Beginning to be an Intermediate Surfer

How do I progress from being a beginner surfer to an intermediate surfer?

This is the most common question I get, and I am going to preface the answer -

Reading the ocean is the foundation of surfing.

When waves break on the shore they offer opportunities for us to ride them, every wave is different and therefor offers a different way (or ways) to ride it. But before you can ride that wave you need to be able to see where you want to go, to see the path you want to surf, to read the ocean.

No matter what level surfer you are, catching the wave and popping up in the right place is the hardest thing in surfing. Once you are standing up on your board on the right part of the wave, surfing is easy. Reading the ocean, choosing the right wave, paddling into the wave at the right spot (entry), and popping up seamlessly are the hardest parts of surfing.

Beginner to Intermediate

This transition is where surfing begins to transform form a defined task into an Art. The beginner surfer has a very defined task - catch the whitewater, stand up and ride to the beach. Once you can stand up on the unbroken wave - the waves turns into a canvas to dance upon. Exciting

First we need to define the 2 categories:

Nick Carroll did a great job on Surfline so I will quote him:

A BEGINNER is a surfer who is yet to successfully paddle out alone and catch and ride a wave cleanly to its logical finish.

An INTERMEDIATE rider is a surfer who can successfully paddle out alone at a familiar location and catch and ride waves to a logical finish frontside or backside, confidently using the three basic surfing turns - bottom turn, top turn and cutback.

Quote taken from Surfline here:

Great definition, but we need to focus in.

Let’s define the transition between beginner to intermediate:

The final stages of the beginner surfer - competence at catching mostly broken waves and going straight to the beach.

The early stage intermediate surfer - learning to catch unbroken waves and riding the face of the wave (going along the wave).

So let’s make the assumption you can catch a broken wave, stand up and ride it straight to the beach and you are now attempting to catch unbroken waves and ride along the face of the wave.

Firstly, let’s celebrate your achievements so far, because the broken wave is very random and turbulent, its actually quite hard to catch a broken wave and stand up. In order to do this you must read the water in front of you (so you can see where you are going and see the path you want to take), ‘feel’ what water is doing underneath you, and have the strength and balance to stay on your board. So well done.

There is a perspective you have developed as a beginner that needs to be acknowledged so that you can retain it. Surfing begins as soon as you begin to paddle for a wave (not once you have stood up). The beginner surfer begins surfing the wave as soon as they start to paddle for the wave, as you begin to paddle you are pointing the board toward the direction of where you want to surf to (the beach), this ensures that the pop-up is simply part of surfing ie. nothing changes during the pop up, you maintain your speed, and can keep the board pretty stable. Inversely for most intermediate (and advanced) surfers, surfing begins once they get to their feet, this is the WORST perspective you can have in surfing because it downplays the importance of the entry and pop-up.

The beginner feels no pressure to stand up quickly because the beginner can stand up at anytime because he/she is surfing the wave the whole time. If you can take this concept and perspective into the rest of your surfing life then you will develop much faster.

So in order to catch unbroken waves, look for the same thing you were looking for as a beginner - a path to where you want to go, ie. how you want to surf the wave. Now you have already been doing this in the (mostly) flat water in front of the whitewater, you now need to learn to look for the path on the unbroken wave. So as you begin to paddle for the wave you are looking for the path, and already beginning to surf the wave and as you pop-up it doesn’t affect your surfing (its part of surfing).

During the process of popping up you need to try to maintain your speed and direction by keeping the board stable - not letting it nose dive or the nose come up, or wobbling from rail to rail.

So to summarize the concepts:

  1. The skill of reading the way water moves in front of you (and feeling it underneath you) must be modified to unbroken waves.

  2. The skill you have developed of being able to pop up slowly during the turbulence of the broken wave must be modified to do so during the acceleration of catching unbroken waves.

Practical tips

Below is a 7 step process to make the transition from beginner surfer to intermediate surfer, there is no rush, enjoy the process and stay safe.

  1. Stay in beginner mode and practice changing direction in the white water, (lying down) go from directly facing the beach to making small S turns from left to right by leaning from rail to rail, this should be subtle and gentle with the focus on maintaining speed.

  2. Try the same thing on your hands and knees,.

  3. Then standing.

  4. Practice going along the unbroken wave lying down, (there is no pressure to stand up).

  5. Then try going along an unbroken wave making small S turns from left to right by leaning from rail to rail, this should be subtle and gentle with the focus on maintaining speed.

  6. Try the same thing on your hands and knees.

  7. Then standing.

And stay on the same board you learnt on.

Audio version here:

Keep surfing.


5 Lessons from 5 Conversations about Surf Mastery

    Surfing is pretty good, but it gets better. The better you get at surfing the more fun it is, and as we sharpen our surfing skills we can surf a broader variety of waves and conditions. The question then is how do we get better? How do I get better at surfing while I drive to work? When it's dark outside? When stuck inland?

One way is education. There is so much to learn about surfing, and every little thing we learn helps us to develop and inspires us to surf more. Surf coaching and physical strength/fitness are obvious ways to improve, but listening to Tom Carroll’s perspective on the way he ‘sees’ a wave and how he learnt to observe more detail in a wave gives us a paradigm shift. We have so much to learn from those who have surfed before us, not just from their technique and experience, but from their perspectives, and attitudes. A conversation with a great surfer or coach can be life changing… and has been for me.

Education and inspiration for better surfing, that is what the 'Surf Mastery Podcast' is all about. I have been privileged to interview some successful and inspiring people in the surf world, and the goal of each interview is to find out how they (or how they have helped others) to progress in the water.

Below is a quick summary some of the things I have learnt from the first 5 interviews.

1         Episode 1Matt Grainger - High-Performance Coach: Surf with surfers that are better than you, it will inspire you to get better. Watch them very closely, what they do with their arms, foot placement etc. Good surfers paddle hard, pop up fast then create ‘lift’ to generate speed. What happens before your first bottom turn is what sets up the rest of your wave. Great surfers are great paddlers and can pop up very fast. When the waves are under 4ft they throw their arms up and forward to create lift & forward momentum to generate speed, watch some surf movies in slo-mo to see this and go out and try it!

2.         Episode 2Tom Carroll - 2X World Champ: Look for the detail on the wave. Pay close attention to the finer details of the wave, the wind chops, the secondary swell, the backwash, every bump, nook, and cranny. Look at the way the light reflects off of every small ripple, look to see where and how water is moving and where it is moving most so you can generate speed. If you want to surf small waves better, then this is how. Get focused and start paying attention… and put the time in - lots of practice! 

3.         Episode 3Matt Griggs - Elite Performance Coach: Become more aware of the feeling of surfing. “you don't think balance, you feel it” Good surfers are very in touch with the ‘feeling’ of surfing, when you arefocused on the feeling then you are in the present moment, you are in touch with your body awareness, spatial awareness, and board-feel. As soon as you focus solely on your vision (what you can see) and looking for the next section 5 m away then you are living in the future... “You can't feel up ahead, your not there yet” Learn how to detach from fear, doubt, and brain chatter so you can focus on the feeling of surfing in the present moment and increase your surfing awareness. Every technical mistake in preceded by a mental one, to be in the zone we need to be present, you cannot be in the present moment if you are thinking about the future i.e. a section 5 meters away. The greater your self-awareness is, the more space and time you have to implement change and create new and better habits, be it technique, posture, grace etc.

4.   Episode 4Dr. Jeremy Sheppard - Strength & Conditioning Coach: Next level surfing requires next level strength, mobility, and athleticism and you can fast track your development using smart strength training and mobility protocols. Jeremy goes into detail on some exercises and benchmarks that have been proven beneficial for surfing. Chin-up strength has a strong correlation to sprint paddling speed - Jeremy goes into detail on this at the 15:40min mark. Top to bottom surfing can be likened to jumping and landing, learning how to jump and land correctly can increase performance and help prevent injury. If you exercise outside of surfing then this is a must listen, if you don't then this episode will inspire you to train.

5.   Episode 5Matt Scorringe - Surf Coach: Try isolating one specific aspect of your surfing i.e. speed. Spend 20 mins racing to the end of each wave as fast as you can. Experiment with how fast you can surf, forget about turns, just get to the end of the wave as quick as possible. You will be surprised how fast you can surf. Foot placement is very important, a 1cm shift can make a big difference in the way your board feels and performs. Play around with some subtle adjustments next time you surf. 

These are just some of the lessons I have learnt, but each interview has many, many gold nuggets of wisdom. Tune in and send us some feedback

S.E.R.F. 10 Surf Nutrition Principles

       Eating well is just as important as moving well when its come to surfing (or any sport for that matter). There are so many different diets and nutritional recommendations out there. With all the different opinions, choosing a diet that works for you can be tricky. Everybody has different nutritional needs, and everybody reacts differently to all foods. Diets, and principles are guidelines to help you discover what works for you. I have spent the past 13 years researching and testing out different diets, both on myself and clients. I have come up with 10 principles that are congruent with expert opinions and my own experiences. 10 principles that most experts will agree on, despite major differences in carb/fat/protein ratio’s and food types. These principles make sense and they work. Adhered to they will change your life, whether you need to lose weight or increase performance. Kelly Slater considers his surf performance, longevity and health when choosing food, so should you. I don’t know for sure but I bet Kelly Slater and Mick Fanning still weigh the same now as the did in their early 20’s, these tips below are also relevant for weight loss and staying lean.

I am ridiculously strict with what I put in my mouth
— Kelly Slater

1. SERF: Sit, Eat Real Food. This is the most important principle for your health, and the rest just explain this one in more detail. It is simple, logical and powerful. Firstly, Sit; relax. Your nervous system needs to be in ‘rest and digest’ mode to assimilate nutrients. If you are still in ‘fight or flight’ mode then you will not optimally digest. Sit down, breath deep, relax and chew (30 x per mouthful) your food. Appreciate and savour every mouthful, away from your laptop/work. Eat Real Food; This means minimising all processed foods, eat food that will perish, but eating it before it does. i.e. Fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, fish, seafood, poultry, & nuts. And sit down, relax while you eat.

2. Eat till you are satisfied, not full. If you feel ‘full’ at the end of a meal you have overdone it. Eat till you are satisfied, not full. And if you aren’t hungry, don’t eat. Sometimes we eat lunch just because its ‘lunchtime’. There is nothing wrong with skipping a meal if you are not hungry, in fact intermittent fasting actually gives your digestive system a rest and is a very healthy practice, trust your instincts.

3. Eat Nutrient Dense Foods. The quality of your food matters. Organic, Biodynamic, free-range, wild, 100% grass feed, & Non GMO foods are far superior foods. The vitamin, mineral and enzyme (nutrient) density is much higher. Shop at local farmers markets.  i.e. Above ground vegetables are nutrient dense. Processed foods like bread, biscuits, rice, etc are calorie dense.

4. 85/15 Rule. Set realistic goals, It is not realistic to expect you to never eat processed foods again. As a guideline we can expect aim to eat 100% real food during the week and reward ourselves with ‘cheat meals’ during the weekend. The 85/15 ratio in real terms: If we eat 3x per day that’s 21 meals per week. So 19 of these meals are real foods only and 3 are cheat meals (for most this will be Friday dinner, Saturday lunch and dinner). A cheat meal does not mean McD’s!! When choosing a restaurant for your ‘cheat meals’ look for ‘farm to table’ ‘organic’ and ‘grass-fed’ options.

5. Chew your food thoroughly. (needs repeating) Chewing your food is vital in ensuring proper digestion. Sit down, relax and Slow down, enjoy every mouthful. Turn off the TV, savour and appreciate your food and the people you dine with.

6. Avoid modern poisons. If you are sticking to principle No.1 then you will already be doing this. However some things need emphasising. Alcohol, sugar, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), modern breads, pasta and other wheat/grain products, trans fats,  and processed foods & drinks; limit these as much as possible, even in ‘cheat meals’. 

7. Listen to your body. There is no ‘one’ perfect diet for everybody. We are all individuals and have different nutritional needs and food intolerances. Listen to your body. How do you feel after eating a certain food? Stomach cramps after eating stone fruit, bloating after consuming dairy products are examples that your body may not tolerate that food very well. We also need to respect our circadian/hormonal rhythms and eat appropriately, we all know a large heavy meal can chill us out and make you sleepy so save that meal for dinner. Keep breakfast and lunch light and easy to digest.

8. Eat more vegetables than meat. Never eat a portion of meat or fish larger than the size of your palm (hand without fingers), this is about 200-250 grams. You simply cannot digest anymore than this in one meal. Fill up on lots of above ground vegetables, and a small portion of underground veggie e.g. sweet potato, beetroot. In fact you can eat as many unprocessed above ground vegetables as you like! Practical example would be one 3rd of your dinner plate meat or fish, and two 3rd’s above ground vegetables or salad, and a side of underground veggies.

9. Don’t be scared of fat. Fat is an important nutrient. It’s ok to choose the ‘fatty’ cut of meat, to add some olive oil to your salad, or to add some animal lard, ghee or coconut oil to you stir fry. Its more about the ‘quality’ of the fat that you are eating. The fat from a 100% grass-fed animal or wild fish is healthy, and essential. The fat from a grain-fed, antibiotic injected animal is toxic!!! Choose carefully. As for oils, choose grass-fed butter (ghee is better), raw organic coconut oil, cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil, grass suet or lard for cooking &olive oil, flaxseed, hempseed and chia seed oils are high in omega 3’s & are great on salads. Avoid canola, cheap butter, cottonseed, rice bran, corn and ‘vegetable’ oils!

10. Balance, moderation & variety. No one food (e.g. red meat, spinach) should be over-eaten or eaten every day. Avoid having the same chicken salad for lunch every day, variety and moderation is important. It is also wise to eat seasonally. A rotation diet is another great way to keep your diet varied.

Eat a balanced, whole food – ‘real food’ diet.

For more detailed info and recipes check out:


1. The pre-surf warm up is VERY important.  If you jumped out of the car and went straight into a 60m sprint you wouldn’t expect to get a good time, and you also put yourself at risk for injury. And just like sprinting, performance surfing is very demanding. The athlete is putting all their strength and power into a 3-12 sec burst of energy. So the warm up should be taken very seriously. In all other sports the athlete spends plenty of time loosening and warming up the body, and surfing should be no different. A 5 min warm up prepares the body for the explosive power and speed needed for performance surfing. The goal of the warm up is to: 1, Oxygenate the blood and send it to the muscles. 2, Lubricate and prep joints. 3, Fire up the nervous system to enhance balance and reaction time. 4, Improve body and spatial awareness.

The warm up needs to be full body and dynamic. Do NOT static stretch, static stretching is for the cool down. Here is an example of a good warm up: Surf Warm Up

2. Nutrition is the foundation of human health and performance.

“I am ridiculously strict with what I put in my mouth” Kelly Slater.

You don’t put diesel in a race car, treat your body like a race car and use the best quality fuel.

Sports nutrition is a huge topic, but here are some tips to get you started: Surf Nutrition Principles


3. Physical training other than surfing is a must.

Even in sports like Golf and Tennis where you can practice whenever you want, we see athletes training in gyms. Training for surfing is even more important because the conditions vary so much.

The forces that go through your body during a fast bottom turn on a 6-8 ft wave are huge (3-5 your body-weight). But its not always 6-8ft so we need to be making sure our athletes are prepared for those days. The top level surf athlete must be able to feel just as confident in heavy 8ft as they are in glassy 3-4ft – and that requires training. Mick, Joel, Kelly, Taj, Dorian… all the top guys train.

It doesn’t need to be much, 3 x 45min workouts per week is plenty, but it needs to be surf-specific, and it needs to be intense. A CrossFit workout or a Fitness First PT session is better than nothing, but if you are going to train for surfing then keep it surf specific and keep it safe.

Are you surf fit? Click here

Surfing requires very specific mobility and strength, surf training should be improving both, as well as preventing common surf niggles; surfers shoulder, surfers knee, ankle sprains and lower back pain etc. I run surf-specific group classes and One on One Surf Training here on Sydney’s northern beaches. Contact me here