School of the World
300 M Este 50 N De La Pops, Escuela del Mundo, Playa Jaco Costa Rica
Office (outside Costa Rica) +506.2643.2462
Office (Costa Rica)
Today’s post is about five of the most common mistakes that we see beginners make while learning to surf in Costa Rica.
Let’s face it- learning to surf isn’t easy. If it were easy though, everyone would do it, and those that stick with it love it for life. At our Costa Rica surf camp we have taught thousands of people to surf over the years and have made the learning process a heck of a lot smoother and faster. One of the tools we use to do this is video review. We video our surfers in action and then review the video back in the comfort of our surf lounge using the convenience of pause and rewind to point out the mistakes, corrections, and improvements of each surfer. We all have good waves and bad waves, and even the best surfers learn this way. Here are some very common mistakes we see beginners make:
This is a very common mistake people often make on their first day of trying to surf, and therefore it is one of the first things surf instructors caution against. It feels like an easier way to get up but it’s not, and it is a bad habit that is best avoided from the beginning. Going to your knees before standing just slows the board’s speed, makes it difficult to control, causes you to miss the direction and power of the wave, and beats up your knees. Our instructors teach how to pop up to your feet all in one motion, and practice at the school and on the beach before entering the water.
Over 70% of your body mass is above your waist, so you want that weight to be centered over the board. As you can tell from the photo above, bending over at the waist causes the surfer’s weight to hang over the side and changes the center of gravity. The weight of his head and shoulders is literally pulling him over to fall off the side. The correct position is to have the back straight and the shoulders aligned over the center of the board. It’s all about bending more at the knees and much less at the waist.
Incorrectly positioning the feet can also lead to your center of gravity being in the wrong spot on the board. The correct position is to have both feet aligned along the center line (stringer) of the board, about shoulder width apart. Exactly how far forward or how far back you stand will depend upon the size of the board and sometimes the size of the wave. Too far back and the wave won’t pick you up; too far forward and the nose of the board will dig into the water, causing the board to “pearl”. When your feet are placed correctly you are going to have better balance and move at maximum speed. When a surfer is in the wrong position on their board they will generally lose most of their speed, if not actually stall out. The strength and balance of the surfboard are in the center, so placing weight on the side usually causes the surfer to tip and fall.
This mistake is common and takes time for beginners to improve because it requires some experience reading the waves, some upper body paddling strength and stamina, and correct positioning on the surfboard. Beginners often wait for the perfect wave to come to them, but if you watch experienced surfers they have learned how to read the waves and know how to get in position to meet the wave exactly where it has enough power to pick them up but hasn’t broken yet. For a beginner this means they should:
1) Make sure you haven’t drifted too far in or out. Look left and right to make sure you are still in the “line up” of surfers parallel to the beach.
2) Watch for wave sets, try to gauge where the wave will have enough power to pick you up but not have broken yet.
3) Get balanced on your board with the board as level as possible on the water, with the nose slightly out of the water.
4) Start paddling in the direction of the shore before the wave gets to you to get some momentum and speed which will help the wave pick you up.
5) Paddle hard, and don’t stop until you feel the wave actually pushing the board or you are dropping down the face of the wave (this usually requires an extra couple of paddles more than what beginners think, so just give it a couple of extra strong paddles before you jump up!)
There are a lot of little factors going on at this moment that can cause you to catch the wave or not, like where you are shifting your weight or placing your feet for example, but the most important thing to remember here is that most beginners get excited and try to jump up too soon. Usually just a couple of more strong paddles would have done the trick.
Where the eyes go the rest of the body will follow. This is true for going straight to the beach or for turning down the line. Your eyes and head look in the direction, your shoulders follow, which has a corkscrew turning effect on your body that causes it and the board to turn in that direction as well. Looking straight down causes more of a balance struggle and often leads to beginners falling. This is one of the more easily corrected mistakes and students are amazed when they see that a slight shift of their eyes and body can make such a big difference in their surfing.