In the surf world, it is often said that anyone can surf a wave, but to surf it with style is another story. Surfing style is the visual aesthetic that draws many people to the sport, whether just to watch or to actually try. Learning how to develop your own surfing style is often an enjoyable and rewarding process, but you must be prepared to put in some work. Like the aforementioned “surfing proverb” suggests, surfing waves might be easy enough, but surfing with style usually takes a bit more time and practice.
Surfing Style Defined
Surfing style can be defined in several ways. For example, surfing style may be defined as one’s “surfing fingerprint” or, on a more meta level, as one’s own personal expression of the wave-riding experience. The larger surf community, however, would typically define surfing style as how a given surfer makes the inconceivable look effortless—how smooth the surfer looks as they maneuver across a wave, as well as how powerful their maneuvers are and how fast they are moving.
Ultimately, surfing style is subjective. That being said, the way to develop “good” surfing style is to develop good technique. Below are some helpful pointers on how to improve your technique and better develop your style.
Tips for Refining Your Surfing Technique
Keep Your Back Straight
All the best and most stylish surfers in the world surf with a straight back. There are no hunchbacked stylemasters because it’s almost impossible to rotate effortlessly while bending at the waist.
Keep Your Arms Fairly Still
The best surfers have relaxed arms. Their arms may look like they’re in motion, but really they’re just moving with the turning/twisting of the torso. When every part of your body moves simultaneously, you will surf your best.
Turn Your Back Knee Inward
Stance is super important in terms of function translating into style. The back knee being turned in, toward the nose of the board, is aesthetically pleasing. The back foot moves a little when bottom turning and again before top turning. With this slight bend inward, you are able to use it for leverage to generate speed or to maintain control through a turn or maneuver.
Keep Your Head Calm
Keep your head centered, smoothly turning it to see where you are going. Snapping it around too fast or lifting it up too soon after a turn looks rushed and takes away from the power and length of the maneuver.
Typically a stylish takeoff is one that doesn’t use a lot of strokes or energy (maybe one or two paddles) and is timed perfectly. “Popping up” is a bit of a misnomer because it involves doing more of a slide up or peel up to a standing position. It’s easy to recognize a good surfer from how he or she slides up onto their board into a perfect stance.
Ways to Develop Your Surfing Style
Watching your favorite surfers and surf movies will not only show you what is possible on a wave but will also give you something to emulate. Take note of the way they maneuver their boards and position their bodies in relation to the wave.
Film/Photograph Your Sessions
Try to have someone photograph or film your surf sessions. You can also utilize Surfline’s Camera Rewind feature if you happen to ride waves in front of one of their cameras. Watching and looking at this footage and/or the still images can help you better understand what you need to work on in regard to your technique and how to clean up your style.
Practice on a Rail-to-Rail Surf Balance Board
Another great way to learn how develop your own surfing style is by practicing on a surfboard balance trainer. Rail-to-rail surf balance boards simulate the movement of riding a wave and allow you to strengthen key surfing muscles, enhancing your surfing style even when you aren’t able to make it into the water.
Stay Fit/ Cross-Train
Staying fit and cross-training are the two best things you can do to help improve your style. Cross-training may include strength-training exercises such as lifting weights in addition to some cardio like running or swimming.
Dial in Your Equipment
Having the right board and fins for any given day can do a lot for one’s surfing and technique. Determining the right board for you will require a lot of trial and error. As such, you should test ride any board or fins you can get your hands on. Doing so will help you develop a better understanding of which boards on which waves suit your style the best.
Last, the best way to develop good style is to SURF!