How To Pop Up On A Wave

Popping up is one of the fundamental skills of surfing, one you’ll need whether you are a complete beginner or a pro on the WSL tour. With knowing how to pop up on a wave and correct surfboard positioning being so important, it’s no surprise that there’s always room for improvement. This is why this isn’t just a beginner’s guide to popping up but also a valuable resource for intermediate surfers who want to better their technique and get more waves.

If this is your first time surfing, then start from the ‘Dry land’ section, or feel free to skip to the ‘In the water’ part for more advanced points on pop up techniques. Let’s get stuck into it!

On dry land

Before you head in the water, practice on dry land — whether the foreshore or your living room — to learn the correct pop up technique in a more controlled environment.

  1. Know your stance

Firstly, you’ll need to know if you are a ‘regular’ or ‘goofy’ rider. Stand with your feet close together and take a step forward. What foot did you lead with? If it’s the left, you’ll want to place that at the front of the board (‘regular’ position); if it is the right, then do the opposite and adopt a ‘goofy’ stance.

  1. Practice surfboard positioning

One of the key points to pop ups is landing with your feet in the correct position. Both should be in the center of the surfboard so that you don’t dip the board over towards either rail. Set your feet wider than the breadth of your shoulders, with your front foot at a 45° angle towards the nose of the board and the back foot perpendicular to the nose-to-tail line (the board’s stringer). While you’re practicing your stance and position on a surfboard, remember to crouch down (to lower your center of balance).

How to pop up on a surfboard — step by step guide

With these fundamentals sorted, let’s look at the key points to pop ups:

  • Lay flat on the board, with your head facing the nose and your feet touching the end of it.
  • Put your hands flat on the board, on the side of your chest, and elbows in (like a press-up position).
  • In a fluid motion, arch your upper body up, head and chest high, and pelvis pushing against the board.
  • Carry on the momentum from the previous step by “popping up” — rely on your arms (don’t use your knees on the board) to move your forward foot into position; the back will naturally follow.
  • At the same time, your body will be twisting sideways — remember to keep your knees bent and keep looking forward. Have your arms out to aid with balancing and direction.

While there are other, easier pop up techniques for beginners, such as using your knees or positioning your back foot first, we don’t recommend them as they offer short-term gains, sure, but they will hinder your progression and ingrain an incorrect practice that will be hard to correct. Following this beginner’s guide to popping up is the best way to put the right foot forward, if you excuse our pun.

In the water

Having revisited the key points to pop ups, let’s now look at how to pop up on a wave! You’ll find that there’s a big difference between doing the movement on firm, dry land, and constantly-moving water. Balancing on a surfboard is no easy feat, but there are no shortcuts there apart from practicing with similar sports, like skating and snowboarding, to hone your sense of balance.

With your fine-tuned pop up technique down pat, the key to how to pop up on a surfboard in the ocean is to understand how to adjust your stance according to the wave.

Basically, your surfboard positioning on a wave will impact your pop up in two ways:

  • If you are going straight

For beginners just learning to balance on a surfboard, the key is to not tip it over while getting to your feet. Having the correct pop up technique so you can distribute your weight evenly is critical to staying on the wave. Remember to keep your shoulders aligned with the hips and not open them up — turn only your head in the forward direction.

  • If you are going sideways

If you are an intermediate surfer that already knows how to catch a wave and is moving on from whitewash to green waves, it’s time to work on some small adjustments to your pop up technique. Your stance and position on the surfboard need to reflect the direction you want to be heading towards. While still laying down, ensure you are tipping some of your body weight to the rail that is in the water (while keeping your body in the middle). You also want to move the hand on the inside rail (the one in the water) slightly lower on the board, and the opposite hand should slide higher on the board. Doing so will allow you to put more of your body weight on the rail in the water as you pop up, as well as speed up your body’s sideways twist — resulting in a faster and better surfboard positioning once you are on your feet.

Master popping up and other surfing fundamentals at Kalon Surf

At Kalon Surf, we offer personalized and customized surf coaching for all levels. From beginners trying it out for the first time to keen surfers pushing their limits, our surf coaches can help you hit your goals while having fun and enjoying your holiday in Costa Rica. Our all-inclusive resort package includes the use of some of the best surfboards on the market (from Firewire and Slater) and daily personalized surf lessons on deserted Costa Rican beaches. What more can you ask for? Book your stay at Kalon Surf today and master how to pop up on a surfboard or more advanced techniques in no time.

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