In Kathryn Bigelow’s 1991 bro-classic film Point Break, Keanu Reeves flops through a montage of learning how to stand on a surfboard. He makes getting upright on a board look on par with solving a Rubik’s cube with your feet while holding an iron-cross position on a pair of gymnastics rings. That is not quite reality, though.
“Standing up is not that hard,” says Kai Sanson, owner of Zuma Surf & Swim Training (zsstraining.com) near Malibu, Calif. “If a person is in shape and understands the concept of standing sideways on the board, they can get it the very first day they try it.”
Standing up on a board is simple compared to the physicality of paddling out to the waves or the mental task of reading and timing the surf, a skill that only comes by logging hours in the big salty (but that won’t keep you from getting a ride, provided you start with small and friendly waves). With a decent amount of fitness and some confidence in the water, your first day of surfing is bound to be a success, particularly if you have some experience riding a snowboard or a skateboard and have a good degree of flexibility through your hips.
Here are a couple of simple steps to hanging your first ten.
The Prone Position: Provided you can paddle out to the waves (if you can’t, go back to the gym and do some high-intensity interval training or begin in the white water and practice on waves that have already broken, Sanson advises), begin with your belly flat on the board. Your hands should be curled around either rail, and the tops of your feet should be flat on the board rather than up on your toes.
The Pop-Up: When you are ready to stand up, bring your whole body up at the same time, like a push-up. Don’t make the mistake of bringing your chest up first, like a cobra pose in yoga. Your front foot shoots forward and sideways, so the toes are pointing to the side, while the rear foot stays close to the back of the board, only about 18 inches ahead of where it started.
Which one’s which? Choosing your lead foot is mostly a matter of preference, Sanson says. If you can’t decide which one should take the lead, go with your dominant foot in the rear, which will make it easier to turn the board when the time comes.
Standing Up: In the standing position, you should be leading with one shoulder, with your head turned to face forward. “The most common problem I see is having the chest and front foot pointed forward,” Sanson says. “The body orientation needs to be sideways. The front foot can be a little pointed forward, but it should be close to 90 degrees from the nose of the board.”
Staying Relaxed: “People think standing up has to be instantaneous, but it doesn’t. It just has to happen smoothly,” Sanson says. “The whole position is fluid. You can move your feet around to find that sweet spot. Just don’t flail your body.”
Well-Rounded Fitness: Surfing demands reasonable aptitude across a number of bio-motor abilities, including muscular endurance, coordination, agility and power. Staying lean is also a boon. Even an extra 5 pounds around the midsection can shift your center of balance and make it harder to pop up.
“One of the hidden secrets of surfing is that pro surfers are freakishly flexible,” Sanson adds. “Being flexible allows a surfer to slide their legs beneath their hips instead of getting stuck with their feet jammed underneath them. Flexibility in the hips is critical, especially for men.”