

Video 1: Your surfboard & equipment

As a beginner surfer, it is important to understand what equipment you should be using and to familiarize yourself with the different parts of your surfboard and surf leash.

The more you know about your equipment, the more confident you will feel when entering the ocean. Plus, you want to look like you know what you’re doing! This guide will help you with that.

We will first cover the two essential pieces of surf equipment—the surfboard and surf leash—and then discuss other things you might want to bring with you such as surf wax, water bottle, sun protection, etc.

Understanding the different parts of the surfboard

The front of the surfboard is called the nose, while the back of the board is called the tail.

You can tell the difference between the nose and the tail by where the fins are. The fins always go in the back of the board.

The leash plug and string are located at the tail of the board. This is where you will attach your ankle leash, which goes around your back ankle and keeps you attached to the board.

The sides of the board are called the rails, including the back rails (back half of board) and front rails (front half of board).

The top side of the board is called the deck.

On the bottom side of the board, we have our fin boxes located underneath the tail.

When plugging fins into the fin boxes, make sure the pointed end of the fins are facing toward the tail (not toward the nose).

How to carry your surf leash

Most surfboards will have dimensions along the stringer (or center line) on the bottom side of the board.

The dimensions of the board should include length, width, rail thickness, and total volume.

The most important number to pay attention to is the length of the surfboard. As a beginner surfer, you will want to start with a bigger board—somewhere between 8 and 9 feet. Bigger boards have greater volume, making it easy for you to paddle, catch waves, and eventually stand to your feet.

We recommend using a soft-top surfboard (covered in padded foam) to prevent damaging the board and injuring yourself when you wipeout. If you fall and get hit by the board, it won’t hurt nearly as bad as getting hit by a hard-top polyester board.

We also recommend using flexible silicon fins that are less likely to break off or cut you than carbon fiber fins.

Surf theory

Anatomy of the surf leash

At one end of the leash we have a thin velcro strap called the rail saver. This is the end that you will attach to the leash string loop at the back of your board.

To attach the surf leash to the board, completely un-velcro the two or three small sections of the rail saver and pull one end through the string loop at the back of the board. Make sure to line up the string with the non-velcro section of the rail saver and then velcro each section closed.

On the other end of the leg rope is a thick velcro strap that you will attach to your back ankle.

When entering the ocean, it is best to wait until you get to the water’s edge before putting your ankle leash on. This ensures that you don’t trip as you walk your board across the beach to the water.

When attaching the surf leash to your ankle, the swivel should be facing out over your ankle bone or behind your heel. Velcro the strap on nice and tight so that the swivel doesn’t migrate to the inside of your ankle where it will trip you when popping up.

Learning how to manage your surf equipment

How to carry your surfboard

When you are first learning to surf, it is important to look like you know what you’re doing! Therefore, never drag your board or carry it on your head.

Carry your board along your side like a professional by tucking the top rail under your armpit and reaching your hand across the deck to grab the opposite rail.

Never let the surf leash drag behind you when carrying your board. Always organize your ankle leash in a loop and hold it in your hand as you walk your surfboard to the water.

Other surf equipment that you might need (in Costa Rica)

  • Long-sleeve rashguard
  • Surf hat
  • Mineral sunscreen
  • Stainless steel water bottle
  • Surf wax

Klean Kanteen bottles

Support eco-friendly surf brands

Here at Bodhi Surf + Yoga, we believe that all surfers should act as environmental stewards and take care of the ocean, from which we derive so much joy.

We try to reduce our environmental impact by supporting eco-friendly brands, especially Certified B Corporations and 1% for the Planet members.

Video 2: How to enter the ocean & catch waves

We suggest entering the ocean without your surfboard first to get comfortable navigating through the impact zone and to build some sensory awareness.

If you are surfing at a sandy beach with warm water, make sure to do the stingray shuffle when entering and exiting the ocean.

Stingray shuffle: Whenever you are walking in shallow water, keep your feet glued to the sand and slide them forward as you walk rather than taking big steps. This will ensure that you don’t step on a stingray.

Face-down floating drill: Enter the ocean without your surfboard and lay flat in waist-deep water with your head facing the oncoming whitewater wave. Spread your limbs out like a starfish and practice holding your breath for long intervals while allowing the waves to pass over you. Completely relax your body and practice listening to the waves as they approach.

Then, head back to the beach to grab your surfboard.

Managing your board in the ocean

Walking your board out through the impact zone

Remember to wrap up your leash as you walk your surfboard down to the water’s edge so that you don’t trip.

Once you have attached the surf leash to your ankle, walk your board out to knee-deep water before setting it down flat on the surface.

If you are right-handed, set the surfboard down on your right side with the nose of the board pointed directly into the oncoming walls of whitewater. Put the board down on your left side if you are left-handed.

As you walk your board out to deeper water, place both hands on the back of the board so you can put pressure on the tail and lift up the nose to go over oncoming waves. Maintain a firm grip on the back of the board so the waves don’t rip the surfboard out of your hands.

Do not back away from the waves as they approach. Keep your momentum moving forward and hit the wave with the surfboard before it hits you.

Spear technique: With your hands firmly placed over the tail of the surfboard, take a step forward at the oncoming wall of whitewater and push or “spear” the nose of the board through the approaching wave.

The goal is to hit the wave before it hits you (be the aggressor!).

How to sit and spin on your surfboard

Identifying good whitewater waves and turning your surfboard around

Once you make it out to deeper water (stomach-deep), it’s time to start looking for a good whitewater wave to catch. You should be looking for a bigger wave that has broken far away from you so you have plenty of time to turn your board around, hop on, and start paddling before the wave arrives.

As soon as you identify your whitewater wave, put pressure on the back of the board to lift up the nose and create a pivot point under the tail. Then, spin your board fully around so the nose of the board is pointing directly at the beach and the tail is squared up with the approaching ledge of whitewater.

Never place the board between you and the oncoming wave when spinning your board around to the beach. If the board is on your right side, then you will spin to the right. If the board is on your left side, then you will spin to the left.

How to position yourself on your surfboard

Positioning yourself on the surfboard

Once you have turned the board fully around so the nose is pointing directly at the beach, take a step forward, grab the rails, and then pull your chest on and swing your feet up over the tail.

Do not get on from the back of the board and pull yourself forward, as this wastes time and energy. Instead, take a step forward toward the middle of the board and gently place your chest on the deck before swinging your legs up over the tail.

Your toes should be more or less at the tail of the surfboard with your hips centered directly in between the rails.

If you’re too far forward on the surfboard, then the nose will start to dive and take on water as you paddle. If you’re too far back, the nose will be up out of the water and it will be impossible to catch the wave.

Make sure you feel balanced on the board before you start paddling. Try squeezing your knees and feet together while pushing your hips into the board so you can arch your back and keep your chest up as you paddle.

It is important to maintain proper paddling posture by engaging your core so you can keep your head up and eyes forward without straining your neck.

Smile while you paddle: smiling helps you relax and brings your awareness into the present moment.

Surfing a whitewater wave

How to paddle and catch whitewater (broken) waves

As you paddle for the approaching wave, extend one arm out at a time while maintaining a slight bend in the elbow. Try not to flick or splash water as you paddle. Instead, dig the entire forearm underwater with a smooth entry and exit.

The goal is to create a steady rhythm with your stroke with the chest up and vision forward. Don’t forget to check in with the approaching wave by briefly looking over your shoulder as you paddle.

It is crucial to keep your board straight while you paddle. Your board should be perpendicular to the oncoming ledge of whitewater so the tail of the board lines up perfectly with the wave.

Once the wave hits the back of your board, take two more paddle strokes and then bring your hands flat on the deck of the board in line with your rib cage with the elbows tucked in toward your midline.

How to catch and ride a wave in prone surf

Riding a wave in the prone position (on your stomach)

As soon as you catch the wave you need to lift your chest up off the board to slow the board down and avoid nose-diving.

Make sure to keep your hands flat on the deck of the board as you lift up your chest into cobra position. Do not grab the rails of the surfboard.

Once you have locked out your arms into the top of your cobra pose and prevented the board from nose-diving, you can then bring your chest back down to the deck as you ride straight to the beach.

Speed management: There are two main “buttons” on the surfboard that can be used to speed up and slow down. The accelerator button is located in the front half of the board, while the brake button is located in the back half. You can experiment with shifting your weight over each button by lifting your chest up (to slow down) and lowering your chest back down (to speed up).

How to slow or stop your surfboard in prone

When you are ready to bring the board to a stop, shift your weight over the tail of the board by pressing back into child’s pose. The front half of the board will lift up out of the water and the board will come to a stop.

Now you can hop off your board, spin it around, and guide it back out to stomach-deep water to catch another wave.

Your goal is to catch and ride 3-5 waves straight to the beach in the prone position (on your stomach) and bring your board to a controlled stop at the end of each ride.

Once you have achieved this goal, you will be ready to start turning the board left and right.

Video 3: How to turn your surfboard (prone position)

Turning a large board can be quite difficult at first, especially if you don’t know where to shift your weight in order to make a successful turn. It is important to practice turning the board from your stomach before you move on to turning from your feet.

Learning to turn the board from your stomach is crucial for building muscle memory and discovering where the different “turn buttons” are located on the board.

This drill also teaches you how to use your vision as a vital turning mechanism. If you’ve ever ridden a bike or a skateboard before then you’ll know that you must look where you want to go.

How to turn in prone surf

Turning right and left from your stomach

At this stage, you should still be walking your board out to stomach-deep water and catching whitewater waves in the prone position. Now, instead of riding the wave straight to the beach, your goal is to catch 3-5 waves to the left and 3-5 waves to the right.

Here’s your process for turning the board to the left from the prone position:

  1. Catch the wave
  2. Bring your hands to the deck of the board in cobra position
  3. Lift your chest up and lock out your arms
  4. Look roughly 45 degrees to the left
  5. Shift your hips over the back left rail
  6. Wait for the board to turn left
  7. Center your hips and bring your chest back down to the deck

Repeat this process for 3-5 waves before attempting to turn right. The only difference for turning right is that you must look right and shift your hips over the right rail.

As previously mentioned, the most important factor in making a successful turn is to look where you want to go. If you want to turn 45 degrees to the right, then you must turn your head to the right and project your eyes out in front of you.

When turning from the prone position, never grab the rails and try to turn the board with your hands. This is a common mistake that beginners make that leads to a wipeout almost every time. Instead, keep your hands flat on the deck of the board and shift your hips in the direction you are turning.

When turning the surfboard, you first have to shift your weight back over the tail where the fins and back rails are located. By shifting your weight back, you are creating a pivot point over the tail that allows you to maneuver the board where you want to go.

Once you complete your turn, you must bring your chest back down to the deck of the board to speed back up again. If you keep your chest up and your hips over the back rail, then you will simply turn your board out of the wave and your ride will be over.

S Turn prone surf

Performing an “s-turn” from the prone position

The last challenge for you to master before standing up to your feet is called the s-turn. To complete a full s-turn from the prone position, you will start by turning the board in one direction and then turn it back the other direction on the same wave.

Here’s your process for completing an s-turn from the prone position:

  1. Catch the wave
  2. Bring your hands to the deck of the board in cobra position
  3. Lift your chest up and lock out your arms
  4. Look roughly 45 degrees to the right
  5. Shift your hips over the back right rail
  6. Wait for the board to turn to the right
  7. Center your hips and bring your chest back down to the deck
  8. Press up into a tabletop position
  9. Shift your hips to the left (to straighten the board out before your next turn)
  10. Center your hips and bring your chest back down to the deck
  11. Lift your chest up and lock out your arms
  12. Look roughly 45 degrees to the left
  13. Shift your hips over the back left rail
  14. Wait for the board to turn to the left

Continue to practice the s-turn until you are able to make smooth, efficient turns from right to left and left to right. Once you have mastered the s-turn from the prone position, you will be ready to stand to your feet.

Video 4: How to stand up on your surfboard

The first thing you need to figure out before popping up to your feet on a surfboard is which way you will be facing. In other words, do you prefer to stand with your left foot in front and your right foot in back (regular footed), or with your right foot in front and your left foot in back (goofy footed)?

If you have previous board-riding experience, such as skateboarding or snowboarding, it should be pretty easy to figure out whether you are regular or goofy. But if you’ve never stood on a board before, then it may be difficult to determine which stance will work best for you.

Practice popping up to your surf stance in both directions (regular and goofy) several times on dryland to see which direction your body naturally prefers.

The “figure 4” technique

Once you catch the whitewater wave, place your hands flat on the deck of the board in cobra position. As you begin to lock out your arms and lift up your chest, take your back foot and tuck it up under your butt by bringing your knee outside the rail of the surfboard.

If you are a regular footer, you will bend your right knee and tuck your right foot up under your butt. If you are a goofy footer, then you will bend your left knee and tuck your left foot under your butt.

Once you have your back foot in position (slightly in front of the fin plugs), you will then lock out your arms completely and step your front foot up between your hands (into the front half of the board).

Finally, you can lift your hands up off the deck of the board and shift your weight into your legs as you stand to your feet.

Figure 4 surf pop-up

The pop-up (aka “slide-up”) technique

Once you’ve mastered the figure 4 technique and feel comfortable transitioning from the prone position to your surf stance, try standing to your feet a bit more efficiently using the pop-up or “slide-up” technique.

Once you catch the wave, place your hands as low as possible on the deck (below your chest) and lock out your arms to create plenty of space under your midsection for your feet to slide up under you.

Keep in mind that an efficient pop-up is built on leverage, not strength.

The key difference between the pop-up and the figure 4 is that you are sliding both feet up under you at the same time, rather than stepping each foot up individually.

Make sure to keep your toes glued to the deck of the board as you slide them forward instead of jumping to your feet and landing off-balance.

Lastly, keep your eyes forward and your butt low as you transition to your feet (imagine an olympic sprinter in the starting blocks). If you lift your butt up in the air, then your head and eyes will look down and you won’t be able to see what’s happening in front of you.

Video 5: Proper surf stance for beginners

When transitioning from the prone position to your feet, it is critical to get your feet to land in the correct position on the surfboard.

Your back foot should land just in front of the fins and your front foot should land in the front half of the board (just past the midway point). Your stance should be slightly wider than shoulder-width.

Your surfboard has a thin strip of wood that runs down the middle of the board from nose to tail called the stringer. Both of your feet should be centered directly over the stringer so that the stringer splits each foot in half from heel to toe.

The toes of your back foot should point directly at your toe-side rail so that your foot creates a 90-degree angle with the rail. The toes of your front foot can open slightly toward the nose creating a 45-degree angle with the rail. This allows you to rotate your hips and shoulders forward in the direction you are surfing.

Backside surf stance

Once you get your feet into position, continue to bend your knees and stay low. Most beginners will lock out their legs and stand straight up as soon as they get to their feet, which causes them to lose their balance and fall. It is crucial to keep a low center of gravity for good balance.

Make sure to maintain good posture in your upper body; do not lean or slouch over. Your shoulders, knees, and toes should all be in the same vertical plane.

Many beginner surfers will either have their arms in a straight line (think Warrior II) or both hands over their toe-side rail. This is incorrect and may force you to lose your balance.

For proper hand positioning, imagine a tight-rope walker with their arms extended over each side of the line. Your hands should be positioned over the rails with both hands pointing forward in the direction of travel. Your lead arm should be extended and your back arm bent at 90 degrees.

Note: Many of our experienced yogis pop up to their feet in a Warrior II stance. Unfortunately, the Warrior II stance is too wide. Also, you do not want the toes of the front foot pointing directly forward because it puts too much pressure on the front knee. Although many yoga postures translate well to surfing, Warrior II is not a functional surf stance and should be avoided.

Falling off your surfboard safely

How to fall safely

Now that you are attempting to stand to your feet on the surfboard, you will probably be falling (aka wiping out) frequently. Don’t worry, wiping out is a normal part of the learn-to-surf process, but you want to make sure you don’t get injured during this stage.

If you feel like you are about to fall off the surfboard, it is best to fall off the back of the board, rather than jumping or diving off the side. When you fall off the back, the surfboard will travel away from you so you don’t get hit, and you have a nice ledge of whitewater to fall on top of.

Try to spread yourself out and fall flat on your back (think reverse belly flop) so you don’t hit the seafloor. Always cover your head and face when resurfacing from a wipeout to ensure you don’t get hit by the surfboard.

How to bring the board to a controlled stop

In order to bring the surfboard to a controlled stop, you must be able to shift all of your weight into the back half of the board where the “brakes” are. The more weight you have over the tail, the easier it will be to stop moving forward.

The goal is to lift the nose of the surfboard up out of the water by either stepping back over the tail, shifting your hips back, or coming down to your knees and pushing back into child’s pose.

We recommend trying all three stopping methods—the step back, the shift back, and the kneel down to child’s pose—to see which technique works best for you.

You always have the option to fall off the back of the board using the “backflop” technique, but it’s better to bring the board to a controlled stop so you can avoid colliding with someone (or something) in front of you.

Video 6: How to turn frontside and backside

Before we dive into turning the surfboard, it is important to cover speed management first. Just like riding a bike or driving a car, you need to be able to slow down before making a turn and then accelerate out of the turn.

After popping up to your feet and riding straight to the beach several times without falling, your next step is to work on controlling your speed. Catch 3-5 more whitewater waves and practice speeding up and slowing down as you ride straight to the beach.

Speeding up and slowing down

To speed up on the surfboard, you need to send more weight into the front half of the board. To do so, sink into your legs and shift your hips forward so the majority of your weight is now on your front foot. You can even reach your lead arm out in front of you to help guide your weight toward the nose of the surfboard.

Do not break the vertical plane in your upper body by leaning forward: simply bend your knees and transfer your weight into the front knee and foot.

To slow down, sink into your legs and shift your hips back so your weight is now on your back foot. You can retract your hands back away from the nose of the surfboard to help you guide your weight into the back leg.

Once you’re comfortable shifting your weight from front foot to back foot, you could even try stepping your back foot back over the tail to slow down more efficiently. As a challenge, see if you can lift the nose of the surfboard up out of the water as you shift your weight back over the tail.

Frontside surf stance

Turning frontside

A frontside turn means turning the board toward your toe-side rail. If you are goofy-footed, for example, a frontside turn will always be to your left.

Typically, frontside turns are easier than backside turns because your head, shoulders, hips, and toes are already facing the direction you want to go, hence the term “frontside”.

As a beginner, you will be working on trim turns, meaning that you will be turning the surfboard with the back rails rather than the fins. Your goal is to simply angle the board in the direction you want to go and hold that line.

Here’s your process for performing a frontside trim turn:

  1. Catch the whitewater wave and pop up to your feet
  2. Look in the direction you want to go (project your eyes far out in front of you)
  3. Sink low into your legs and shift your hips back toward the tail
  4. Rotate your hands and shoulders over your toe-side rail (point both hands where you want to go)
  5. Shift your weight into your toes
  6. Allow the board to turn in the direction your eyes are looking (roughly 45 degrees to your frontside)
  7. Rotate your hands back over the rails and shift your weight forward to speed up out of the turn

Surfing backside

Turning backside

A backside turn is any turn toward your heel-side rail. This means turning to the right for a goofy footer, and turning to the left for a regular footer.

Backside turns are typically more challenging than frontside turns because you have to be able to rotate your head, shoulders, and hands back across your body without leaning backward and losing your balance.

Here’s your process for performing a backside trim turn:

  1. Catch the whitewater wave and pop up to your feet
  2. Rotate your chin to your front shoulder and start looking toward your backside
  3. Sink low into your legs and shift your hips back toward the tail
  4. Rotate your lead arm over your heel-side rail as you begin to open up your shoulders to your backside (point both hands where you want to go)
  5. Shift your weight into your heels
  6. Allow the board to turn in the direction your eyes are looking (roughly 45 degrees to your backside)
  7. Rotate your hands back over the rails and shift your weight forward to speed up out of the turn

Note: A carve turn is any turn where the nose of the surfboard lifts up out of the water creating a pivot point at the tail (where the fins are). Carve turns are much sharper and more fluid than trim turns, but are more difficult to perform. Continue to practice frontside and backside trim turns before moving on to carve turns.

Video 7: Paddling out past the breakers

Once you have mastered turning frontside and backside in the whitewater zone, it is now time to start paddling your surfboard out to catch waves instead of walking it out.

There are two important skills that you need to paddle out through the oncoming walls of whitewater: the plank and the turtle roll.

Plank technique to paddle past waves

How to plank

Just before the oncoming wall of whitewater hits the nose of your surfboard, place your hands on the rails in line with your chest and push up into plank position by locking out your arms and lifting your hips up off the board.

The idea here is to create enough space for the oncoming wave to pass over your board and under your body without knocking you backward.

One mistake we see a lot of beginner surfers make is that they forget to lift their hips up off the board when pressing up. The problem with leaving your hips down is that the oncoming wave ends up hitting you in the crotch region and pushing you backward.

Make sure to push up as quickly as possible so you don’t hang out too long at the top of your plank. As soon as the wave passes under your hips, lay back down on the board and continue paddling out.

Surf technique: Turtle roll

How to turtle roll

The turtle roll is used in situations when the oncoming walls of whitewater are too big to plank or the oncoming wave is about to break directly on top of you.

You should start your turtle roll when the wave is about a board’s length away from you. To initiate the roll, grab the rails of the surfboard above your chest and use your dominant hand to flip the board over your body.

Continue to hold on to the rails of the board with your feet underneath the tail. Do not wrap your legs around the rails of the board.

Once you flip under the board, extend your arms out and push the nose of the board through the oncoming wave. As soon as the wave passes over you, flip the board back over, pull yourself on, and continue paddling out.

Do not hang out for too long after you flip the board over. The longer you rest in the impact zone, the more turtle rolls you will likely have to perform to make it out past the breakers. The turtle roll should be executed as quickly and efficiently as possible.

How to sit on your board

How to sit & spin

Once you make it out past the breakers you will need to sit on your board in order to see the waves coming on the horizon. Also, it is much easier to turn the board around from a seated position than from your stomach.

As you wait for the next surfable wave, take a seat with your butt just behind the midway point of the board. Make sure to sit up tall with good posture and gently squeeze the rails of the surfboard with your inner thighs to maintain balance.

Once you identify your wave, grab the rails of the surfboard and slide your butt back over the tail to lift the nose up out of the water.

Now that you have created a pivot point under the tail of the board, reach one arm down into the water and spin your board around to face the shore. You can also kick or “egg beater” your legs to help turn the board around.

Now that you have spun your board around, you can lay down and start paddling for the oncoming wave.

Paddling technique for surfing

Proper paddling technique

When laying in the prone position on your surfboard, squeeze your knees and feet together to create a straight line from your sternum down to your toes.

Focus on pushing your hips into the deck of the board so you can arch your back, keep your chest and head up, and pull your shoulders back while you paddle.

Make sure to cup your hands as you reach one arm out at a time and dig your entire forearm underwater with each stroke.

Drag your forearm along the rail of the board while keeping a slight bend in your elbow to avoid “windmilling”. Also, try not to splash or flick water behind you as you paddle.

Maintain a smooth and steady rhythm with each stroke so you don’t overexert yourself. The goal is to keep your momentum moving forward at a consistent pace until you make it out past the impact zone.

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About the author

Spencer Dunlap

Spencer is a former Division I college baseball player, San Diego lifeguard, ISA certified surf instructor, bodysurf retreat leader, and published writer at Bodhi Surf + Yoga. Spencer is passionate about surfing, bodysurfing, music, reading, writing, and playing with his dog Nefta.