Why “How to become a better surfer” is flawed - PART 1

Only 4-8% of the time surfing consists of actually riding a wave (according to science and our experience). That only equals to 2-4 minutes for one hour of being in the ocean.

Would you go to the gym for 1 hour to only train 2-4 minutes to get in shape? Would you go to work for 8 hours to only work 16-32 minutes to advance your career?

Of course not! It is silly.

However, this is exactly what most surfers do. They believe only going surfing will make them a better surfer.

If you are like us, you know there is a better way.

So join us on the journey to maximize your time spent becoming a better surfer and eventually have more fun in the water.

Worth your time - How to really improve 

To understand how to become a better surfer we will need to apply first principle thinking. And not only that, we also need to be open to what scientists and elite-level surf coaches have to say based on experience, insight, and evidence.

Listening to experts in the field of surf training, to really improve it comes down to the following three things:

  1. The starting point: What is our current surfing ability?
  2. The right goal: What is the right and realistic better surfer version of ourselves within a personally possible timeframe (e.g., 3 months from now with daily practice)?
  3. The best process: How can we achieve becoming this better surfer version in the fastest and most efficient way (to stay motivated and have fun)?

Establishing a baseline: The starting point

This step is very straightforward. As with every training, it is important to know what your current skill and fitness level is. This assessment gives the athlete as well as supporting trainers or coaches the ability to understand what is good, where to focus on and to develop the right plan with the best exercises and drills so that it is motivating and challenging (not too hard and not too easy).

In surfing, it all comes down to the following factors:

  • skill level (Novice - Elite Level)
  • body physique (BMI)
  • age
  • confidence level (cautious vs. charger),
  • and fitness level.

These factors will determine the best board to ride, the most suitable wave type and also what to work on.

Defining desired and possible outcomes: The right goal

Surfing is a constant better. Even pro-surfers don’t say they are the best surfer they can be but rather there are areas of improvement.


So what is a better surfer version? Elite-level coaches, pro-surfers, neuroscientists, and personal honesty altogether lead us to the well-known saying “the best surfer in the water is the one having the most fun.” Simple at first, it needs an explanation why this statement is true - from little groms to top athletes.

The ultimate goal in surfing is having fun

Fun is a personal experience and no one size fits all approach. It can be competitive surfing for some or free surfing for others. Cruising on a longboard or performing the most vertical top to bottom maneuvers.

Elite-level coaches, pro-surfers and neuroscientists know that fun enables faster learning and also maximum performance because it is an indicator of being in the “flow state”.  If you are in the flow state your body releases pleasure-inducing, performance-enhancing neurochemicals and you will experience the feeling of fun while learning and performing at your best.

The ultimate outcome of our better surfer version is to experience fun by entering the flow state to perform at our best. So to get more specific and create more “tangible” goals we need to understand how to create fun.

What does "fun" mean in your personal surfing experience

To illustrate what fun means in everyone's individual surfing experience we choose the example of an intermediate/advanced surfer:

For most intermediate/advanced recreational surfers fun is experienced when they feel they just surfed the waves to their maximum ability, i.e., surfing from take-off to a proper finish maneuver and fitting in the correct maneuvers in between according to the wave section with style, power, flow and confidence. And maybe even trying a new maneuver or getting more vertical.

So, asking yourself what fun means in your surfing will translate into a tangible goal. In our example, we already made our first step of creating a more tangible goal for the intermediate/advanced recreational surfers. Coming from an abstract outcome layer (fun) we established a more specific scope: Surfing from take-off until finish (the so-called bookends of surfing) with good top-to-bottom maneuvers.

50% is paddling - What surfing is made out of

To get a complete picture of a more specific scope we need to weigh in another factor: The consistence surfing is made out of.

What does this mean? According to research surfing consists of 44–58% paddling, 28–42% sitting or lying stationary,  4–8% wave riding, and 2–16% miscellaneous activities (e.g., diving under waves, wading, and swimming) of the total time spent. Although these are science-backed numbers, most likely every surfer will agree that they reflect the average - if not good - surf session.

If you think right now “No, this isn’t true”, let us make an example:

Let’s have a look at the top level surfers out there! If you watch World Surf League events with pumping waves in a 1 on 1 setup you may see pro-surfers up and riding for a total of maybe 4 minutes in a 30-minute heat (13% wave riding). A situation that is only possible with jet ski assist and empty lineups to maximize entertainment value. But nothing the average Joe will usually have access to.

When you download the Trace App and visit profiles of good surfers (most likely to find through the category most radical maneuver) and have a look at their sessions you may see that it their actual surf time is somewhere between 5-8%.

Focus on paddling and wave riding

It is very obvious that the good session is not determined by the sitting and waiting or miscellaneous activities but comes down to paddling (around half of the time spent) and actually riding a wave (which is more so the measure of success as paddling is the means to the end).

To sum it up, to achieve the ultimate outcome of having more fun in the water it implies for an intermediate/advanced surfer to be focusing mostly on improving the bookends of surfing as well as to manage paddling so that it does not hinder the ability to catch as many waves as possible within one session.