JWC talks about the dynamics of catching a wave.
Waves from the open ocean have speeds that can vary from 12 to 20 kilometres per hour for smaller waves. A tow in sized wave at Nazáre can be travelling at nearly 50 kilometres an hour. In order to catch a wave, you must paddle in front of it with sufficient speed that the wave does not pass right under you.
Paddling by itself doesn't get you into the wave, because you actually cannot paddle as fast as the wave is moving, in order to catch up to the wave speed, it's necessary to use the gravitational potential energy of a wave. The trick is to obtain sufficient speed by paddling with perfect timing, as the wave travels under you, your board begins to fall down the face. As you drop down the front of the wave, the gravitational potential energy you gain is converted into kinetic energy. Soon you are travelling as fast as the wave. In fact, if you continue to drop to the bottom of the wave, you'll be moving faster than the wave -- and if you don't engage the rail into the face, you might temporarily outrun it and lose all your gained speed, a common mistake in the early stages of surfing.
I realised writing this short article that I could write a book with all the multiple technical aspects of simply dropping a wave. To try and keep things short and simple I have tried to divide the dynamics of control into three important sections. How you take off on a wave, in other words the angle you paddle in and the line you chose to take.
nose to tail control
Check your paddling position on your surfboard. The nose should be just out of the water with your head held as high as possible using your lower back muscles and glutes. Check this by paddling and lowering your chin to the board, the weight of your head should push the nose underwater, lift your head up again and pull your surfboard nose out of the water. This is "nose to tail" control.
Using this skill combined with better timing and wave awareness will help with a controlled take off. Always start to paddle for the wave with your head high, pressure on the tail of the board can help you stall the board slightly giving you time to go from prone to stance and stay higher in the wave. If you are slightly out of position, dropping your chin to the board or pressure to the nose helps you match the gravitational potential energy of the wave and also the tail is more open to be lifted by the wave energy itself.
rail to rail control
As you are paddling for the wave, once you have caught the wave prone you will be making some decisions on the angle you will drop the wave. This will be determined by your position, the wave shape & speed. In a previous blog we spoke about always watching the shape of the wave as you paddle for it & look down the line.
On smaller faster waves you might want to take a higher line, larger slower breaking less walled up waves you may want to draw a long arcing bottom turn to set you up for a top turn and a hundred variations between!
The key to the angle you take the wave is determined by your approach and where you engage your rail. Rail to rail control can be gained whilst paddling through pressure on the left or right lower ribs and looking in the direction you wish to go. Secondly as your hands come to the rail in the stand up routine you can decide to keep pressure through your hands on the desired rail as you perform the stand up. Combine both these techniques and the subtleties & consistency of weight distribution through paddling to stand up will help gain control in your take off.
The line you take is dependent on your position, wave awareness of what the wave is going to do.
Shane Dorian through his vast experience & agility can shift his body weight rail to rail, nose to tail and control his take off line with awesome accuracy. Shane makes dropping into a wave like this look easy and with complete control.
It is so difficult to get to a high level of surfing; for most surfers these subtleties of movement control are instinctive through repetition from such a young age. With the help of a coach & video analysis it is very possible to improve your take off and increase your wave count.
Justin West offers pro surf coaching & physical training from intermediate to elite levels both in the Algarve, Maldives & Madagascar.