How To Generate Speed On A Surfboard

Create your own acceleration and learn how to surf faster.

If you’ve ever wondered how to create your own acceleration and surf faster but had no idea how and where to start, you’ve come to the right place. Whilst considered almost an “art”,  learning how to generate speed doesn’t have to be as difficult as it seems. Why? Because breaking down the basics, understanding the physics and putting theory into practice go a long way. This article is the key to unlocking your full potential and enhancing your ability to accelerate. Keep reading to find out how positioning, gravity, using the rails and different equipment affect your speed generation potential.

Access the full Speed Generation Online Course.

11 Tutorials

Speed Generation

Learn how intermediate and advanced surfers use specific parts of the wave to create their own acceleration.

0% Watched
0/0 Steps

See more…

Welcome to the acceleration station! There is no better time than now to get familiar with the technical side of speed generation. If you think it’s about time to shift your surfing in a more positive direction, this article is your calling.

More speed equals more possibilities, as most surfing manoeuvers require good momentum. Intermediate and advanced surfers can generate speed using specific parts of the wave to create their acceleration. If you thought speed generation came from just shifting weight over your feet, think again. At a beginner level, it is already possible to feel how shifting weight over the front foot provides more speed. Before you proceed with speed generation techniques, ensure you understand three key aspects that significantly affect your acceleration potential.

  • Is your surfing equipment helping you to generate speed? Do you understand how much a surfboard’s rocker, volume, and dimensions can affect your acceleration?
  • Do you know tips to find better quality waves and how to position yourself into them? Sometimes the problem is not just your technique but the wave itself that is poor.
  • Do you have a proper surfing stance? Speed generation techniques are useless without a proper stance, as you can’t shift your weight correctly.

Learn Better, Faster.

Try Barefoot Premium
7-Day Free Trial

5 Courses for Free
5 Courses for Free

‍Positioning For Speed

Generating Speed- Positioning For Speed

Have you ever thought about how you position yourself for speed at take off? Your starting point and entry into the wave will set you up for what you can (and can’t) do on a wave. Think about it. The aim is to use the gravity from the wave to your advantage to gain speed towards the shoulder. How you set yourself up to begin with is key. This a friendly reminder that technique isn’t always everything. How you position yourself at take off is the first step towards generating speed.

So what do we mean by “positioning for speed?” See the cartoon above. The idea is to take off at the peak, the steepest part of the wave and the highest point. You will gain speed by dropping down (thank you gravitational force) and have a longer, more enjoyable ride. So what happens if we drop in further away from the peak, towards the shoulder? Answer: the shoulder is the weaker part of the wave, meaning less speed, less power and a shorter ride.

Speed Generation

Generating speed is also surfing “top to bottom” on the wave. To create speed down the line, a surfer needs to position themself to take off somewhere where they will have a decent wave face to generate momentum by moving from top to bottom. This position will be different according to your speed generation skills. You must adjust your positioning to the line you believe you can draw on the wave. For example, a low intermediate surfer just learning how to pump down the line may have their ideal take-off spot further on the shoulder, compared to an advanced surfer, who generally would prefer taking off deeper on a steeper part of the wave to generate more speed. As you progress, your position at take off will change.


Generating Speed- Gravity

So how do surfers create speed? Two ways: gravity and rail engagement. Let’s start by looking at how surfers use gravity to their advantage. The bigger and steeper the wave, the more speed you will have. To put it into perspective, we can relate this to riding down a hill on a bicycle. A cyclist will gain speed by dropping it. The bigger and steeper the hill, the more speed you will gain. By taking off on the steeper parts of the wave, surfers generate speed by transforming gravitational energy into motion energy. This transforms potential gravitational energy into motion energy, helping surfers gain speed during the initial drop. You might have noticed experienced surfers often ride from top to bottom on the face of the wave when generating speed. By doing so, surfers gain speed each time they go back up and down the face.

Understanding the physics of pumping can give you some key insights into what needs to change in your technique. Have you ever wondered how skateboarders can start from the bottom of a half-pipe and pump themselves higher and higher on the ramp?

During the drop, all the gravitational potential energy converts to kinetic energy, and then the kinetic energy gets converted back to gravitational energy on the other side. Learning how they build this momentum on a skate ramp can help us to understand better how pumping in the water works, as a wave has a similar shape to a quarter pipe. So what does this mean for your surfing? The extension of the body when turning up on the face of the wave works similarly to skating on a ramp. Surfers also draw a circle as they turn, although they are going up diagonally when generating speed, compared to the skater going straight up onto the ramp.

Using The Rails

Have you ever heard of the expression “this surfer has really good rail game” and had no idea what it means? Having a good rail game is another way of saying a surfer is able to generate lots of speed by either pumping or through powerful turns using the rails. So, how is this possible? How does it work?

You can generate speed by using your rails to redirect water under your board. Rail engagement is mainly done by carving at the bottom of the wave or by riding on the top part of it, where it is steeper. This is how experienced surfers can drop in on a wave, turn at the bottom, and come back up the wave with loads of speed to do their maneuvers. This also differentiates between the equipment you’re riding. For example, a longboard does not generate speed like a shortboard, so surfing from top to bottom is unnecessary. You can keep momentum even further out from the pocket on a bigger board due to its size, floatation and added rail engagement.

The Pumping Technique

Generate Speed- Pumping

So what exactly is pumping? How does it work? “Pumping” is the act of surfing up and down the face of the wave in a smooth-flowing motion. Once you’re riding towards the top part of the wave, you won’t need to bury the rail. Riding high on a steep part of the wave, the rail naturally gets engaged in the wave and allows speed to continue to be generated.

This one is for the short borders. To generate speed, shortboards must surf from the top to the bottom of the wave. Why? So that they can gain speed with gravitational energy by going to the top of the wave, increasing water flow hitting beneath their surfboard, and then using gravity to go back down the steeper part of the wave.

When to compress, when to decompress?

So how does it work? How do I know when to go from the top to the bottom? What do I do with my body? Timing is key. The art of generating speed is a skill that takes time, practice and patience. It involves moving to specific parts of the wave while shifting your body’s weight at particular times. We aren’t just talking about hitting the precise part of the wave and going down. It will help if you understand when to be heavy (compress) and when to be light (decompress) to maximise your acceleration.


Speed generation- Decompress

Decompressing happens when you’re coming back up the face of the wave. In this specific part of the wave, you want to be as light as possible when going back up the face. As you start going back up towards the face, unbend your knees, stand high, and throw your arms toward the direction you want to go.


Generate speed- compress

Compressing happens when you’re going back down the wave. In this specific part of the wave, you want to be heavy so that gravity can push you down. After you reach the top of the wave, your board should start turning back down towards the bottom of the wave. At this moment, bend your knees and compress your chest down towards the front knee.



Positioning At Take Off

Speed Generation- Positioning at take off

Steeper Wave at Take Off: More Speed thanks to Gravity

Chasing a better ride? Start by prioritising taking off on the peak and dropping in on the steeper part of the wave. Your take off point matters and will determine how much speed you generate from the beginning. Let us not forget that the gravitational force will help you gain speed from the get-go and provide you with a better ride. This is a friendly reminder that how we position ourselves at take off is everything regarding speed generation.

Staying Near The Pocket

The pocket! It’s where the magic and most critical maneuvers take place. Also referred to as “the power source”, it is where gaining speed with gravity and rail engagement happen. Surfers riding smaller boards will rarely go very far from the pocket. If you watch an experienced surfer on a shortboard, you will notice that they have enough experience to know where to generate speed. 

If there is one point to emphasise regarding speed generation, it’s this: “we can only do what the wave allows us to do” (read that again). Put simply, you need to use the waves power and know where to find it to accelerate. So where is it? Great question. You can find the most power in a wave in the steepest part- the top third, closest to the lip (see image above). This area is commonly referred to as the “pocket” or the “curl“. This is where the magic happens! Experienced surfers go to get their “push” and set up their manoeuvre in this area. Take note.

Positioning: Stay Connected To The Wave’s Power

Staying connected to the power and what the wave has to offer is key. This in theory sounds simple, but a lot of understanding what the wave will do and predicting where you need to be positioned comes down to practice and experience. It’s more a feeling than anything else. Throwing your arms, compressing and decompressing, surfing from rail to rail and moving your feet forward are all useless technique tips if you aren’t surfing the proper area of the wave. A great place to start is to practice pumping up and down the wave, reaching the pocket for maximum speed generation potential.

Note: Avoid surfing too far on the shoulder or too low down the bottom of the wave. These areas are weak and hard to accelerate on. Learning to deal with the most powerful parts of the wave takes time. Be patient with yourself. The beauty of surfing is that you will never feel “done”. There is always room for growth and improvement, making it feel constantly exciting and new.

Setting The Rail To Redirect Waterflow

Setting your rail to redirect water flow happens when water pressure hits under the surfboard and gets redirected backwards, creating lift and forward drive. This will differentiate based on the equipment you’re using. For example, longboards redirect more water flow as more rail is engaged in the wave. However, to go as fast as possible on a shortboard, you must surf on your rails as you pump up and down the wave.

The Surfboard’s Rocker (banana shape of the board) slows you down drastically when your surfboard lies flat on the water. The best way to limit the “drag” of your surfboard is to surf it on its rails (edges). This way, instead of having all the drag of your surfboard’s banana-shaped bottom, your board is only partially in contact with the water (sinking on the right or left edge).

As the surfer decompresses and goes up the wave, their board sinks on the inside rail. Notice how one of the surfboard’s rails sinks in the water, and the other half of the board is out of the water. This will limit drag as the surfer moves forward.

Trimming: Equipment & Positioning on the wave

Fact- how we gain speed depends on the surfboard we are riding. Your potential to accelerate by using your rails depends on the equipment you use. For example, longboards redirect more water flow as more rail is engaged in the wave. Therefore, longboarders can gain speed by moving forward on the board and applying weight over the heels. Without needing to use gravitational speed for energy, they can “trim” down the waves face. Therefore, longboarders don’t necessarily need to go up and down the wave as much to accelerate.

Longboard surface engagement:

Generating Speed- Trimming and equipment

On the other hand, shorter surfboards don’t have the same amount of rail engagement and surface area. That’s why trimming down the middle of the wave isn’t sufficient to keep up with the wave’s peeling speed. Where you trim on the face of the wave also dramatically affects how much speed you can generate when trimming. To summarise, bigger boards allow for more speed generation to compensate for the lack of pumping technique. Once you progress and downsize, your pumping technique will gradually improve, making it possible for you to move and gain speed easily on a smaller board.

If you are riding a longboard, check out the “How To Cross Step” course, as it would be very relevant for you to learn more about speed generation.

Pumping: Line, Compression/Extension & Timing

This surfer in the cartoon above draws the correct line, adequately using the whole face of the wave. Going from the top of the face of the wave, down the face, and just over the bottom of the wave. If you take a look at videos of experienced surfers, you will notice that they use the wave face; however, usually, come back up to the top 3rds. 

What not to do: Steer clear of surfing further down the bottom of the wave in the flats. You will quickly lose momentum there. Also, try to avoid wiggling down the middle. You won’t benefit from good propulsion during your bottom turn as you set your rail.

Surf with us

Surf Coaching Retreats

Generating Speed- Quick Tips

Quick Tips

  • Throw your arms forward when pumping.
    Throwing your arms in the direction you need to go will help your propulsion towards that area. This is especially important on small waves that don’t offer much power.
  • Move your feet forward.
    This is more of an advanced technique tip. If you need extra speed for barrels or very fast peeling waves, you can try moving your stance by about one foot. Your back foot should land at the end of your traction pad or just over it.
  • Don’t “Overwork” the wave.
    Keep your upper body centred over your surfboard, and turn smoothly with your hips, knees and ankles. Don’t wiggle with quick, firm, small pumps down the middle of the face. This will create extra drag and slow you down. Use the whole face of the wave, pumping up and down in a fluid motion.
Throwing your arms to generate speed on a surfboard

Common Positioning Mistakes

  • Riding too low on the face of the wave.
    As seen in previous tutorials, when you ride this low, you don’t benefit from gravity pushing you and you don’t have much water flow hitting the bottom of your board, so your potential to accelerate is very limited.
  • Underestimating how fast a wave will peel and getting stuck at the bottom of the white water.
    Once positioned at the bottom of the wave near the white water, it’s very hard to generate speed with gravity or rail engagement. You want to avoid this by staying high on the wave.
  • Riding too far on the shoulder.
    This is also a widespread mistake we see happen. If you’ve been surfing for a while, you’ve certainly got stuck on the shoulder with no momentum and felt your surfboard starting to sink underwater.
  • Mistiming the extension of the body when pumping.
    There is a specific time to extend the body when you start turning back up towards the face of the wave.
Premium Preview

Try Barefoot Premium
7-Day Free Trial

Platform Presentation Mobile Learn to Surf

Not sure about your surf level? Take our Quiz!