What is “Surfology”?
Surfology — as I call it — is the study of harnessing the energy of waves and sliding down the rushing face of the wave. Simply put, it’s learning to master the art and science of waveriding and having fun in the “liquid playground” — much like the Polynesian kings who first rode ocean waves centuries ago. Although, now you don’t have to be of royalty to surf today like you did back then!
The Richard Schmidt Surf School has been the mainstay of surf schools in Santa Cruz to teach you — and thousands of others — how. We’ve been sharing the stoke since ’78! But while you’re thinking of grabbing a board and hitting the water, stop here on this page, and watch- read- and learn- before signing up for that first surf or SUP lesson.
Also, be sure to checkout my new blog that I’m starting called “Inside the Barrel: Richard’s Tips and Writings on Surfing”. It’ll be a hub for all my on-going surf-related advice and information.
– Aloha, Richard
Learn to Surf & Ocean Safety with Richard Schmidt
Learn from the convenience of your home or away from the beach with world-renowned big wave rider and one of surfing’s master teachers, Richard Schmidt. Richard’s Learn to Surf & Ocean Safety is an invaluable resource for any beginning or intermediate surfer looking for a comprehensive instructional video. Basic fundamentals combined with essential information on etiquette, safety and ocean awareness, make this video a must see for any aspiring surfer. Even though this video was originally created for surfers, paddleboarders will also find a wealth of knowledge that crosses over to SUP and ocean safety. We highly recommend watching the full video as a primer before taking a lesson.
Watch our Learn to Surf & Ocean Safety, vol. 1 trailer below.
I can’t think of a surf instructor more experienced than Richard Schmidt. He has a solid track record in surf that counts and knows what it takes to get beginning surfers started. His “Learn to Surf & Ocean Safety” video is by far the most superior of its kind to ever hit the market.
— Skip Snead, Surfing Magazine
Experience is the best teacher, and Richard Schmidt has crammed over (50) years of ocean experience, safety tips and raw stoke into a concise, one hour “Learn To Surf & Ocean Safety” video.
— Ben Marcus, Surfer Magazine
Learn to Surf: How to Walk on Water in Seven Easy Steps
Surfing has given me many unforgettable years of fun, health and recreation. After teaching beginning surfers for decades, I’ve seen the long list of obstacles that they have to overcome in order to learn. To put it bluntly, surfing literally takes years to master. But with the help of this instruction, you should be able to avoid many of the common mistakes that students make. Along with watching my Learn to Surf & Ocean Safety video above, here is a guide I wrote called, Learn to Surf: How to Walk on Water in Seven Easy Steps. It’s a great read for beginning surfers.
On The Beach
Once you’ve made all of your initial preparations, you’ve still got some work to do before you can paddle out for your first session. On the beach, we recommend that you practice a land simulation of the “pop-up,” which is the transition from your stomach up to your position stance. The pop-up is an essential fundamental for any beginner. It’s the link between bogging around on your belly and walking on water. The pop-up should be practiced as follows:
Draw a line in the sand to reference the stringer, or the wood-lined center of your surfboard.
Lie on the line with your hands back behind the shoulders.
Place hands flat on the sand and align them with your chest as if you were doing a push-up. When you’re on the board, your hands should be flat on the deck as opposed to wrapped around the rails.
Arch your back and push up as your feet come up beneath you in one motion. Avoid looking down as this will leave you hunched over. Instead, try and look ahead. Your stance should be just a little wider than your shoulders. Your knees should be bent without letting your midsection stick out.
When you’re in your position stance, your front foot should be sideways, turned out a little bit, with the arch of your foot centered over the stringer. Your back foot should also be sideways, but not quite as turned out. It doesn’t matter what foot you put forward, but you should pick one and stick with it if you want to learn faster. Figure out what feels most natural and go with it. If you stick your left foot forward, you’re a “regular foot” — the stance of 11x world champion Kelly Slater. If you stick your right foot forward, you’re known as a “goofy foot.” Don’t despair, though. One of the most powerful surfers of all-time, Tom Carroll, surfed with his right foot forward.
If you have trouble with the pop-up, try the above steps while pushing up on two bricks. The elevation will help you get your front foot up and underneath you.
Once you’ve got a decent handle on the pop-up, it’s time to choose your lineup strategy. Scan the surfing area and pick the right spot to paddle out. Avoid paddling out in the middle of a group of surfers unless that is the only option. Look for rip currents, submerged rocks, etc. Pick an area that has a clearly marked lineup of slow-rolling waves with the minimum amount of potential hazards. Above all else: surfing is supposed to be fun. Enter the water in a pleasant, relaxed state.
Entering The Surf Zone
Scan the horizon for sets of waves approaching. Wait for a lull before making the initial charge. Hold the slack of your leash so it doesn’t drag or get caught in any rocks. Never dive in to the surf zone because you never know for sure what may be lurking on the bottom. As you’re walking out past the shorebreak, hold your board to the side and don’t let your board get between you and the breaking wave. Once again: it’s important to know your limits. Your first surf spot should have an easy entry and exit, sand bottom if possible, with a minimum amount of people. To jump off the rocks and into a jam-packed lineup at Steamer Lane would be like a beginning skier charging a cornice bowl at Mammoth on a holiday weekend.
Traditional paddle. A general rule of thumb for body positioning when you’re paddling is that you want to see your board flat on the water. You don’t want to be so far forward that you see water coming over the nose, and you don’t want to be too far back so that the nose is sticking straight up in the air. Have your chin about three-quarters of the way up on the board, but keep your head up so that you have total awareness of everything that’s going on around you.
When you paddle, make sure your body is perfectly aligned with the center of the board. Don’t keep both legs to one side of the board and don’t lay your legs out on either side of the board. Extend your legs and rest them directly over the tail. With each stroke, hit the water with your hands cupped and elbows bent while reaching all the way forward. Go elbow deep in the water and then follow through as you would if you were swimming freestyle. Take fluid, relaxed strokes. Minimize unnecessary body movements. Your arms should be the only things moving. If you move your hips too much, your board wobbles back and forth and creates drag.
There are other paddle options. If you’re on the verge of catching a wave, a butterfly stroke might be the extra push you need to get you over the hump. Use both arms and pull simultaneously with equal force as if you were doing a butterfly stroke. Or if you want to spin the board around quickly to catch the wave, sit up on your board, grab a rail and use a modified egg-beater kick to turn the board around. If your board’s long enough, knee-paddling also helps break up the monotony. As with the traditional paddle, center yourself so that the board is flat. Kneel so that your calves and feet are tucked under your butt, and pull simultaneously with both arms.
Pushing Through Techniques
As you paddle out, the first thing you’ll have to deal with is the breaking surf. Avoid the initial impact of the lip since it’s generally the most powerful part of the wave. Even if you’re good at dodging the bullet, you will still have to deal with broken waves. If you have no push-through technique, whitewater can be a frustrating obstacle. You’re likely to spend more time making up for lost ground than riding waves. There are a number of different push-through techniques that you should have in your repertoire:
1. Push-up. In smaller waves, the push-up method is best. Get a lot of paddling momentum, and as you approach the breaking wave, push up so the wave rolls over your board and underneath your chest. Make sure you’re headed directly into the wave; if you’re angled or sideways, the whitewater will probably knock you off your board.
2. Duck-dive. When the surf is more powerful, it’s best to go under the breaking wave. The duck-dive is the most common technique, and it can be a major asset in surf from 2 to 10 feet and beyond. In order to duck-dive properly, paddle toward the breaking wave with maximum speed. Just before impact, grab the rails of your surfboard with both hands, push the nose of your board underwater, press on the tail of your board with your dominant foot and guide the board under the turbulence. The pushing motion combined with the weight on the tail should allow you to pop back up after the wave passes over you. Unfortunately, a good beginner board is usually too buoyant for a proper duck-dive. Even with a small, sinkable board, duck-dives take awhile to learn.
3. Turtle-roll. If your board is too big and buoyant to push underwater, the turtle-roll is a better option. As you approach the oncoming wave, grab the rails of your surfboard well ahead of your shoulders. Just before impact, turn over with your board so that it sits on the surface, fins up. While you’re underneath the board, a frog kick will help propel you and your board through the breaking wave. When the wave passes, roll right side up. The turtle- or Eskimo-roll also is an effective defense against an oncoming loose surfboard or an out-of-control surfer. When you see either one headed your way, assume the turtle position and roll away from the oncoming hazard.
Whatever method works best for you, remember this: unless you’re facing a Waimea Bay closeout, it’s bad etiquette to let go of your surfboard when other surfers are around you. Also, the surfer up and riding always has the right of way. If he or she establishes a direction, you’re obligated to move in the opposite direction, even if it means paddling into the breaking part of the wave and getting pummeled by the whitewater. In order to avoid any violations of surf-traffic etiquette, perfect one of these push-through techniques before surfing in crowds.
If you’re at a break that stays shallow for a long way out, it’s recommended that you begin by surfing whitewater. This can be achieved by following a few simple steps:
1. Prepare for launch. Wade out far enough to give you a long ride.
2. Liftoff. When a breaking wave approaches, get a little farther back on the board than you normally would, push off the bottom with your feet and take the whitewater straight toward shore.
3. Defy gravity. With your arms extended and your back arched, ride the first few waves in prone position. When you feel comfortable enough, attempt the pop-up method. Once you get to your feet, be sure to keep your weight centered equally over both feet. Your hips should be compressed and knees bent as opposed to sticking your center out. All good surfers-even the tall ones-have a low center of gravity.
4. Troubleshooting. The transition from the prone to the pop-up position may not be as easy in the water as it is on land. If you’ve mastered it on the beach but can’t seem to get the hang of it in the surf, check for the following flaws: a) if you’re tipping to the side, you’re off center; b) if you’re digging the nose underwater, you’re too far forward and c) if you’re regularly being passed up by the wave, you’re probably too far back.
5. Eject. No matter how fast you get the hang of it, you’re still going to wipe out more often than you complete a ride. When you do wipe out, always do your best to fall off the back and away from your board. If you fall off head first, be sure to do a belly flop or a shallow-water dive. Chances are you’re going to be in shallower water, so you want to avoid full impact with the bottom. When surfacing from a wipeout, come up hands-first to protect your head. If you end up pearling and fall off the front of your board, stay underwater for a little longer to allow the board to pass, then surface hands-first. After your first bad wipeout, you’ll understand why it’s a good idea to invest in a protective helmet.
Timing, Positioning, Trim
After you get the hang of riding whitewater, it’s time to paddle out farther and ride the curl. The curl is the spot that separates the whitewater from the unbroken swells. It’s what gives surfers that true feeling of glide. Once you get a good feel of riding the curl, you’ll enter a whole new world of speed, options and maneuverability. Here’s how to do it.
Timing is the hardest thing to pass on to a student. It comes from hours of watching the ocean’s every movement. After all these years, I still find myself paddling for waves and missing them. Nevertheless, there’s still a method to the madness. Once you get beyond the breakers, paddle to a spot where you’ve seen waves break consistently. You should determine this by watching the waves before you paddle out.
While you’re waiting for a wave, your focus should be on the horizon, and you should be ready to spring when you see approaching swells. It’s a good idea to mark your lineup with reference points on the beach. Try to find two objects to line up: a palm tree, chimney, radar tower, whatever — and stick to that lineup to place yourself in optimum position for every set.
A common question asked by beginners is, How do I know when to turn around to paddle for a wave? Unfortunately, there’s no correct answer. For one, the surfer closest to the curl has the right of way, so if there are other surfers paddling for a wave and you’re on the outside of them, let it pass. When a wave does approach that has your name on it, you want it to come underneath you just as it’s about to break. If you’re in perfect position to catch the wave, you may only have to take a couple of strokes just before the wave reaches you. If it looks like the wave is going to break well inside from where you’re positioned, you may have to start paddling well before the wave approaches.
The shape of the wave should determine your angle. If it’s a slopey, slow-rolling break, you should paddle into the wave straight-on and still find the curl. If it’s steeper, you might have to approach it at an angle to help avoid pearling. When you feel the momentum of the wave and pop up, be sure to arch your back and compensate for the downward motion so your nose won’t pearl. On the other end of the spectrum, be sure that you don’t stand up too soon, or you’ll go out the back and lose the wave. Whatever the case, you want to stand up at the top of the wave and enter into it in one smooth, gliding motion. You want to tap into the speed of the wave right off the bat.
Once you’re up and riding, you need to set your inside edge and turn across the wave in order to stay with the curl. Most surfers begin to turn by leaning off their toes and heels, but it’s a lot more efficient if you learn to pivot and rotate along with the basic toe- and heel-leans. Try these steps to complete your first turn:
1. Make sure you start your turn from a low stance.
2. Turn your head, point your leading arm and rotate toward the direction you want to turn in. Think of your hips and shoulders as a unit, working together. Put as much weight as possible on your back foot and push your tail in the opposite direction you want to turn. You should notice that the nose of your board is now at more of an angle toward shore.
3. Turn your board according to how fast the wave is breaking. A down-the-line wave takes an extreme angle to stay with the wave, whereas a slow, mushier wave requires less of an angle.
4. When you’re cutting across the wave at the speed and angle required by the breaking wave, it’s called trimming. This is achieved by keeping the weight forward on the inside rail and guiding the board with the front toe if you’re facing the wave, and with your front heel if your back’s to the wave. Once you have the trim wired, you can start experimenting with climbing and dropping on the wave face by using the same turning techniques.
5. You won’t have many of these in the early stages, but you’re going to face a time when you complete a ride and need to kick out of the wave. To kick out, make a more extreme turn back out toward the ocean. This should steer you out of the wave and into calm water. The other option is to step on the tail and lean back. This should slow you down to the point where the wave passes by you.
Exiting the Surf
When you’re starting out, try to avoid surf spots with heavy shorebreaks. If you do find yourself in the middle of a shorebreak, wait for a lull, then paddle in on the back of a swell. Keep your eye on incoming waves and exit the water as quickly as possible.
When you’re coming in at a reefbreak, you might want to paddle in through the shallow zone with the fins up. If it’s too shallow, you should get off your board, tread lightly and walk your board to shore.
The trickiest spots to exit the water are in rocky areas during high tide. After watching other surfers and seeing that the rocks are the only option, take a similar approach as you would at a shorebreak. Wait for a lull, ride the back of a swell as close to the rocks as possible, then, like a crab, scale the rocks as quickly as possible. If you miss your initial exit, wait for the wave to pass and try again during the next lull. Never be caught right where the wave impacts the rocks. If, for some reason, you do get caught in that situation, place your board between you and the rocks and lift the board above the wave to lessen the blow.
I hope this will help make learning surfing an enjoyable experience. Set goals for yourself, but don’t expect things to happen overnight. Surfing takes a lot of time and dedication. But once you get the hang of it, I think you’ll agree that it’s one of the best activities in the world. See you in the lineup.