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Positioning to get Speed

One of the most common improvement intermediates need to make to generate more speed doesn’t have to do with their technique. Often, the most valuable change they can make concerns how they position themselves to generate their speed in the first place.

Positioning at take off

The position where you drop in is very important. This is your starting point to use gravity to gain speed towards the shoulder. Because the drop is more gentle further on the shoulder, surfers can’t gain as much speed by dropping in on this weaker part of the wave and this often results in poor maneuvers on the shoulder. By dropping in on a steeper part of the wave, you will gain speed right from the start thanks to gravitational force and generally, you will get a better ride. You don’t want to paddle on the safer, more flat end part of the wave.

It’s not just about dropping in on a steep section though. To be able to create speed down the line, surfers need to position themselves to take off somewhere where they will have a decent wave face to generate speed on by moving from top to bottom. This position will be different according to your speed generation skills. A low intermediate surfer who is just learning how to pump down the line will have their ideal take-off spot further on the shoulder in comparison to an advanced surfer who generally would prefer taking off deeper on a steeper part of the wave to generate more speed.

You need to adjust your positioning to the line you believe you can draw on the wave. As you progress and practise the skills in this course, you should start taking off deeper and deeper, maximizing your speed generation potential on waves.

Gravity, Rail Usage & Equipment

Surfers create speed by going down on steep parts of the wave and by using their rails to redirect lots of water under their boards. Rail engagement is mostly done by carving at the bottom of the wave, or by riding on the top part of it, where it is steeper. Riding a longboard is a bit different because you can generate and keep momentum even further out from the pocket due to the size and floatation of the board under your feet.

Staying in the Pocket

Both gaining speed with gravity and rail engagement have something in common: they generally are done near the pocket. This especially concerns surfers riding smaller surfboard. Watch where experienced surfers ride on a wave on shortboards or fishes. They never go very far from the pocket. This is no coincidence. They have the experience to know where to generate speed on the wave using gravity and rail engagement, and this place is near the pocket.

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 is also very common.
    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.


Some things, such as realizing you’ve been riding waves too low on the face, can be fixed in a relatively short amount of time, especially if you get to see footage of yourself surfing. Other things, like being able to read how a wave will peel and adjusting your line to generate speed in the proper area, are not something you can learn quickly. You will need to catch a lot of waves and spend time practicing to increase your ability to read the waves and draw your line appropriately.

A good habit to have is whenever you finish riding a wave and realized you got caught in the white water, or if you’ve lost all your speed by going too far on the flat shoulder, try to think back about why this happened in the first place. Did you take off at the wrong spot? Did you ride the wave too low? Give yourself feedback and focus on trying to adjust on the next wave.

If you want to gain skills in this subject, you might want to check out our course on how to read waves. Gaining knowledge on aspects such as how the bottom of the sea or how the wind affects how a wave peels can give you some important insight. Taking those into consideration could help you read waves and draw better lines to generate speed on.