The Ultimate Surf Guide
Surf Ride Short Link
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It’s cold outside, but your toes are cozy warm inside your sleeping bag; a feeling only matched by the nest egg of a bald eagle perched high up on the windy cliffs of the Sierras. You are awakened by a beam of sunlight that snuck its way through the port side window of your sea-foam green VW van, parked (stuck) in the sand near the Mango trees surrounding the river mouth. The warm sun has awoken you, just as the tide has started to fill in, pushing the swell towards the offshore winds. You lift your sleepy head up to peer out the starboard side window just in time to see a perfect A-frame unload on the sand. Get up.
After you rub the sleep out of your eyes, but before you sprint down the beach, there are a few things you should do pre-surf-sesh. Below is a checklist that will ultimately help you attain the vision / feeling we are all looking for; a clean barrel ride.
Check The Waves
Whether you live near the water, or in the valley, checking the surf is the first step to getting tubed. There are countless online outlets for checking swell direction, wave height, tides, and wind. A little research on weather forecasts and buoy reports will increase your chances of an epic session.
You don’t have to be a yoga master, but a solid stretch routine pre-surf will help you stay limber in the water. Flexibility is a key component in surfing. Staying fit, eating right, and stretching will help you rip.
Watch For Rip Currents
A ‘rip current‘, commonly miscalled a ‘rip tide’, is a strong channel of water flowing seaward from near the shore. When waves and wind force water towards the shore, the water has to go somewhere. It will run along the shoreline until it finds a channel, usually between sand bars, or along piers and jetties. The water will run out to sea, and take you with it if you are not careful. Rip currents can be used by surfers as an easy way to get from the beach to the line-up, but be careful. Rip Currents can be sneaky.
Waxing your surfboard is a necessity. The amount of wax applied is a personal preference. You need to have wax on your board anywhere your feet will stand during your surfing experience. There are different types of wax that correlate with water temperatures. Usually a cold, cool, warm, and tropical selection.
Before jumping into the water, check to make sure your fins are fastened securely to your board. The last thing you want is to slide out on a bottom turn from a missing fin. Also, fins cost money. Double check.
Unsure how to install fins on your surfboard? Take a peek at our short video tutorial.
Here comes a set, this one bending in from the south. You turn, put your head down, and paddle as hard as you can. You drop in, fly past the section, duck under the lip and the vision is yours; a sand bottom barrel. Spat out into the channel with a smile on your face, you turn and paddle directly back to where you took off from, yearning for another.
Larger, fit, local man, “Que pasa hombre?”
You think, “What did he say?”
LFLM, I said, what’s up guy? Why did you just cut me off?”
You think, “Uh, oh.”
Don’t worry, he probably doesn’t know anyone in the lineup at his home break, and probably doesn’t know anyone on the beach either. It’s ok, because you are by yourself, in his country. Psych. You blew it. Next time, mind the unspoken rules of surfing. Read on for insight to the un-scribed laws that govern the waters of the shallow oceans.
No Snake (No Cutting Off)
A snake is someone who drops in on a wave, after a surfer has already began to surf the wave, in a deeper position. This is frowned upon. If you snake someone, be ready to take some heat from the surfer you dropped in on, and anyone else surfing nearby.
The surfer who is sitting deeper to where the wave is breaking has priority of the wave. All other surfers should give this surfer the right of way. Other surfers must back off (kick out) of wave if they are paddling in, or already engaged in the wave.
Don’t expect to jump off a plane, paddle out at pipe and catch a set wave. Unless you’re a local, established pro or really really intimidating, it ain’t going to happen!
The best advice is to be mindful of the local rippers. Don’t catch every wave or paddle out with 5 other buddies like you own the place. Seriously, this will save you from a beatdown!
When you are on a wave, and you fly out the back. Could be for multiple reasons. You could kick out, knowing there is a better set behind the wave you are currently surfing. You could kick out after you realize you accidentally dropped in on someone. You could kick out because you don’t want to take the close out section on the head, etc.
It is common courtesy to share waves with others around you. If you get a good one, paddle back to where you took off (around others in the lineup) it would be nice to share the next set. Not only is it a kind gesture, you’re granted good karma may send a rogue wave right to where you are sitting.
Right Vs. Left
When surfing a wave towards the beach moving right, you are on a right-hand wave and via-versa.
Fontside Vs. Backside
When surfing a wave, if you are facing the wave, you are surfing frontside. If your back is to the wave, you are surfing backside.
When dropping into a wave at a critical time, if you reach down and grab your toe side rail, you are surfing ‘pig dog’. Pig Dog is commonly used when surfing heavy waves such as Pipeline and Teahuopo’o. It helps you keep the nose of your board out of the water and maintain balance in heavy situations.
Your VW leads you southbound click by click across the sweltering pavement. A hunch from your gut leads you right, onto the shoulder. You stare through your dirty windshield, crack a tinny and go. The sound of Jimi’s guitar and boards bonking together give you hype as you cruise down the dusty / bumpy road. You meander through the desert cactus, leading to an oasis of palm trees cascading through a small fire burnt valley and ultimately down to a sandy beach surrounded on all sides by cliff ridden plateaus. The water is crystal clear, blue tannins lapping against the coarse shelly sand. A set is looming on the horizon as you open your door. You’re there.
What kind of wave is this? Learn to decipher wave types / breaks below. This knowledge will help you decide which board to pull from under the seats.
Waves that break on a sandy beach bottom contour. Beaches breaks can be very good for surfing, especially when sand bars form from storms or big swells. When combined with the right swell direction, sand bars can produce awesome wave conditions. Beach breaks can generate beginner rolling waves, novice rippable waves, and even heavy barrels.
A point of land that juts out into the ocean and often transitions into a small bay. Swell lines can wrap around the land and sweep into the bay creating a long, consistently breaking wave that serves as a playground for surfers. Bottom contour could be sand, rock, or reef.
Reef is or was alive at one point. Small little animals called corals naturally create these hard rock like structures for their homes. Reefs can be rock hard, or covered in sand. It can often cause waves to break in a very consistent manner. Some of the worlds best waves are reef breaks. One such example is Bonzai Pipeline, on the North shore of Oahu.
Swell that travels through deep water and runs into a shelf of reef or sand bar in a violent, heaving manner causes a slab type of wave. Slabs often create huge, gaping barrels and are considered the most dangerous (awesome) to surf. When tide and swell directions line up perfectly at slabbing waves, the outcome can be an intense tube ride.
Photos courtesy of Surfer Mag