Womble Guide To Surfing


If you are reading this, then it probably means that, in the not too distant future, you will find yourself on a beautiful sandy beach, with the sun beating down, watching the light glisten on the crests of perfectly formed waves. You’ll have your boat in one hand, your canoe in the other, ready to surf away to your hearts content.

Alternatively, back in the real world, you’ll be peering through the mist and drizzle, at enormous waves crashing in from the distance. You’ll be wondering whether the stick like thing with two flat ends will really be any good in your freezing hands, and which way round you’re actually supposed to sit in the lump of plastic by your feet that you’ve just hauled over miles of soggy sand and mud.

Don’t panic! – Help is at hand – The definitive guide to surfing is here…..

Getting started

O.K. so you’re on the beach with a canoe in one hand, your paddle in the other and hopefully not too bad a hangover. What else do you need? Make sure you have a helmet on. Even if there aren’t any rocks about, and you are in control of your boat, it’s all too easy to get wiped out by someone who isn’t. It is also pointless to attempt surfing without a spraydeck so make sure you are confident using one and have practised some sort of capsize drill before you venture out on your own.

Make sure you are always well within sight of other canoeists. Be aware of any strong wind of rip current. A rip current is a channel of water which is running out to sea. If you are careless, these can quickly push you down the beach or right out to sea. Also keep clear of any rocks (especially if you are in a club boat!)

The Bongo Slide

After splashing about in the broken surf for a bit, you’ll soon realise that it is relatively easy to stay upright while your boat is perpendicular to the waves, but as soon as you turn sideways, you fall over. Even the smallest wave is powerful enough to flip you, unless you are prepared.

When you are sideways on to a wave you must lean in towards it, not away from it, use a low brace or a high brace to stay upright. You may be surprised how easy it is to do this, if you stay upright the wave will race you in towards the shore – you are now bongo sliding!

As long as you are committed to your lean it is virtually impossible to get rolled over. At first you’ll probably find a high brace support easier (remember to keep your elbows slightly bent). However, when mastered, a low brace support requires much less effort and gives more control. In fact it is possible to control which way you travel along a wave by leaning forwards or backwards (this avoids many collisions!)

Getting Past the Break

Altough it is possible to surf broken waves, real satisfaction comes from getting on a nice smooth, glassy wave, and surfing it for as long as possible. To do this you will have to get through all the soup and beyond the breaking waves. Most of the time this will just require a good deal of hard paddling and determination, however here a few helpful tips:

There is a certain amount of timing involved, as you don’t want to be caught at the peak of a wave just as it breaks. It is a lot better if the wave expends it’s energy breaking in front of you instead of on top of you! It is also easier to punch through a broken wave if you lean forwards and PLF (Paddle like F***!) as it hits you.

Often, if you watch the waves along the beach, you will notice areas where the waves are not as large, forming an easier route out. These are caused by rip currents which stop the waves from forming as well. This is obviously the line to take and is often near the centre of the beach.

Catching your First Wave

Having paddling out to relatively calm waters, get your breath back. Now your problems begin again; how do you get back in to shore? You could paddle slowly in, wait for a wave to break on you and then bongo slide in, but for maximum style catch a wave and surf in.

First you have to pick your wave. Don’t be a wimp and choose a ripple, go for something substantial as it will be much easier to pick up. Seeing your wave building in the distance, you should turn round and face the shore. Now keeping your boat straight, watch the wave over your shoulder. When it is about ten or so boat lengths away, lean forwards and paddle hard. It is most important to lean well forwards as this will require much less paddling power. You should now feel the wave lift the boat and start to push you along.

What to do Next

Once you have caught the wave, you will have to put some effort into staying on it. If you do nothing your boat will turn one way or the other and the wave will leave you and your glory behind.

The wave can be thought of as pushing you along behind, and that combined with the friction of the water against the front of the boat will create a large turning force. To overcome this, simply put in a stern rudder to straighten yourself up, i.e. if you feel yourself turning to the left, put in a stern rudder in the right. After a bit of practice you will soon be able to steer and feel in control.

It is also a good idea to lean back as this lifts your boat’s nose out of the water and will give more manoeuvrability. Leaning back will also keep your boat nearer the top of the wave face, which will allow a quick break off before the wave breaks. If you want a longer ride, lean forwards a bit and you can outrun the wave, watching it break behind you.

The Drop – In Rule

When there are lots of people on the water and especially when there are people doing sports other than kayaking, it is important to obey a simple rule that prevents collision. This applies to “boardies” especially and is often referred to as the “surf rule”. Basically, if it looks like someone else is catching the same wave as you, whoever is nearest the ‘curl’ of the wave (the back, or ‘shoulder’ of the wave) gets priority over the wave and the other person must drop back. It may seem pointless if you are a fair way from them but bear in mind that board surfers travel diagonally across a wave, and if they hit you it hurts! (likewise if you hit them, they are often not best impressed). So be patient and wait for a nice wave that no one else is catching at the same time for a groovy, trouble free ride.


As you will have discovered, waves contain a lot of power. When harnessed correctly, you can achieve some quite spectacular stunts. Of course a lot also depends on which boat you are paddling (i.e. not a tank!). Here are some bonza things to try when you start getting confident (and preferably know how to roll!):

Front Loop – catch a wave. When it’s about to break lean well forwards, with a strong stern rudder so you are perpendicular to the wave. The nose of the boat should dig in and you will do a forwards somersault.

Back Loop – As above but in reverse. This is harder as it is difficult to surf backwards. You need to use a bow rudder and lean backwards. often this is performed by accident if you are trying to paddle out through the waves but don’t lean forwards and paddle enough!

Popout – As for a front loop, but when you feel the boat standing up, throw your weight backwards and stand on the footrests. This should stop you from going right over and you will popout of the water vertically.

Pirouttes – Whilst doing a popout, perform a low brace push and a strong hip flick. This should turn your boat as it pops out.

Handsurfing – Catch a wave, then throw your paddles away. Now lean back and use your hands like paddles to steer. Don’t do this in big surf or you will lose your paddles. Make sure you can handroll first!

O.K. Remember most canoeists like a good yarn and take great delight in relating their skill and knowledge to others (why do you think we wrote this!). So don’t hesitate to ask the ‘experts’ any questions, we were all beginners once.

Retrieved from a wiki backup (2007) – dc