Surfing 101

How To Choose A Good Wave

choosing a good waveSelecting the right wave to paddle into will increase your chances of catching a wave and decrease frustration.  By being selective and only paddling for waves that will be worthwhile, a surfer will save arm strength, maintain their position in the lineup and ensure they don't miss out on the rest of the waves in the set.


To learn more about the best things to look for when in the water, we caught up with Australian surfing coach Martin Dunn.  Martin has been coaching competition level surfers for over 25 years.  When we asked him about what to look for, he gave the following advice:


paddling out when surfingWhen a surfer moves from riding whitewater waves to catching unbroken waves, there are a number of ocean cues that should be recognized to assist these surfers consistently catch the waves they paddle for.

Firstly, they should position themselves in the ocean to be able to catch waves on the peak, that is, where the wave initially breaks. This will give them the best opportunity to catch the wave and achieve the longest ride. In addition to this, the surfer should be out far enough from the beach to catch the unbroken wave and not get the wave “break on their head”.

Secondly, they should paddle positively when positioning for and paddling around waves. Too often, surfers paddle tentatively and “drift” around the break. If a wave is approaching, paddle with purpose to position yourself, or to paddle over the swell, seeking a better wave that may be coming behind. 


How To Decide Which Wave To Paddle For


A surfer must also decide which wave to paddle for. There are three basic types of unbroken swells that surfers must recognize to help them make consistent and correct decisions as to whether the swell is appropriate to paddle for and catch.

catching a good wave

1. Surfers often paddle for swells that could be classified as “flat” swells. They are flat in appearance and haven’t built up sufficiently for the surfer to catch. When a surfer paddles for and misses a “flat” swell, there are usually three consequences. They waste energy and effort, they put themselves out of position for the next wave, and the following wave can break on the head of the surfer, making for a harder paddle out, back to the peak position.


catching a wave wipeout2. Surfers also paddle for “pitching” waves, where the wave breaks over the surfer as they attempt to stand. This too-late takeoff usually results in a wipeout on the takeoff, with the result being an unsuccessful ride, compromised peak positioning, and wasted effort.


how to catch a wave3. Surfers should paddle for “half-built” swells. These swells allow the surfer to effect a clean entry into the wave, with the surfer’s paddle into the wave, creating momentum and speed that can be used to set up the first move of the ride. 




To learn more about wave selection, check out the following video from Martin Dunn at



wave selection




Recognizing which swell is approaching before the surfer starts paddling for a wave, is a fundamental decision that creates consistency when catching waves.  To learn more about wave selection and get more great surfing tips, check out Martin's online surf coaching program at

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