How to adjust your stance for optimal control, speed & performance.
As a beginner surfer, your focus is on having a proper stance to keep your balance: knees bent, feet shoulder-width apart, hands over each rail, etc. (See course: A Proper Surf Stance). When you progress into an intermediate surfer, you start to realize that the surfing stance is not “one size fits all”. Every single wave is unique, which means they all require some adjusting.
Move Your Feet
You need to move your feet to different areas of the surfboard and apply weight differently, whether you’re in need of speed or control.
When moving your feet, stay light over your surfboard. Slowly and gently decompress (unweight), then slide your feet in the proper position. Only make subtle, gentle adjustments.
Having your feet further back (on the “X”s) will provide more control and pivot. Your back foot is further back and over the fins, which gives you more control when trying to change direction. Great for manoeuvres like carves, cutbacks, snaps, etc.
Putting your feet forward on the surfboard (on the “O”s) will give you more speed. You might not be able to carve as well with this position, but you still will be able to trim on the face of the wave. Having your feet forward is a perfect position if you need to go fast on a wave that is peeling quickly, if you need to pass a breaking section in front of you, or if you are getting tubed in a fast-breaking barrel.
How are your feet landing on the surfboard at Take off?
As you get better at reading waves and predicting how they will break, you will anticipate the line you want to draw on the wave. You can always adjust your stance and feet position during your ride, but ideally by predicting how the wave will break you can pop up with your feet at the proper position for the manoeuver you want to do.
As you paddle for a wave, look at the shoulder. You should already know if you need to go straight down the wave and carve (surfer A) or if you need to trim down the face of a wave (surfer B).
If you are going straight down the wave, this means you estimated that the wave will peel slowly, giving you the time to go far down the wave and do a carve. Right at the take off, your feet should be positioned further back on the surfboard (at the X’s on the previous illustration). Having the back foot far back on the tail, over the fins, is the best way to get control and to change direction.
If you decided to trim in the middle of the wave, this means you’re thinking that the wave will break quickly. If this is the case, you need a maximum of speed right from the beginning, so make sure your feet land further up on the surfboard during your take off (at the O’s on the previous illustration).
Your back foot is Key
It’s much easier to carve and pivot sharply when your back foot is completely at the back of the traction pad. The more you progress, the more you understand the importance of the back foot. Putting pressure on the back foot engages the rails and the fins of the surfboard, which is key to many surfing manoeuvers.
According to many professional surf coaches, the #1 mistake of intermediate and advanced surfers is not putting the back foot far back enough on the board.
Different wave shape, different Foot Placement
On the left picture below, pro surfer Craig Anderson is coming out of a tube. To accelerate and get out of the tube he needed extra speed. That’s why he moved his back foot forward, further than the traction pad.
On the right picture below, his back foot is placed further back, over the traction pad. This helps him engage the fins and gain control during his turns.
A Proper Stance is crucial
Make sure your front foot isn’t too far back, or else you will be bulldozing water in front of you! Having a very small stance far back on the surfboard will put too much weight on the tail, lifting the surfboard upwards and slowing you down as you ride the wave.
You need a low centre of gravity: bend your knees and hips while keeping your chest and upper body straight. This is the best way to get both stability and mobility.