Stance Basics & Lower Body Position
The best way to keep your balance on the board is to compress the lower body while keeping your upper body mostly straight, slightly leaning in the direction you want to go.
Your knees are your shock absorbers. As mentioned in the intro of this course, imagine someone pushing you in the back. You would feel more balanced if you were compressed down compared to standing up straight with your knees locked. They need to be compressed, soft, and flexible for you to regain your balance when needed in the water.
With legs straight and knees locked, surfers have no absorption potential and must fight to stay on their board. As in many sports, lowering your center of gravity helps with balance. The higher the center of gravity, the easier and faster it is to fall off your surfboard. By staying low, surfers feel stable & confident. They can start moving their hips around, lean and twist to do different maneuvers. In the standard position, the knees are bent and forward-facing.
Generally, the back knee has a bit more inclination down and forward than the front one. This position makes shifting your hips backwards and forwards easier, moving your weight to accelerate or slow down. Sometimes the knees can be slightly tucked in towards each other, depending on the maneuver and how the surfer wants to distribute weight over the board.
The most important thing to avoid is having the back knee pointing outwards. As seen in the feet positioning video, this usually is the result of having the back foot pointing backwards. By compressing down with knees pointing outwards, surfers end up in the “poo stance”, a position that doesn’t look very good in the water. The immediate result is a huge loss of mobility. It gets difficult to shift weight forward and backward and to initiate turns by twisting the hips & upper body towards the right or left. By surfing in a forward-facing position but with the back knee pointing outwards, surfers put tremendous amounts of torsion in their back knee, which can cause serious injuries such as tearing some ligaments.
The knees are used to absorb shocks, and your hips are used to manage speed. There are two main ways to accelerate or slow down. Either move the feet on the surfboard or shift weight around by moving the hips forward and backward. Moving the hips is by far the most common because it can be done instantly. Moving the feet takes more time and is only necessary when surfers need to accelerate or turn more drastically. It also takes more skills to move the feet while surfing compared to simply shifting weight around with the hips. Shifting weight forward & backward with the hips is one of the first skills novice surfers can practise and get comfortable with, on land or in the whitewater. When surfers progress their surfing, they constantly move weight around with their hips to do different maneuvers.
Notice how the surfer on the left moves his hips all the way back to put pressure on the back foot to engage the back of the surfboard. This could be done in order to radically change the board’s direction or simply to slow down.
Notice how the surfer on the right accelerates by bringing his hips far forward, so much so that there’s practically no weight over his back foot.
These weight transfers are the foundations of surfing maneuvers.