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  • Writer's pictureSurf Getaways

Bad habits to overcome to take your surfing to the next level

When improving your surfing and moving from beginner to intermediate surfer, the hardest part is often to let go of bad habits you picked up when you started surfing. These bad habits might not have posed much of an issue for you as a beginner, surfing small and already broken waves, but are preventing you from progressing to surfing bigger, faster and green waves.

Our surf coach Serena Adams is a senior surf coach. She began surf coaching in 1986 and founded her own surf school company, Surfing Byron Bay, with husband Matt in 1997, which now operates as Lets Go Surfing Byron Bay. She has ample experience with beginner and low intermediate surfers and which bad habits are often hindering students from improving their surfing. Below are the five main bad habits she recognises in beginner and intermediate surfers that prevent them from progressing and they need to overcome to advance their surfing.

1. Turning your back at the wave and paddling blind

When you see a wave approaching, don’t face the beach and paddle blindly as if your life depends on it. Rather keep looking over your shoulder at the wave whilst paddling. Follow what the wave is doing to see whether you need to paddle harder to catch the wave, or wait for the wave and whether you need to adjust direction to position yourself in the right spot to take off.

Position yourself so that when the wave reaches you, you’ll be on the shoulder, just next to the breaking point of the wave. You’ll want to be moving at the same speed as the wave as it breaks.

Jo getting in position at Serua

2. Hold on to the rails when popping up

Place your hands in the right spot on the deck: when pressing up you want your hands flat under your chest, as if doing a push-up, when popping up rather than holding on to the rails. Having your hands on the deck increases the space for your body to pop up in between your hands, improves the stability of the board and reduces the chance of slipping your hand off the rail and missing the wave altogether…

Moreover, you are more likely to release your hands off the deck quicker, rather than holding on to the rails for too long – allowing you to transition from the pop up straight into riding the wave and getting yourself in the right part of the wave.

3. Paddle with upper body flat on the board

The right paddling technique to catch a wave is to not lie flat on board, but arch your back to lift your upper body off the board so your weight is on the bottom of your rib cage. Try to reduce the pressure from your upper body on the surface of the board by tightening your glutes and legs to lift your chest off the board. Keep your feet together, lifted out of the water not to create drag, streamline your body and paddle whilst having your torso lifted.

As the wave catches up, keep your center of gravity in the middle of the board. If your weight is distributed too far to the front of the board, you will find yourself being thrown off the front. If you lie too far back, you won’t be able to catch the wave.

Margreet paddling out to Frigates

4. Adopting the wrong stance after popping up

Get your stance right after your pop up: make sure your feet are shoulder width apart. Have your front foot slight on an angle and your back foot parallel to the tail, with a lot of flex in your knees for a low centre of gravity for stability and mobility. Ideally, you land in this spot when popping up, but also remember: your feet are not glued to the board, so if you don’t land in the right spot immediately, you can still move your feet in the right position.

Having either a very small stance, or a very large stance both make it very hard to distribute weight forwards or backwards. This prevents you from accelerating or slowing down when you need to. The right stance is key to finding balance, and set you up for being able to accelerate, slow down and turn your surfboard with more control.

Marilise’s stance: shoulder width apart, flex in knees 👌🏽

5. Trying to transition to a shortboard too soon

The best way to become better at surfing is by catching lots of waves. People often feel they are ready for a smaller board and that a shorter board size means progression. However, if you have a hard time catching waves, popping up and riding waves on your freshly purchased shortboard, you get less opportunity to actually practice your surfing and slow down your progression.

Taking out the right board for the right condition and for your level of surfing means catching more waves and more practice catching and riding waves.

Boards ready for departure for our sunrise surf

Bonus Tip:

Have fun! Don’t take it all too serious! It’s great to set goals and focus on improving your surfing, but don’t let this take away your fun from being in the water.

Have a splash, laugh at your stacks, nosedives and faceplants. Cheer on others paddling for waves, hand out high fives for great takeoffs, give A’s-for-effort, and realise how awesome life is when you have the time to have a play in the water, surrounded by other frothing surfers, whales and dolphins.

Because in the end, the best surfer is the one with the biggest smile. Be like that surfer 🙂

Anna and Jo’s stoked faces paddling out to Frigates for their first time!


Photos featuring our Fiji Ladies Surf Getaways shredders: Ange, Jo, Margreet, Marilise and Anna. Who will all be joining us again on a Surf Getaway this year!

Does this make you want to plan your next surftrip? We’d love to see you on our Surf Getaways!


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