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The Surf Pop Up: How to Get it Right

A poorly executed surf pop up will ruin a good wave, so let's get it right, shall we?

If you want to know how to pop up on a surfboard, take these tips with you, and with some practice and consistency, you'll have this essential aspect to surfing dialed in no time.

How Does the Surf Pop Up Work?

If it wasn't for the pop up, surfing would look a hell of a lot different than it does now, and we would probably all be paddling around a SUP.

The pop up is the motion of bringing your body from the laying down, paddling position to your standing stance when riding a wave. The forward motion and power of the wave prevent the board from sinking, and the pop up is the second beginner surfing technique that you will learn just after learning how to paddle.

The surf pop up should look and feel as effortless and as one-motion as possible. Like anything that requires muscle memory, the key to mastery is avoiding bad habits and focusing on the proper techniques. The right things to do are as equally critical as avoiding the bad things, so try and remain cognizant of the little intricacies outlined below when you take your board to the sand or the sea to practice.

How to Pop Up Surfing: A Step By Guide

Let's break it down into two parts- what you need to do on the beach and what you need to do in the water, as it's best to start with learning the fundamentals on the sand before progressing into catching waves.

Part 1: On the Beach

The best way to practice your pop up is by replicating these movements on the beach, with your surfboard (fins removed) placed on the sand. This allows you to master the motion in a stable and safe environment to then replicate when on a wave.

  1. Determine your Stance

Are you regular footed (left foot forward) or goofy-footed (right foot forward)? You have to know what stance you ride before popping up on your board.

To determine your stance, either reference back to other activities you have tried in the past, such as snowboarding or skateboarding, or perform this little trick on the beach:

Stand in front of someone, facing forward, with your feet placed next to one another in a casual 'standing' position, with shoulders and body relaxed. Have the person behind you lightly push you forward unexpectedly. Generally, whichever foot you place forward first to catch yourself after they push you is your forward standing foot when riding a surfboard.

  1. Perfect Paddle Positioning

Your paddle positioning plays a massive part in how to pop up on a surfboard. The wrong position on your board, and you simply won't catch the wave. You can't ride it if you don't catch it, right?

You need to work on finding the sweet spot on the surfboard. Lay too far forward, and your nose will plane (nosedive) into the water. Too far back, and the tail will sink into the water, creating drag and hindering the speed and momentum necessary to catch a wave. You want to position your body somewhere in the middle of the surfboard, where your feet hover close to the tail pad.

Try paddling the board around in flat conditions until you find this sweet spot- you'll know it when your paddling feels like stable gliding across the water. Then, place your board without the fins on the sand to practice the rest of your pop up.

  1. Hand and Body Placement

Begin by laying in the sweet spot of your surfboard.

In a position that looks like a pushup, place your hands flat on the deck of the surfboard, just under your pectoral muscles. As you place your hands, arch your back up by raising your chest off the board's surface. When doing so, keep your toes and your thighs/pelvis touching the surfboard and head looking forward.

  1. Do the Twist

You will immediately transition into standing from this arched position, which is the most challenging aspect of the perfect pop up surfing. Why? Because it has to be as smooth as butter, and you can't use your knees to help you!

As you arch your back, continue this upper-body momentum/strength directly into your pop up, as you don't want to use your lower body and feet to spring yourself up. It is all about the arms.

Lift both feet off of the surfboard at the same time, but lead with your front foot, swinging it underneath you ahead of your back foot. As you do this, your body will twist into the sideways standing position, so keep your center of gravity low and knees bent.

Both feet should land on the surfboard at about the same time, as well, and the worst habit you can build here is using your knees to help yourself up.

Your front foot will land somewhere around where your hands were placed, and your back foot will land behind, spread a little more than shoulder-width apart. Ideally, your back foot should land on the traction pad.

Keep your feet located along the center of the surfboard; toes pointed towards the rails. If your board has a stringer, use this as the reference for the middle of the surfboard.

When standing, keep your knees bent and eyes looking ahead, as this is a great habit to build to begin reading the rest of the wave as you ride down the line.

  1. Practice!

The best thing you can do is practice how to pop up on a surfboard and do so again and again on the beach. With your finless board in the sand, perform this motion until it feels like second nature.

When you can swing your body into the standing position in one swift motion, without using your knees to help you up, then you're ready to take the surf pop up out into the water to try it on some real waves.

Part 2: Pop Up Surfing Waves

Once you feel comfortable with your pop up on the sand, and it feels like one, fluid motion, it's time to take it to the sea for the real deal. Always start in small waves, never surf out of your comfort zone, and take your time with the process, as learning how to surf isn't easy, so don't get discouraged!

  1. The Whitewash

The best place to start is to pop up on the whitewash of already broken waves. This will help you to get the feel of initiating this motion with a little bit of turbulence underneath, as the whitewash makes things less stable.

When a wave has crashed, paddle into it with a few strong strokes. Once it takes you, perform your pop up as quickly as possible, and keep your feet spread ultra-wide to promote balance.

When standing, keep your eyes looking forward, and don't lean too far into one of your feet.

  1. The Real Deal

After messing around in the whitewash, the real deal is to pop up surfing non-broken waves.

  • Position yourself in the lineup, a few feet further out than where the waves are breaking.
  • As a wave begins to peak, paddle strong into it.
  • Keep paddling as the wave starts to lift you and your board up.
  • Wait until the wave has picked you up into the top ⅓ of its height before popping up.
  • Initiate your pop up as quickly as possible.
  • Knees bent, eyes forward, and lead with your front shoulder.

You probably want to stick to riding straight towards the beach for your first few surf pop-up attempts. But after a while, you can begin to slightly angle your board in the direction of the open wave to start riding down the face as you learn how to choose directions.

How to Improve your Pop up Surfing

If you want to know how to improve your pop up or how to pop up faster surfing real waves, keep in mind these other pop up surfing tips:

  1. Practice, practice, practice

There's literally no such thing as enough practice. Again, sometimes it is best to practice on the beach before paddling out. Even when you think you have the motion down, a few trials on the sand will help with proper muscle memory.

  1. Use a Stable Board

A nice and stable beginner surfboard, such as a foamy, is the best style of surfboard for learning a surf pop up. Don't make it difficult on yourself by trying this on a shortboard- go for something long, wide, and stable with high volume.

  1. Watch Videos/Other Surfers

Sometimes the best way to practice is to watch what other experienced surfers are doing. Take some time watching from the beach or watching some YouTube videos at home to reiterate the proper surf pop-up technique.

  1. Never Be Afraid to Ask

Generally, other surfers are pretty rad folk. If you want some help, never be afraid to ask another surfer for a little advice. Their first-person take could help to pinpoint a weak spot in your pop up, and they might have some super applicable, first-hand advice.

  1. Surf the Right Waves

You can't practice on the wrong waves. Stick to nice and small, mellow and mushy waves as you work on mastering your pop up. Don't make things harder by surfing large, steep waves instead.

  1. Keep your Eyes Forward

Keeping your eyes facing forward is a great way to read the wave in front of you, and it also promotes balance and stability.

  1. Knees Bent!

You just have to keep those knees bent if you want to remain solid and stable on a board. You can bend them as far as you need when learning, and you will gain style with time. But for now, the more bent, the better!

  1. Enjoy The Process!

You're going to eat it a few times, and it won't be easy, but you only get to learn how to surf once in your life, so enjoy the process to the fullest extent! Be positive, consistent, and determined, and we promise you; you'll be a master at the surf pop up sooner than you think.