On Catching Waves

What follows is an epiphany on catching waves. Something clicked for me today and I hope that this information could be helpful to some other person learning to surf.

On Catching Waves

The key to powerful wave catching is a combination of momentum, timing, and positioning.

Three Keys to Effective Wave Aquisition

Positioning | Timing | Momentum


Waves have a Shape of Ideal Takeoff (SIT).’ A surfer’s capacity to identify the SIT is an important point in their understanding of waves. Once the SIT is identifiable to the surfer, she should be looking for it at all times.

What is the SIT position? The SIT position is the point where the wave reaches a steepness in which the gravitational pull of the surfer’s weight drives them forward on the face of the wave.

Thoughts on Catching Waves

Great surfers can maximize momentum and catch waves that are in their ‘too early’ phase. Great surfers can catch waves in their ‘too late’ phase as well. No matter who is surfing, it’s easiest and sets her up the best, if she finds herself in that perfect SIT position.

It’s common to watch beginners paddling for waves and not catching them. It’s also common to watch beginners paddling for waves that are moments away from breaking. This often leads to them having to ride the wave out on their belly to keep from losing control. The most common reason for these failures is that they don’t know how to identify the SIT position.


The wave is coming at you at a higher level of speed than you are capable of generating. If you can achieve an amount of speed closer to that of the oncoming wave, the change in speed from your paddle speed to the wave speed will be less dramatic. A less dramatic change in speed allows for less exact timing on the part of the surfer.

In very steep, fast waves, the best surfers do not need as much momentum. I’ve seen surfers on the North Shore of Oahu catch waves without paddling at all. This is because those waves are incredibly fast and tall.

On Catching Waves

When surfing chunky, slow waves (like the ones that are all over California), it’s important to gather a lot of speed before the wave comes upon you. That’s because the waves are often slow and they break when they are fat.

When surfing slow waves, it’s more important to approach waves with high-level momentum.

When surfing faster waves, there is less importance on momentum and more on having excellent timing.

Momentum and wave speed diagram for learning to surf


Timing differs from positioning even though the two are intimately entwined. The key to timing a wave correctly is a mixture of knowing where the SIT position is and having a good deal of momentum built up so you meet that SIT position with a good deal of time.

Final Thoughts On Surfing

If the surfer can identify the SIT position in an oncoming wave, time her paddling as to carry momentum at the right time, she will have an easy time catching the wave.

When initially surfing larger waves with scarier SIT positions, it will be scary to do this. Overcoming that fear is critical. The moment I realized this was the moment I forgot to be afraid of the size of the wave.

Fearlessness can be cultivated with repetition. When learning to surf, if our surfer sets aside a month or two to live walking distance from the beach, she will have a much greater potential to learn to surf.

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