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Surf's Up! Essential Surfing Tips and Surf Techniques for Intermediate Surfers

Surf's Up! Essential Surfing Tips and Surf Techniques for Intermediate Surfers

Defining the Intermediate Surf Level

The intermediate surf level is the middle ground between beginner and advanced. At this stage surfers are comfortable paddling out, popping up, and riding waves straight toward shore. Intermediate surfers look to improve techniques to maneuver around the wave face and handle larger wave sizes in varied conditions.

Improving Technique is Key to Surfing Better

Having the right technique is crucial for progression. With proper form, intermediate surfers will catch more waves, execute smoother turns, maintain better balance, and surf with more control. Core skills like paddling strength, takeoff timing, and wave reading must be honed now before advancing further.

Overview of Critical Intermediate Surfing Tips

This article will provide key tips across all intermediate surfing fundamentals - from choosing the ideal equipment to maneuvering around the wave. Sections will cover paddling endurance, takeoff positioning, turning, wave reading, etiquette, and more. With consistent practice using these tips, intermediate surfers will notice great improvements in their time spent surfing.

The overview covers the core topics that will be expanded on throughout the article. Let me know if you need any clarification or have additional questions!

Choosing the Right Surf Gear

As an intermediate surfer, having the proper equipment suited to your skill level is crucial for continuing to improve. The right surf gear will enhance your performance in the waves.

Finding the Ideal Intermediate Surfboard

You're ready to step down from a longboard to a shorter, high-performance shortboard. Seek out boards in the 7-8 foot range, with a pointed nose and narrower width. This shape allows greater speed and responsiveness to execute more dynamic turns and maneuvers. Pay attention to the rocker profile and tail shape as well.

Understanding Fins for Experienced Surfers

Fins provide stability and allow you to gain leverage to turn. As an intermediate surfer, experiment with different fin configurations and sizes - single, twin, thruster, etc. This will give you a feel for how fins affect board handling. Also consider the conditions and type of waves you'll be surfing.

Protective Wetsuits and Accessories

Protection becomes more important when surfing stronger intermediate waves. Look for durable, flexible wetsuits to withstand wipeouts. Also invest in quality leashes, helmets, and impact vests if attempting riskier maneuvers. As skills progress, the right protective gear is essential.

Mastering Paddling Technique

Paddling is the foundation of surfing. Without a proper and efficient paddling technique, you won't be able to catch waves consistently. Mastering paddling takes time and practice, but following some key tips will help accelerate your progress.

Proper Positioning on the Surfboard for the Beginner Surfer

The first step is getting into the right position while lying on the board. Arch your back slightly while keeping your head up facing forward. Your chest and stomach should have maximum contact with the board. Point your toes straight back and keep your legs raised slightly bent. This reduces drag. Place your hands shoulder-width apart gripping the rails as you start paddling.

Using Your Arms and Upper Body

Paddling is powered mostly by your arms and back/shoulder muscles. Make long, reaching movements with your arms, finishing each stroke past your hips. Dig deep into the water to grab more resistance. Pull with your back and chest muscles for maximum effort. Time your arm movements smoothly without overly aggressive strokes.

Breath Control and Timing

Inhale when you reach forward and exhale powerfully during the pull phase. This breathing synchronization allows more paddling efficiency. Find a steady rhythm matching the rise and fall of swells behind you. Consistent timing and pacing is key. Avoid short choppy strokes. Master breath and paddle control first before catching waves.

With a bit of focused practice using these paddling tips, you'll notice rapid improvements. Paddling is the heartbeat propelling you to catch those waves!

Takeoff and Pop-up

Transitioning from lying on your board to popping up into a riding stance is one of the most exciting parts of surfing! Performing a smooth takeoff and pop-up takes practice, but nailing it allows you to ride the wave with stability. 

Positioning for an Intermediate Wave Takeoff

As an intermediate surfer, you should position yourself just behind the peak of the wave as it starts to break. Point your board straight toward the shore and paddle hard to match the wave's speed. Then, pop up on your feet in one quick, fluid motion.

Foot Placement and Movements to Pop-Up Smoothly  

When popping up, place your back foot on the center of the tail pad with your toes hanging over the edge. Then, in a jumping motion, plant your front foot about shoulder-width apart while bringing both hands to waist level. Stand tall, bend your knees, and keep your arms out for balance.

Balance Tips for a Solid Intermediate Pop-Up

To avoid falling during the pop-up, keep your weight centered between both feet. Don't rush - it's crucial to nail your foot placement in one controlled movement. Look ahead toward shore, not down at the board. Practice popping up on land first to perfect the motion.

With the right wave selection and positioning, plus lots of practice, you'll be popping up with stability in no time!

Turning and Maneuvering

Once you've mastered the basics of paddling out and catching waves, it's time to start working on actual surfing maneuvers. Learning to turn and control your board is crucial to developing more advanced surfing techniques.

Weight Distribution for Smooth Rail-to-Rail Turns

The foundation of turning on a surfboard is proper weight distribution. To make smooth rail-to-rail turns, you need to shift your weight between the heel and toe side rails. Lead the turn with your front shoulder pointing where you want to go. Keep your knees bent and centered over the board.

Carving and Cutting Back Techniques

Carving means tracing an arc across the wave face. Start by tilting your board to get it on rail. Then use your bottom turns to maintain speed as you carve back up to the lip. Cutbacks reverse your direction in a sharp, aggressive move across the wave. Time your weight shifts to attack parts of the wave with more power.

Generating Speed and Power in the Waves

To harness the wave's energy for speed, use double pump techniques. As the board gains momentum, transfer that energy into explosive snap turns. Search out the steepest sections to give your moves extra punch. Keep practicing and reading the waves to discover the sweet spots.

With a little patience, you'll be carving, snapping and shredding with the best of them!

Reading Waves Like an Intermediate Surfer 

Being able to identify the best waves for your skill level is key to progressing and catching more rides as an intermediate surfer. Understanding wave anatomy and having the ability to decipher wave conditions quickly takes time to develop. This section will break down what intermediate surfers should look for when selecting a wave, terminology to know, and tips for choosing waves that match your abilities.

Identifying Optimal Intermediate Waves 

The best waves for intermediate surfers tend to be 3-5 feet in height, have sufficient power, and break consistently across an open face. Point breaks and beach breaks with sandbars are ideal. Size and shape are easier to gauge. Avoid closeout waves and intense barrels.

Advanced Wave Terminology and Characteristics

Intermediates should understand terms like line-up, takeoff zone, break point, channel, sets, swell period, and more. Analyze wave features prior to paddling out, and identify where waves begin peeling versus closing out.

Selecting the Best Waves to Match Your Surf Level 

Choose waves that have a moderate pace and aren’t too fast or slow relative to your speed. Paddle out just north of the peak takeoff area. Consistently observe wave sets rolling through to determine the interval time between sets. This knowledge will put you in better position to catch waves.

The ability to read waves takes time to refine. But with the right focus on wave characteristics and frequent ocean observation, intermediate surfers can consistently pick smart, makeable waves to match their skill levels.

Intermediate Surf Etiquette and Safety

As your skills progress to an intermediate level, it becomes even more important to understand proper surf etiquette and safety practices. Respecting your fellow wave riders helps avoid conflicts, while being aware of dangers will keep you safe as you take on bigger surf.

Respecting beginner, intermediate and advanced surfers  

In the water, you’ll encounter surfers at all skill levels. It’s vital that intermediate surfers show courtesy towards beginners still learning, as well as more advanced shredders. Always follow right-of-way rules, don’t snake waves, and avoid getting in the way of others. Be patient and give way to less experienced riders.

Safety considerations for bigger waves

Intermediate breaks often mean larger waves and stronger currents. Know your limits in these conditions, stick to areas matching your ability, watch for rips, and paddle out with a buddy if possible. Consider a surf helmet if rocks are present. Also ensure your leash is well-fitted before heading out.

Avoiding collisions in crowded surf  

More crowded lineups increase the chances of collisions. Keep your eyes peeled, shout ‘heads up’ if needed, and avoid dangerous behavior. Never lose focus or control. Also learn the general flow for taking off to help prevent crashes with other surfers in the impact zone.

By keeping these etiquette and safety tips in mind, intermediate surfers can progress their skills while respecting all riders and returning home unharmed after awesome sessions!


As we wrap up, let's do a quick recap of the key tips covered for intermediate surfers looking to progress:

  • Choose the right performance surfboard and fins to match your height, skill level and local wave conditions
  • Refine your paddling technique for more arm power and efficient timing
  • Perfect the smooth weight transfer and foot placement needed for solid wave takeoffs
  • Focus on keeping rail-to-rail turns tight and generating speed for snappier cutbacks
  • Improve wave reading abilities to consistently select optimal peaks
  • Respect fellow surfers by following proper lineup etiquette and right-of-way rules

Keep Practicing Regularly

Intermediate surfing is that crucial middle ground where your fundamental skills get sharpened and technique gets refined before progressing to an advanced level. Make sure to get in the water several times a week to practice. Film your sessions to review and continue honing all that you have learned.

Final Thoughts on Reaching the Next Surf Level

As an intermediate surfer, you now have the techniques and knowledge base to start tackling more challenging waves and conditions. Apply the tips covered here to build confidence and skills to become an advanced, well-rounded surfer. With consistent practice, you'll be shredding black diamond waves in no time!

FAQ's and Best Beginner Tips for Surfers

As a beginner surfer, what kind of surfboard should I start with?

As a beginner, it is best to start with a soft-top longboard that is 8-10 feet long. Soft-top longboards are wider and thicker than traditional surfboards, providing more stability and making them easier to balance on. They also often have a soft foam-like deck, which minimizes injury when you inevitably fall off the board as a novice.

In terms of specifics to look for in a beginner soft-top longboard, aim for one with rounded rails and a wide tail shape. This will make the board slower yet steadier, which is ideal for learning proper popping up and paddling technique. Construction-wise, EPS foam and triple stringer systems offer good durability.

Once you progress beyond the basics, you can transition to a more performance-oriented surfboard like a funboard. But soft-top longboards are the best for helping beginners develop fundamental skills without getting overly frustrated. Start on an 8-10 foot soft-top and you'll be catching waves in no time!

How can I improve my paddling technique to catch more waves?

Efficient paddling technique is crucial for catching waves as a beginner surfer. Here are some tips:

  • Keep your chest lifted and gaze forward to keep proper body alignment. Arching your back is a common mistake that creates drag.

  • Use a smooth, circular paddling motion. Reach forward and pull the paddle back in a constant rhythm. Don't stab at the water as that wastes energy.

  • Time your paddling to match the speed of the incoming swell. The goal is to match the wave's momentum so it can carry you once caught.

  • Position yourself deeper on the surfboard to enable a longer, more powerful paddle stroke. Placing hands too close together reduces arm extension.

  • Focus paddling on your stronger side to turn the board and put yourself in the wave's path. Draw the paddle all the way back to engage your lats.

  • Look back frequently to assess incoming sets. Paddle hard when a suitable wave approaches to gain speed and catch it.

With consistent practice using these paddle tips, you'll notice more waves caught and less energy wasted from poor technique. Taking the time to refine paddling skills is well worth the effort!

What common mistakes do beginner surfers make with their foot placement when trying to stand up?

Beginner surfers often make mistakes with their foot placement when attempting to stand up on the surfboard. Some common errors include placing their feet too close together, which can lead to instability, or positioning their feet too far forward or backward, affecting balance and control. It's important to find the right balance and foot positioning to achieve stability and control while standing up on the board.

How long does it take to learn how to properly pop up on a surfboard?

Learning how to pop up on a surfboard is one of the most fundamental skills in surfing. A proper surfing pop requires coordination, balance, timing, and muscle memory. Most beginners struggle with popping up those first few times, but with practice, it will start to feel natural. Here's what you need to know:

What is a Pop Up? 
A pop up refers to the motion of going from lying down to standing up on your board while catching a wave. Make sure that you don’t miss pratctising this skill, It's an essential surfing technique to master.

Why is the Pop Up Important?
If you can't pop up quickly, you'll struggle to catch waves and maintain stability once you do catch one. Nailing the timing and technique is key.

How Long Does it Take the Average Beginner?
Most first-timers can stand up within 1-2 weeks if they surf a couple times per week. However, it takes consistent practice over 2-4 weeks before it starts to feel comfortable. Expect to spend about 6 weeks before you have a reliable pop up.

What are Common Pop Up Mistakes? 
Rushing the motion, improper hand placement, looking down, and poor weight distribution are common errors. Having an instructor provide feedback can help correct issues faster.

How Can I Practice Popping Up?
Practice popping up on land first by lying on the ground and hopping up to your feet. Then take it to the water - use your hands to simulate lying on a board and stand up. Repeat until it feels natural. Having an instructor guide you helps.

What are Tips for an Effective Pop Up?
Keep your hands planted firmly, push up with your arms in one swift motion, slide one foot forward first, distribute weight evenly, and keep looking forward. Timing it with the wave is crucial.

Be patient with yourself as you learn. With regular practice, popping up will soon feel like second nature when you paddle out. Mastering it is a huge milestone for any surfer.

What surf etiquette rules should I follow as a beginner in the lineup?

When you're just starting out, it's important to learn proper surf etiquette to stay safe and maintain a peaceful, friendly lineup. Here are some key guidelines:

  • Don't paddle out into a crowded lineup until you have control of your board and can paddle fast. Beginners should start in smaller surf.
  • Always paddle out to the peak staying near the channel, don't get in anyone's way.
  • Never take off on a wave when a more experienced surfer is already up and riding it. 
  • If you accidentally take someone's wave, apologize. Don't get angry or ignore it.
  • Don't snake other surfers by paddling around the peak. Wait your turn.
  • When you wipe out, get out of the way as soon as possible. Push your board out of the impact zone.  
  • Be kind and share waves, especially if there aren't many good ones.
  • Avoid dropping in if you won't make the section. Surf within your limits.
  • Always control your board and don't hit other people.

Follow these etiquette basics to earn respect in the lineup as a beginner!

What surfing tips can help me learn to read waves better and know which ones to catch?

When you're new to surfing, knowing which waves to paddle for can be confusing. Start by watching how waves break - some break fast and steep, others slow and gentle. Steep waves give you less time to pop up, so focus on gentler swell. Also, pay attention to wave sets. Don't go for the first wave which is usually the smallest. Paddle just outside the break zone and gauge swell direction. If a good wall with depth is coming, start stroking hard to match the speed. Look over your shoulder to time it right. If the wave doesn't have push, let it go. With more time in the water reading waves, you'll start gaining the experience to know which ones to catch and which to let pass by. Stick with it!

How do I generate speed on a wave to allow for more advanced surfing maneuvers?

Gaining speed is essential for performing advanced surfing techniques like cutbacks, snaps, and aerials. The faster you can go, the more radical you can get. Here are some tips:

  • Paddle into the wave early and match the wave's speed as it begins pushing you. 
  • Push up aggressively into your pop-up to maintain momentum.
  • Drop down the steepest section of the unbroken wave face. Gravity will accelerate you.
  • Pump - use an up/down motion to generate speed by working with the wave. Time pumps to match rising and falling swells.
  • Trim - distribute weight optimally and minimize drag by finding the surfboard's speed line. A good trim makes pumping more effective.
  • Consider equipment - shorter boards, concave hulls, and smooth rails help you gather speed.

The key is positioning yourself deep in the peak and utilizing the wave's power, while minimizing drag through a low stance and clean rail line. With practice, you'll intuitively find more speed. This allows attacking the wave rather than just cruising.

Where can I find good surf camps for beginner and intermediate surfers?

Great beginner surf camps can be found worldwide in surf hotspots like Hawaii, Costa Rica, Morocco, Portugal, Spain, France, Australia, Indonesia, Mexico, and more. Look for camps offering multiple surf lessons per day with experienced, safety-certified instructors. Ideal beginner camps have gentle waves, warm water, consistent surf year-round, and different surf breaks for all skill levels. Top-rated camps provide video analysis, offer board rentals, are located near quality surf with pick-up/drop-off, and arrange accommodation. Read reviews of instructors, safety procedures, and feedback from past students when choosing. Some camps now also incorporate yoga and ocean conservation into their offerings. With the right surf camp, fast progression is achievable in idyllic beach destinations.

What skills do I need to move up from a beginner surfer to an intermediate level?

To progress beyond the beginner zone, you’ll need to master skills like paddling out through waves efficiently, regularly standing up on unbroken waves, angling your takeoff for more speed, making bottom turns to stay in the wave’s pocket, trimming across the wave face for control, and riding along the curl for extra time. Consistently waving riding both lefts and rights, handling some larger surf, and recovering well from wipeouts also mark the intermediate surfer. Expect it to take about a year of regular surfing to gain this skill set. Getting coaching and pushing yourself in suitable conditions will accelerate your development. Master these techniques and you’ll be shredding like an intermediate surfer.

Why is rail-to-rail turning important for experienced surfers to master?

Rail-to-rail turning refers to making sharp turns on the wave by shifting your weight between the rails (edges) of the surfboard. This advanced technique allows experienced surfers to snap, carve, and slash powerfully in the pocket of the wave. Mastering rail-to-rail turns enables tighter radius turns, faster maneuvering, and better control on the wave face. It requires excellent balance, wave reading skills, and board control. Having the ability to smoothly transition between rails while turning opens up more possibilities to generate speed, hit lips, and perform critical maneuvers. All in all, rail-to-rail turning separates intermediate and advanced surfers in the water.

How can I safely progress my surfing without going beyond my limits?

Surfing progression requires patience. Build foundational skills before moving to bigger waves. Gain experience in mellow conditions first. Slowly work up to more challenging waves rather than jumping into the deep end. Learn to read the ocean and understand your limits. Don't surf conditions beyond your current ability. Master skills like paddling, popping up and turning before trying advanced techniques. Have an experienced surfer provide feedback and advice. Repeatedly pushing your limits too far can lead to bad habits, frustration and serious injury. Progress at your own pace rather than comparing yourself to others. Stay within your comfort zone and incrementally challenge yourself. Prioritizing safety and longevity will lead to greater long term rewards.

What essential surf gear do you recommend beginner surfers have to maximize enjoyment and time in the water?

Here is a draft short text for an FAQ on essential surf gear for beginner surfers:

When just starting out with surfing, having the right basic gear is key to maximizing your enjoyment and time spent actually riding waves rather than struggling with equipment. Here are the top items every beginner should have:

  • Surfboard – Get a 8-9 foot soft-top longboard for stability, ease of paddling, and wave catching ability. This will help you focus on fundamentals rather than battling a shortboard.
  • Wetsuit – A 3/2mm wetsuit allows flexibility while keeping your warm in cooler water temps. Look for one with stretchy panels that won’t restrict movement. 
  • Leash – Attach your leash properly to avoid losing your board. Coiled leg ropes allow you to move freely.
  • Traction Pad – Apply a grip pad to the deck of your surfboard for stable footing when popping up and riding.
  • Fins – Ensure you have the appropriate beginner fins installed for maneuverability.

Having the right surf gear dialed in makes learning significantly smoother and more rewarding from the start. Invest in quality equipment that will last you well beyond the beginner phases.

How Can You Enjoy Your Time More When Beginning To Surf?

Surfing can be equal parts thrilling and frustrating when you're first starting out. Here are some useful tips to help you better enjoy the learning process:

  • Take lessons - having proper guidance on technique makes progress faster and more rewarding.
  • Set small goals - focus on baby steps like standing up briefly or riding a wave for a few seconds.
  • Bring friends - learning together makes it all more fun.
  • Don't get discouraged - falls and wipeouts happen even to the best surfers. 
  • Reward yourself - celebrate little milestones by treating yourself after sessions.
  • Appreciate the ocean - even watching from your board is beautiful. 
  • Maintain a positive attitude - patience and persistence pay off.

Focus more on the journey of learning rather than demanding quick results from yourself. Embrace the ups and downs and you’ll learn to love surfing.

What Are Some Tips To Get Started With Intermediate Surfing?

Now that you've mastered the basics, you're ready to step it up! Here are some tips:

  • Upgrade your board to something shorter/wider for more speed & maneuverability 
  • Learn to generate speed by angling take-offs and using the wave's power
  • Start working on bottom turns, cutbacks and re-entries
  • Improve balance using cross-stepping and noseriding techniques 
  • Practice reading waves and positioning yourself deeper in the peak 
  • Start riding different sections like reefs and points
  • Take lessons to learn proper mechanics from experienced surfers

The key is being comfortable riding in the pocket and start developing some flow between turns. Be patient as you build on your fundamental skills. With consistency, intermediate tricks will start to feel natural over time.

Why Is It Important To Know Your Limits When Surfing As A Beginner?

Knowing your limits as a beginner surfer is crucial for safety and building proper skills. It's easy when starting out to get overeager and attempt to take on more advanced waves or techniques prematurely. However, this often leads to failure, exhaustion, injury, or breaking your board. It's vital to be honest with yourself about your current ability level and gain experience in appropriate conditions before advancing. Don't let ego push you beyond your capabilities. Build a foundation first by knowing what types of small waves you can handle and what maneuvers you have truly mastered. Learn to walk before you try to run. Surfing rewards patience, persistence and gradually expanding your comfort zone. Knowing your limits now makes progression safer and more enjoyable in the long run.

What Techniques Can Help You Start Surfing Better?

When first starting out, focus on the fundamentals - paddle strength, pop-up technique, stance balance. Mastering these will make learning much easier. 

Paddle out often to build endurance. Practice popping up on land until it feels natural. Surf small waves working on takeoffs, turning, and controlling speed. 

Pay attention to board volume - start bigger for more stability. Ask better surfers for tips. Videotape sessions to see errors.

Most of all, be patient and just enjoy your surf time. Consistent practice is key but go at your own pace. Core techniques take time but will click eventually!

How Should You Move Your Feet When Maneuvering An Intermediate Surfboard?

Proper foot movement and weight distribution are key for controlling an intermediate surfboard. Keep your feet about shoulder-width apart with knees slightly bent when paddling to maintain stability. When popping up, move your back foot to just in front of the rear traction pad and place your front foot closer to the middle of the board. Distribute weight evenly between front and back legs. To turn, shift weight very subtly onto your front foot and lean your torso gently towards the nose. Slightly increase pressure on your toes or heel to maneuver the rails. Moving too drastically can cause you to lose control and wipe out. Make adjustments calmly and deliberately. Keep practicing different types of turns using the edges of your board and weight transfers until they feel natural.

When Is It Safe To Always Surf Alone As A Beginner?

Surfing alone as a total beginner is never recommended. It's simply too dangerous, even if you're a strong swimmer. Beginners lack the experience to handle common surfing hazards and risks on their own. Things like getting caught in a rip current, getting hit by your board, or wiping out violently can be life-threatening if you don't have a partner to assist you. 

At an absolute minimum, you'll want at least one year of frequent surfing experience in a variety of conditions before attempting to surf alone sometimes. Even then only surf spots that you're very comfortable with and pay close attention to ocean safety principles. It's always safer to surf with a buddy regardless of skill level. Consider taking lessons or joining local surf communities to meet partners. Don't let inexperience put you in a dangerous situation. Safety first.


This article was updated on January 6, 2024

Mike "The Wave Rider" Thompson is the heart and soul behind Wegosurfing.com. A Santa Cruz native, he's been surfing since age six and combines his love for the ocean with environmental advocacy. His site offers a rich blend of surf spot guides, gear reviews, and conservation insights. Mike's annual surf retreats and community spirit make him a beloved figure in the global surfing community and a champion for marine preservation.