The Second Peak
Wave strategy is all about finding out how to get the most out of your time in the water. If you are an intermediate level surfer in a fairly competitive area, you need to consider the benefits of surfing the second peak. The main peak at any break gets most of the action. People want to surf Lower Trestles, the Bowl at Bells and Pipeline. But you're not looking to sit in the water at the name break, you're looking to shred the break you can get waves on. You're looking to improve your surfing and are willing to make a few sacrifices along the way. The second peak is the one that isn't as crowded. It might not be as consistent, it might not be as big, but there are times when you will get more from surfing it.
Basically, lower the standards to increase the stats. If you're willing to take a few sloppy waves, you can dramatically boost your wave count. You can get into a groove and really feel things linking together. Sometimes that boost in flow is worth the drop in wave quality over the long run. As you pick up more wave you will get better at riding them, you will build confidence in the water. Soon you will learn to adapt to situations with ease, which will come in handy when you are ready to surf the main break.
You'll notice that even on a crowded main peak, a few guys are getting more than their fair share of waves. The top 10% of surfers on a peak will take between 30-50% of the waves. If you sit on a competitive peak, you can wait your turn, but it might not come. If you hit the second peak, you stand a much better chance of being in that top 10% or close enough that you get some more wave action.
As beaches get crowded, you will notice that most surfers will be hitting the peak that delivers the best looking waves. That leaves open anything on the inside, slightly down the beach or after a soft section at a point break. While the second peak might not be as good, at most breaks it will range in quality around 70-90% of that of the main peak. That isn't too much of a downgrade in quality for the boost in wave count you will get.
Next time you paddle out consider your surroundings. Are you getting enough waves from the peak or is it worth it to drop to a lower quality peak where you can get more waves? By acknowledging where you realistically fall in the totem pole of surfing you'll be able to have more fun, get more waves, work on your technique and eventually advance. Surfing the main peak might sound cooler in your facebook status, but if you're serious about long term improvement, then the second peak is the way to go.