Everyday surfer problems: efficiency in movement

The Everyday Surfer Problems series by Jez Browning of UniSURFity aims to make you a better surfer. And let’s face it, pretty much everyone wants to improve their surfing. That’s why you’re here in the first place. Looking for the best waves in your area, or where to go on a surf trip. Maybe you’re looking at new kit: fins, a board to go faster, get vertical, or make more sections. And yes equipment is important, good waves are important, but technique is everything.

However this key controlling factor is often ignored. It’s like someone sitting down in front of the most beautiful scene, with the best oil paints and materials, but they just haven’t a clue on how to paint. Good surfing is efficient surfing and the best make it look effortless and fluid. John John, Julian, Jordy, Dane and Slater still seem to punt huge full rotational airs but smoothly and effortlessly. Yes they do have some natural flair that puts them above the rest. However they all have highly efficient movement.

So how do we get efficient in our surfing? Simple really.

  • Only try to control what is possible: ourselves 100%, nature 0%
  • Efficient movement can only come from a relaxed body
  • Time creates control to opportunity
  • First step to control is awareness

So that all sounds like a self-help book from a Zen master, feel free to apply it to your life. But we’re talking about surfing here. So how do we apply this to our next surf session?

We can’t control nature. Surfing exposes us to a plethora of factors, the majority belong to nature. I was always told not to fight anything bigger than you. The sea is the biggest and most powerful thing on the planet. So it’s best to stop fighting it and start flowing with it.


Watch it, feel it and eventually understand it. Get yourself a book on oceanography (Surf Science by Tony Butt is a fantastic place to start). Understand how your break works. You can do this by watching the waves for 15 minutes before you go in. Make that even more efficient by doing your pre surf warm-up facing your break. This not only helps you to see what the waves are doing, but it also helps you to visualise what you can do on those waves.

The sea has a rhythm (usually). By watching it for a while you will start to tune into it. Start mind surfing the empty waves. This is the equivalent of visualisation that many athletes and performers rely upon before a performance. Your surfing is kind of a performance whether it’s just to yourself or a panel of judges. Please note I mentioned empty waves only. If there aren’t any coming through then maybe that particular lineup is too crowded? Look for a spot further down the beach or another break. You’ll have a much better time trust me. Be a shepherd not a sheep.

So onto controlling us. Your surfboard is a man made object. Therefore it’s designed to be driven by your human input. It’s not some form of magic. It comes solely from your stance.

Your stance needs to be

  • Balanced
  • Solid
  • Flexible to adapt

A really good example would be a fighting stance, an exception would be Chris Eubank.

So bent at the knees, not at the waist. Chest up vertical, bum in and back knee tucked in. Your mass, which is the area just below your belly button should be over your feet. Front foot kicked out at 45 degrees to the stringer, back foot square. Your feet should be about shoulder width apart (if your trying this now, its about 4cm wider than you think). Oh yeah and not on tip toe. Use all of your foot from toes to heals to create a solid foundation.

Most important is for your head to be up. Look at where you want to be. The most common fault I see is people looking at their board. Why? If it’s not there you’re going to know. So why do you keep checking?

Now comes the very tricky bit: relax. That only comes from time in the water. However on your next few waves stop trying stuff and just be for a bit. Surf like you don’t really care. Your shoulders are key to governing everything from speed through to carves. Everyone says the head which is true, in a way, but only because we’ve never seen headless people surfing. However if you could live without your head, then it’s all down to where your shoulders point. So relaxed shoulders create a relaxed upper body, which can only feed down to your board and therefore your style. Your shoulders are the driving force in every way to your surfing. They are the weight governors, the message givers to your board. A relaxed stance can only help these messages get across more efficiently.


How do we create time on a wave? Parko is the king of creating time on a wave. Yet he’s travelling faster and moving faster than we can comprehend. So how and why does it look so smooth and slow? He’s simply travelling further. In other words using more of the wave.


As I said before, look at the sea for a while before you paddle out. Get a bit of a game plan going in your head. Once you’re out there, your perspective on the lineup diminishes drastically.

Things to know before paddling out

Where is the channel? This basically means where are waves not breaking so that you can paddle out easily (efficiently). Even better is that you get instant respect as you don’t get in anyone's way. A clue is that the channel is to the sides of the main lineup. Not in front of it. Most surfers paddle straight through the lineup, duckdiving every wave, getting in everyone's way. They then sit out back tired, a bit confused as to why everyone else is staring at them in disdain. They then drift into the channel and not catch any waves for an hour. Don’t be this person. This isn’t rocket science but yet I see it all over the world’s lineups. This is very basic surf etiquette. Surfing is a rule free activity in some respect however we need some basic rules to keep everyone’s surfing mojo intact. So read it, learn it and then help educate others around you.

What’s the pecking order? Who has more right than you out there? Really it shouldn’t be anyone. However localism does exist, and therefore respect where respect is due will help pave the way to a much more enjoyable surf. If you think of it like a bar. If it’s your local, then you can probably nod to the bar staff and get your usual. Do that in a foreign bar and they’ll look at you as if your crazy and get thrown out. Don’t push past people. Wait your turn. The odd person might get served before you, which is ok. However don’t let everyone and anyone push past you. Oh yeah and once you’ve been served your order of drinks, and you spill them over. It doesn’t give you the right to turn around and get served right away. Go back to the end of the queue.

Apply the above analogy to a surfing line-up and we will have nothing but bliss in our lineups and you'll be a better surfer.