How To Read And Surf Unbroken Waves

Whether it's your first time in the water or your 100th, there is always something new to learn in surfing; there are always improvements to be implemented, adjustments to make to your technique and a way to surf better than you did in your last session. Kelly Slater himself has said even now he is always learning and improving his surfing. 

Reading the waves accurately when you are at the lineup is one of the most challenging aspects when progressing your surfing. To a beginner, their first few times out at the lineup can be daunting, and understanding where to position yourself when taking off on a wave can seem like a complete mystery. 

Wetsuit Centre has outlined some key aspects to consider when learning to catch unbroken waves, or green waves as they are sometimes referred to.

When To Start Paddling For An Unbroken Wave.

So you've jumped in your wetsuit, learnt to pop up in the white water and are ready to try your hand at catching some unbroken waves. Unlike white water waves, you can't just frantically paddle in front of an oncoming wave and catch it; and you need to think and prepare a little more than that.

Paddling expels a lot of energy. Propelling yourself through the water and against the current is often what exhausts most surfers. Knowing when to paddle for a wave can be the difference between catching as many waves as possible and knackering yourself out paddling for waves you have no hope of riding.

Infographic on how to surf a wave

You are looking for that perfect 45-degree angle on the face of the wave, where it has enough velocity to lift your surfboard but not so much that the lip of the wave breaks on your back. Choose your wave at stage 1, paddle for that wave between stage 1 and 2, catch the wave at stage 2 and surf the wave at stage 3. 

Where To Position Your Surfboard When Taking Off On A Wave 

Knowing where the best place to position your surfboard is can be very confusing to the untrained eye. With every break being a little different, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to catching unbroken waves. It's all about training your eyes and brain to read the wave as it approaches you and determining if, firstly, it's a wave you want to catch and, secondly, how to catch that wave. 

Knowing the different parts of the wave is the first step in understanding all the techniques to consistently position yourself on the optimum part of the wave.

Infographic on the different elements of a wave when surfing

You'll often see beginner surfers try to do a very late takeoff, paddling for the wave directly under the lip, which results in a savage nose dive right into the impact zone, which we all know is the worst type of wipe-out! 

You want to position yourself to catch the wave slightly ahead of the pocket, once you feel the wave catch your board, pop-up and angle yourself down the wave as you begin to draw out your line. Too Far on the shoulder and you will lose momentum and the wave, and as a beginner, positioning yourself in the tube will most likely result in a heavy wipe-out to remember. 

How To Read A Oncoming Wave When Surfing

  1. While sitting on your surfboard, look at the horizon line. Once you've found a lump, identify the peak. The wave will start breaking from there.
  2. Compare the angle of the wave with the skyline.The side of the wave with the steepest angle is the direction in which the wave will break, and that's the direction in which you will ride.
  3. If there is no distinct angle on either side of the peak, then the wave will most likely close out.

Get to know the different types of waves so you can always be prepared no matter which breaks you are paddling out to. 

How To Catch An Unbroken Wave?

  1. Once you've identified the peak, you need to be fast and paddle towards it. In an ideal situation, you'll make it to the peak before it starts to break. Remember to make sure you don't drop in on someone.
  2. If you were not able to make it to the peak before it started to break, the ideal takeoff spot is close to the peak, on the pocket of the wave.
  3. Once you've made it to the takeoff, turn around so that your surfboard faces the beach and position yourself in the direction in which the wave is breaking and start paddling for the wave.

Other Useful Tips For Reading And Surfing A Wave

  1. The steeper the angle of the shoulder, the slower the wave will break. So, if you want to ride a faster wave, go for the straighter angle. If you don't have enough experience yet, go for the steeper shoulders, as they give you enough time to follow the wave before it closes out.
  2. If you are too far from the peak, on the shoulder, the wave will not have enough power to carry you as much.
  3. If you don't want to catch a particular wave, the safest place to position yourself is behind it, in deep water.
  4. When paddling for a wave, constantly be turning your head and assessing the wave. A common mistake made by beginners when they start paddling, is they look ahead at the beach and hope for the best. Be aware of the changes of the way and make adjustments to your position accordingly.

Learning to catch unbroken waves is the next step when progressing from a beginner status, and hopefully this article has highlighted some critical tricks of the trade that you can apply the next time you hit the water. For more advice, product reviews and general water sports topics, head to Wetsuit Centre Blog

Alternatively, contact Wetsuit Centre directly to speak to one of our team members.