Troubleshooting Your Surf Stance

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Welcome to the Sea Hearts Surf Progression Series where we tackle the tough issues that plague every surfer at some point in their surfing journey. Today, we’re talking all things SURF STANCE because getting your surfing stance right isn’t easy and is a lingering problem I see in surfers at all different levels during their surfing career. Improper surf stance causes all kinds of issues like a lack of balance, inability to generate speed, initiate turns, and being stuck with very kooky style. The surf stance problem isn’t limited to beginners and quite a few people who have surfed for years still don’t get their feet and body in the right place.

So, we’re going to break it down body part by body part and give you some tweaks for each area that can improve your surf stance and make you a helluva better surfer.

Check Yourself, Before You Wreck Yourself: Your Surf Stance By Body Part

Here’s a health check for your surfing stance:

HIPS:

Let your hips lead. They are your first swivel point for any maneuver. Push your pelvis/hip forward to keep your body weight over the stringer of the board rather than bending forward at the waist. Surf through your hips, lead your body with your hips and follow with your torso, upper body, and head.

KNEES:

The key here is that your knees come-in towards each other, rather than spreading apart, especially your back knee. You must keep your knees tracking in towards each other rather than splaying outward to avoid poo stance. Likewise, you don’t want your knees to touch because you’ll stand up super straight, lack balance, and be unable to do much.

  • Poo Stance: This is one of the most dreaded postures in all of surfing. Basically, your butt is hanging out like you’re getting ready to take a poop on the wave rather than shred it. This happens when your knees open outward rather than tracking together. You won’t be able too shift your weight backwards and forwards (and you’re more likely to fall on your face or back) and you won’t be able to do much but ride along as the wave takes you.

  • To correct: Bend your knees, especially your back knee, and let them track slightly inward.

  • Get Low: everyone will improve their stance and surfing if they can lower their centre of gravity. Getting low allows you to compress into bottom turns, get more vertical, handle rough sections, and change direction quicker.

  • If you still struggle getting your knees to bend together (so many of us do), don’t fret, read this: https://surfeuropemag.com/features/ten-best-poo-stances.html Turns out some of the most accomplished surfers in history struggle with the poo stance as well.

YES: Knees tracking inward.

YES: Knees tracking inward.

NO: Taking a dump on your board.

NO: Taking a dump on your board.

ARMS:

Our arms give us control & balance. We don’t want both arms on one side of the board which will force you to use your butt and body to balance, and you’ll be pretty likely to tip over. Leading hand must be outside your heel rail and you back hand towards your toe-side rail. This improves your balance and gives you control for carving turns from forehand to backhand (backhand bottom turn, forehand top turn, forehand cutback).

Finally, try to relax your arms in front of you and towards each rail. Your arms should move in concert with your body, sort of like assistants to compliment your hips, torso, and upper body rather than independent limbs with minds of their own.

Anthea getting her hands over the rails and keeping ‘em relaxed.

Anthea getting her hands over the rails and keeping ‘em relaxed.

Here, we have a nice cut back on a flat section. Only problem? Her front arm is pointed at her inside rail which means she can’t open up her shoulder and look behind her at the section she wants to hit. Fix: get leading arm over the outside (heel) rail, look back at the top of the white water, open up front shoulder, lift leading arm and smash it!

Here, we have a nice cut back on a flat section. Only problem? Her front arm is pointed at her inside rail which means she can’t open up her shoulder and look behind her at the section she wants to hit. Fix: get leading arm over the outside (heel) rail, look back at the top of the white water, open up front shoulder, lift leading arm and smash it!

HANDS:

Again, relax. When you take off, you want your hands out in front of you in what I call the “ready position” or “ninja hands” but not together. Instead, each hand should roughly be over each respective rail. That is, right hand over right rail, left hand over left rail.

FEET:

I could write an essay about poor feet positioning alone, but let’s keep this digestible.

First of all, laterally speaking, your feet must be over the centre line of the board. Practice pop-ups on dry land with a line of tape on the ground so that you consistently land with both feet on that line. A couple of cm towards the left or right rail and you’re dead in the water so to speak. I’ve noticed it’s hard for surfers to adjust their feet laterally and having either foot off centre basically limits what they can do on that wave. Start-over, get your feet on the centre line. Also, avoid what’s called the “open surf stance.” This occurs where your front foot is pointing forward rather than perpendicular to the stringer. Open surf stance makes it impossible to control your board from rail-to-rail, get your foot dead across the stinger, not parallel or skewed in any other direction.

Second, you must get your back foot over the fins on the tail pad if you have one. Your fins lose their ability to create drive and act as a pivot point if your foot is way up the front of the board. You need to be able to shift your weight backwards and forwards and left and right. You can even get a feel for what it takes to move the board by riding waves on your belly. Get a feel for where your body has to be to accelerate or slow down and turn left or right.

Nice wave but, can you spot this surfer’s error? Hint: look at her foot positioning

Nice wave but, can you spot this surfer’s error? Hint: look at her foot positioning

EYES/HEAD:

I think I say this more than anything when I’m coaching but remember, where you eyes go your body follows. You can have the best stance in the world, but if you’re looking down or at your board, you are going to go down.

TIPS to Correct Improper Surf Stance

Pop-Ups and Tape:

As mentioned before, get out some tape or use a straight line on the ground and do pop-ups. Focus on popping-up with your feet perpendicular to the tape every time. Bonus for making two X's where your feet should go on your board and landing with your feet on those X’s each time.

Video:

If you are not sure whether your surf stance needs work, get someone to video you while you’re surfing. You’ll notice quickly whether you’re coming the cardinal sin of poo stance, standing up too straight, or suffering from bad foot positioning.

Single Minded Focus While Surfing:

If you identify that you need to work on your stance, try to focus on what you can do that will make an immediate difference. Usually, correcting where your feet land or teaching your knees to track inward will make a massive difference in your surfing stance. Practice what you want to do on dry land and then go out and surf for 30 minutes while you focus only on the one issue you want improve. Create an inter-mantra such as “get feet on stringer every time” or “bend your back knee inward,” and say that to yourself on every wave. After 30 minutes, relax and surf for fun, the World Tour can wait.

A classic look at Tom Curren’s bottom turn from the top. Note his hands, knees, and how low he gets.

A classic look at Tom Curren’s bottom turn from the top. Note his hands, knees, and how low he gets.