Positioning For Waves

Learn How To Position Yourself To Catch Better Waves.

Learn how to be proactive and position yourself according to what the wave is doing. Understand the surf spot better, be proactive in the water and gain more experience in wave reading and positioning.

Access the full Positioning for Waves Online Course.

13 Tutorials

Positioning for Waves

Discover a few reasons why other surfers might consistently be catching better waves than you.

0% Watched
0/0 Steps

See more…

Where To Sit

Sit Near The Peak

How do surfers know where to position themselves in the water? Why do some surfers consistently catch better waves? If you’ve found yourself asking these questions, chances are you’re still going through the motions of understanding where to position yourself in the lineup. Where you decide to sit and wait for waves dramatically affects the quality of the waves you catch. While respecting surf ethics, the main goal is to take off directly at the peak or as close to it as possible. This will maximise your ride by taking off on the steepest part of the wave.

Many beginners and intermediates make the mistake of waiting too far on the shoulder of the wave. Taking 5 to 10 minutes to do a proper spot check when you get to the beach will help you analyze things such as the rip currents, what the tide is doing and how fast waves are peeling. Try to find where the better waves are breaking and how consistently. Notice if there is a set coming through every few minutes.


One of the best ways to understand if you’re sitting in the right spot is by using indicators. Below are three beneficial indicators to help position you to catch better waves.

#1- Where do the experienced surfers sit?

How do I know where and how far out to sit? If you’re a beginner or an intermediate surfer, there’s a good chance that other, more experienced surfers will be out at the surf spot. These surfers are more familiar with the spot, its bottom contour and where waves break. Observe where they sit and where they are positioned at take-off. Specifically, take note if they have similar equipment to yours. You may find surfers on a longboard sit further out due to increased paddle speed. Using experienced surfers as indicators to know where you should position yourself will make a massive difference. The idea is not to sit next to them but to observe where they position themselves in the lineup.

#2- Watch The Foam Line

Indicators- Watch The Foam Line

When waves break, they often leave some foam on the surface. This foam, for a slight moment, can help give you an idea of where the previous wave broke and peeled. This indicator can help you know where to paddle and position yourself.

#3- Looking For Reference Points

Finally, having a reference point on land is a great tool for knowing where you are positioned in the ocean. The ocean is an environment that constantly changes, with currents that drag you in different directions. The best way to know where you are in the water is to have a reference point on land.

Reaction Time

Positioning For Waves- Proactive Positioning

One of the single most important factors contributing to increasing your wave count and peak positioning is being quick in your decision-making. The speed of your reaction time is everything. As you notice a wave out on the horizon, react wisely. You can either try to catch it, let it go, or paddle out and over the top if needed. Key takeaway- making these decisions needs to happen as quickly as possible.

Common Mistakes:

  • There’s no time to be wasted! A common mistake is surfers spending too much time analyzing oncoming waves while sitting on their surfboards. The quicker your reaction and response time, the better and sooner you can position yourself.
  • Surfers not consistently adjusting their paddling lines toward the wave, according to what the wave is doing, is another common mistake we see happen frequently. Every wave is different, so identifying the peak (specifically on a shifty beach break) requires a proactive approach, adjusting your paddle strokes to match what the wave is doing.
  • Lastly, decision-making. Save your energy and have selective wave choice. A common mistake is paddling for a wave that may be closing out or paddling too hard too soon. Be sure to identify the wave on the horizon first and choose wisely.

Tip: Learn how to identify waves sooner by checking out the “How to Read Waves” Course.

Learn Better, Faster.

Try Barefoot Premium
7-Day Free Trial

5 Courses for Free
5 Courses for Free

Precise Positioning: Consistently Read & Adjust

#1 Keep Taking Glances at the Wave

Stay alert! The first tip emphasises the need to keep glancing over your shoulder. We can’t stress this enough- the shape of a wave can change drastically in just a second or two. Many beginners/intermediates turn their back on the wave and stop looking at it too soon. Your positioning needs to be precise, so check the wave as often as you feel necessary.

#2 Face the wave for a longer period of time

The second tip touches on the importance of facing the wave for a more extended period. If you start to paddle straight back toward the beach too soon, it’s more difficult to see the wave as a whole, regardless if you’re still taking glances over your shoulder. To correctly identify the peak, you need to analyse the colour changes of the wave and other cues to position yourself accordingly.

The easiest way to avoid turning your back to the wave is to stop sitting too far out. If you’re sitting much further than where the waves are breaking, your only paddling line option will be to swim straight toward the beach. On the other hand, if you’re trying to catch a smaller wave on the inside, you will need to paddle toward the shore to reach it. In this case, the best thing to do would be to paddle on a diagonal so that you can get closer to the peak but can still see the wave.

#3 Use every paddling direction

This brings us to the next piece of advice: use every possible paddling line. From our experience, many beginners/intermediates have the habit of sitting further out than most surfers. One thing to remember is that the ocean is unpredictable. By using 360 degrees of potential padding directions, you can maximise both the quality of your positioning and the number of waves you catch during your session.

#4 Constantly readjust your paddling line & speed

Tip number 4 is all about readjusting. Your paddling line will rarely be straight toward the peak. As you paddle for the peak, you may realize that the wave is bigger, smaller, softer or steeper than you initially anticipated. Minor adjustments are exercised until the very last moment.

#5 Read & Adjust to the Wave after you’ve caught it

Lastly, reading the wave and adjusting your positioning must be done even after you’ve caught the wave. Pay attention to all the details about how that wave will break and peel.

Peak Positioning at Take Off

How close do I need to be to the peak in order to catch the wave?

How we take off on the peak relates to the shape of the wave and the size of the surfboard you’re riding. Note: If riding a longboard, you don’t necessarily need to position yourself at the peak in order to catch the wave. Remember, a bigger board=faster paddling speed.

Bigger Peak Area

Precise Positioning- Bigger Peak Area

Smaller Peak Area

Precise Positioning- Smaller Peak Area

Bigger peak area= steeper wave. Smaller peak area= softer wave. On a bigger peak area, even a surfer riding a shortboard can paddle into the wave further away from the peak. When surfing smaller, softer waves, it’s essential you are precisely positioned on the peak to be able to catch it. There are also different take off positions, such as a shoulder take off or a behind-the-peak take-off.

Agility Skills – Spinning & More

Precise Positioning- sitting on your board

Fact: waves travel quickly. Our reaction and response time in the water needs to be quick, which is why acquiring agility skills is necessary. This way we can spin around on our board quickly and change direction. 

How can I change direction quickly enough to catch the wave? Answer: Agility skills. Start by sitting on your surfboard. This way, you will get a higher point of view to see waves on the horizon and will be able to spin around quickly. Your board’s nose should be out of the water. To help you maintain balance, the easiest way to spin around on your surfboard is by using your legs to squeeze the rails of the surfboard. Most surfers will kick their feet underwater, drawing big circles, and hold the rail with one hand, pushing water and drawing semi-circles with the other hand.

Alternative ways to adjust your direction could be:

  • Sinking the tail with the knee to pivot
  • Using the surfboard’s buoyancy to get small propulsion to a new direction
  • Pivoting by using arm strokes
  • Changing direction while paddling

Check out the “Agility Skills” tutorial for more.

Surf with us

Surf Coaching Retreats

Positioning in a busy lineup

Let’s talk crowds. When doing a spot check, you want to analyse the people in the water. Where is everyone sitting? What skill levels and abilities of surfers are out there? Will I get waves? Is there a peak further down the beach with fewer people? These questions will determine where to surf and position yourself. Where you decide to sit in the lineup will significantly impact the number of waves you catch. So, where do you position yourself in a busy lineup? Remember that, ideally, we want to sit as close to the peak as possible to maximise our ride. If the crowd is too thick, remember to look down the beach for other potential options.

Choosing a peak that’s less crowded

Don’t shy away from surfing alternative options just because other people aren’t. If you spy an empty peak down the beach with no one on it, you’re certainly guaranteed to catch more waves. It’s a game of sacrifice. Yes, the peak that everyone is surfing at may offer the best waves, but if the crowd is too thick, you’re automatically at a disadvantage. You’ll be fighting for the same waves alongside everybody else.

Sitting Outside

Sitting Outside

Sitting Inside

Sitting Inside

Sitting Outside: Sitting outside means sitting further out than where the average waves are breaking to be in a better position to catch the larger set of waves. Before positioning yourself here, you want to have already observed how frequent the sets are. You need to have solid wave reading skills, keeping in mind that you prioritise quality over quantity. The only waves available to you here will be the larger set waves, meaning you won’t have the option to catch any of the smaller, inside waves. This option may work well for you if you’re at the level where you can take off on steeper, bigger waves.

Sitting Inside: Sitting inside means you are positioned closer to the beach than where most surfers are sitting. The main advantage of sitting inside is that you could catch a lot more waves there, as surfers positioned outside or closer to the peak aren’t positioned to paddle for them. This option is often the best one to catch more waves. However, it comes with a price to pay (getting bigger sets of waves crashing in front of you). You also need to be very vigilant to make sure you don’t get in the way of other surfers that catch waves at the peak.

Sitting At The Peak

Sitting at the peak of the wave

Sitting Wide

Sitting Wide

Sitting at the peak: The most popular option is sitting at the peak. Although it will be the area with the most crowd, it will also be the spot where all the quality waves are coming through. Knowing if you should position yourself at the peak all comes down to asking yourself the questions: “how many surfers are at the peak?” and “how does their surfing level compare to mine?” 

Sitting Wide: Another way to separate yourself from the crowd is to sit wide. This option is spot-specific, as it will depend on the bottom contour, the swell direction and the tide. These waves come on slightly different angles, not the same as the average sets. As a beginner/intermediate, these could be the waves you’re looking for. Again, similar to sitting on the inside, this comes down to sacrificing quality for quantity. This is your call to make, and it will be up to you to analyse how frequently waves are breaking wide and if it’s worth the sacrifice.

Quick Tips

  • Don’t forget to move around. Change up where you’re sitting if you find yourself still for too long. Observe the ocean, analyse other peaks and get moving. Constantly paddling to be in position has a high chance of increasing your wave count.
  • Keep your head up. Stay present, and remember to always keep your head up for other opportunities. Waves can appear at any moment, so stay dialled and focused!
  • Keep your options open. Don’t always follow the crowd. Sometimes we have to sacrifice quality over quantity for waves and choose to surf at a different peak.

Try Barefoot Premium
7-Day Free Trial

Platform Presentation Mobile Learn to Surf

Not sure about your surf level? Take our Quiz!