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How to Generate Speed on a Surfboard

Learning how to generate speed on a surfboard is a crucial element to improving your surfing. Speed control, both increasing and decreasing your speed, is required for nearly any maneuver while riding, from turns, aerials, and barrels alike. When you've got a handle on the major surfing basics, including your duck dive, paddling, and pop-up, and you've locked into the right surfing equipment, the next focus to take you from beginner to intermediate surfer is to hone in on generating speed on a wave.

Start with the Basics

We will discuss more advanced methods for how to generate speed when surfing, but as with anything, you must build the base before progressing higher. The baseline, beginner speed production on a surfboard is quite simple and is the best place to start when practicing your first face rides down the open line.

Once you've progressed past riding the whitewash directly towards the shore, and you've figured out how to angle and control your board to ride parallel down the open face, start with this simple technique to generate speed on a surfboard:

  1. Bend your knees to move your center of gravity lower
  2. Keep the board positioned in the most powerful portion of the wave, known as the pocket. The pocket is the open portion of the wave's face just in front of the breaking whitewash.
  3. Keep your head/eyes facing down the line, and shift more weight onto your front foot by subtly leaning forward.

As soon as you place more weight on your front foot, you will immediately feel the board' kick into gear and start to move faster down the line. Learn this sensation, work on maintaining board control during your weight changes, and take mental notes of how generating speed on a wave changes your positioning down the line and how this affects your surfing.

Did you notice that positioning yourself on different areas of the wave changed the amount of speed you generated? Generating speed on the waves is a harmonious relationship between your surfboard, your body, and the wave, and varying points on the wave are better for increasing speed than others.

The higher up on the wave and the closer to the lip, the more speed you will generate. Generally, riding the top ⅓ section of a wave is the best way to increase speed on a surfboard. The middle portion of the wave is a nice 'middle ground' for generating speed, fast but not too fast, and the bottom portion is the weakest and usually slows you down. As well as this, remaining closer to the pocket generates more speed, and riding further away from the pocket (further down the line towards the non-breaking shoulder), results in less speed.

On the other hand, to slow your speed down, put more weight on your back foot to dig into your fins at 'hit the brakes'.

Once you feel comfortable transitioning your weight and using your front foot to increase speed, it is time to work on more progressive techniques to promote acceleration.

First, start by working to position yourself on these different wave points along the open face to feel precisely how this changes acceleration. Practice moving your board up and down these sections (the top, middle, and bottom), through initiating slight directional changes by placing more weight on your rails, going higher up the wave face for more speed, and lower for less.

These small adjustments to your wave position through weight distribution onto your heels and toes is known as "trimming".

With this, you are simultaneously beginning to learn the next technique that more advanced surfers utilize to generate speed on a surfboard: pumping!

Pumping to Increase Speed on a Surfboard

Pumping is the single best method for generating speed on a wave. Pumping is the term used to describe the act of a surfer riding up and down the wave face in smooth, connected motions, using their body weight, gravity, and these various power points on the wave to increase speed.

  1. The Pop-Up

Immediately after you pop up, bend your knees and direct your surfboard onto the open face by using your weight and the rails to lead this momentum. If riding frontside, lean slightly into your toes, and if backside into your heels. You must be quicker than the whitewash to avoid getting stuck behind, so don't let yourself drop straight into the lowest point of the wave trough, and instead, try angling your board into the middle portion of the wave during takeoff.

  1. The "S"

You can think of pumping as creating a horizontal "S" on the open face. Riding from top to bottom, you want your pumping motions to remain quick yet equal- as in, you don't want to spend too much time on a particular section of the wave. Too high, and you'll quickly outrun the power pocket; too low, and you'll get caught behind the whitewash.

Focus on smooth, controlled pumping motions as you direct your rails towards these various wave points to create this shape. Use your front shoulder as a means to control your direction changes, and don't dig your nails too deep into the face to avoid catching an edge.

Keep your stance nice and wide, and put more weight on the front foot when at the top section of the wave, using your back foot on the lower section to 'point' the surfboard back towards the lip.

  1. Body Compression

Pumping is way more than just wave position. It also requires the right forms of body compression as you reach differing wave points to further generate speed on a surfboard.

As you create your "S" shape, you have to use your body and weight to further compliment the speed derived from these power points.

When on the top portion of the wave, you want to compress your body lower, bending yourself down. This lowers your center of gravity, and by compressing your weight, gravity will help to push you back down the face with more speed and force.

When on the bottom, weaker portion of the wave, it's time to open back up your body and decompress. To do this, stand up tall to make yourself light. Making your body as light as possible is key to keeping this momentum as you let the power of the wave push you up with the flowing water. Too heavy, and you'll get caught behind.

Keep these motions as consistent and flowy as possible, like one big movement as you cruise down the line. Bend down when you reach the top to "S'' towards the bottom, and stand tall when you reach the bottom to "S" back towards the top. Try not to flail your arms around too much for more stability and style.

Tick Tacking

If you've ever watched videos of surf contests or surfers riding weaker, musher waves, you may have noticed them bouncing around their surfboard left to right on a flat section. They aren't pumping, but whatever they're doing seems to help keep them going until the waves regain power on the inside section of the sandbar. This is known as tick tacking or bouncing, another technique used to generate speed on a surfboard when there isn't enough power to pump.

You only want to bounce your surfboard when you absolutely have to. As you feel yourself lose power, use your back foot to lift the nose out of the water, and then transition your weight to the front foot to, quite literally, bounce your board forward.

You can complement this motion by also using the tail pad to bounce the surfboard from left to right to increase the momentum of your bouncing, just like tick tacking a skateboard. Eventually, the wave will pick back up once it reaches a shallow section, and you'll be able to begin pumping again, but tick tacking is an excellent way to avoid losing out on an inside section and for generating speed on a wave that has seemed to die out!

You will know when this is necessary when the wave seems to slow down, flatten out, and become too mushy before it reforms into a steeper section.

Now you Know How to Generate Speed when Surfing- Now What?

Once you feel as though you've mastered how to generate speed when surfing through trimming, pumping, and even tick tacking when needed, you now have the skill sets necessary to begin practicing your first carves and other surfing turns/maneuvers, and overall, take your surfing to the next level!

If you're still riding a beginner surfboard, then it might be time to progress into more intermediate equipment, such as your first shortboard. Then, take a look at our next article in the series "How to Surf for Intermediate Surfers" to discover the following milestones now attainable in your surfing journey.

As always, we're stoked you're here, and we love your passion for learning more about surfing. Remember to always reach out with any questions and utilize our specialized Board Engine when shopping for a new shred stick to receive a customized surfboard perfect for your skill level, weight, height, and other personal factors.

See you out there!