Justin west coaching notes

There is always "that guy or girl" in the line up that seems to effortlessly paddle in to the best set waves and is consistently in the right spot!  


Locally to where I surf it is usually my buddy Miguel Mouzinho, his wave count in an average session is incredible, even after a serious knee operation.  How does he do it?  How can you increase your own wave count?  More waves more improvement more fun.


From my experience coaching intermediate to advanced level surfers the key area to increase wave count is becoming more aware and analytical of your positioning.  Of course there is also increased paddling fitness but in the ocean I always advise "energy conservation"....how often do you see those guys paddling like crazy looking straight to the beach and the wave just passes under them?


I like to coach my surfers to not follow the crowd, to learn the techniques to safely surf a less crowded line up.  At a competitive level positioning in a heat is like a game of chess...get it right and you can take out the heat.  Kelly Slater during his heats actually conceals and bluffs his line ups, surfing is a sport where intelligence, analysis & wave knowledge can out surf physical fitness.


Energy conservation "go with the flow";

  1. Use complimentary interval training & ensure a good 8 hours sleep
  2. Consume a decent amount of proteins, aminos and carbs from sources such as egg whites & oats for breakfast.
  3. pre surf supplement with creatine 
  4. Analyse the line up, entry point, currents & rips from a high viewpoint
  5. work out the inshore longshore drift running left or right on the beach this affects your entry point and most probably feed into an outgoing rip
  6. Use the available currents or rips; learn to see them, usually they are where the waves are not breaking 
  7. walk as far as you can, remember the whitewater surges with power
  8. Stating the obvious here but chose a paddle out line that does not affect other surfers up and riding. 

So you have made it to the line up hopefully without expelling to much energy duck diving, remember "go with the flow".  Where should I position myself?  Where are the waves peaking?


My advice to all my students is to be aware of how the waves are breaking even as you paddle out, take time to sit and "recover" in the channel (stating the obvious be aware too the line up of surfers and not to jump the line and snake a wave).


Ask yourself where is the wave sectioning, is it a fast take off with a slowing up section, can I make the wave if I take off on the first part of the wave to break...should I take off further down the line where the wave is more makeable?  Know your level, be honest with your self are you going to catch any waves on the outside peak into an immediate fast section with a slightly slower take off?



Line ups.  The ocean is always moving you must be aware that you will be out of position very quickly unless you increase your own awareness of where you are.  Do not rely on other surfers the line up, you are not a sheep.  You can do this by using fixed markers on the land that you can pre define before paddling out, in my coaching sessions I use two poles in line with each other...a gap appears between the poles and you have drifted out of your planned take off zone.  Be aware of the tide, your take off zone will move!  If you haven't caught a wave for awhile return to the beach, recover, energise and reassess.

On a long period swell I advise never to take the first waves in a set, let the first few pass, it clears the line up but also you can re position and re assess by watching the first few waves from behind running to the beach.  


Analyse what was the shape of the incoming swell as it approached and how did it break to the beach?  Smaller sets the swell wont break on the main peak but it will rise up and indicate where the sandbar/reef is underneath.


As you paddle for your wave prepare early, oxygenate by taking three deep breaths, ensure correct trim position; look to the approaching swell over you shoulder increase decrease paddling, refine direction, adjust trim nose to tail and also rail to rail..the last few strokes & trim position should be decisive in helping direct your board in your chosen drop line.



  1. analyse the break from above, "go with the flow"
  2. analyse the take off options, sections, walls and slow ups of the wave as you paddle out
  3. recover, assess & analyse in the channel pick your moment to join the line up, even better move to your own take off zone.
  4. be prepared to change tactics if wave count is slow
  5. use pre defined line ups of fixed land based objects
  6. watch the first waves in a set from behind, analyse their shape as they approached you and how they run to the beach
  7. waves will always break differently but there are similarities
  8. use smaller swells that peak yet do not break to indicate take off zones of bigger set waves
  9. look at the wave as you paddle for it, increase or decrease your paddling power, adjust trim of your board nose to tail or line rail to rail depending on the shape of the wave forming or the line you want to take


Once you have worked out your take off zone, a couple of strokes and you will be in to a great wave......how you paddle, how you drop the wave, the line you take is another article!



Justin West is based in Portugal, a coach to two national champions, a regional champion and fitness trainer of two professional surfers.  He has been coaching surfing to intermediate, advanced and elite level surfers for over 20 years.  For more information on how you can improve your surfing check out his website www.justinwestcoaching.com