How to catch a wave surfing

To catch a wave (and be able to the read waves) is the key thing to learn in surfing. The waves and also the conditions are always going to be different, so this confuses a lot of beginners.

Luckily, you can understand and practice all that is needed to catch a wave in surfing easily.

Sounds good? Let’s begin:

1,  Where is the easiest to catch a wave?

The below (nicely sized) wave shows you the different parts of the wave:

Typical mistake: Most surfers tend to try to catch on the wave face / shoulder, which usually doesn’t work out – they paddle, but the wave rolls out under them as they are not close enough to where the wave actually breaks. This is also where most of the others are waiting for the wave – but it’s wrong.

Where to catch a wave: You can catch the wave at the peak of the wave and then slide down into the pocket/curl to keep riding it.

Position yourself on the peak, where the wave initially breaks to catch the most amount of waves:

  • the closer you are to the peak, the higher chances you have catching it
  • the closer you are to the peak, you are likely fighting against more people to catch a wave

To do this, you need to be close to where the wave actually breaks. Most surfers tend to wait 5-10 meters away from this point. It is safer there. You have to pay attention, as when you are closer to the break point, a bigger wave can break earlier and surprise you. You can always paddle against it if you see it coming. It is worth being more on the inside (closer to the break), this can dramatically increase your chances of catching waves in each session!

See the below video for an example:

2, Understand the wave you are about to surf before you are going in the water

When you arrive at the break you want to surf, watch what the others are doing for 5-10 minutes from the beach. Where does the wave break, where do they wait, where do they get past the waves?

There are  3 types of breaks:

  1. Beach breaks usually don’t break at the same place, as the sand bars can shift with different storm and swell patterns.  They are usually the most consistent types of breaks – meaning there would be surf-able waves on most days – since little swell is needed for waves to break.
  2. Reef breaks usually break at the same placeA reef break is a surf spot that has anything from smooth rock to razor sharp reef beneath the breaking waves. Be careful especially at low tide with these! Since the reef doesn’t move around, these waves will break in generally the same spot and will be more predictable than a beach break.
  3. Point breaks usually break at the same place, but typically require larger swells to break. They can have rock, reef, sand bottoms or a combination of rock or reef and sand (the rock or reef would act to hold the sand in place). The most well formed point breaks come off of peninsulas that are just out into the ocean.The waves forming off these points break in the same direction, so they are either all breaking left or all breaking right. The longest waves in the world are point breaks.

After about 10 minutes, use what you observed and paddle out to the line up and position yourself near the peak, using what you have discovered from the beach.

Pro tip: check if there is another nearby opportunity

You should pay attention to the crowd factor when you go surfing, sometimes another surf break is nearby, but nobody notices it. People tend to look at the breaks where there are already a bunch of surfers (“the crowd”). Humans like to gather in groups and follow what works and surfing is no exception.

3, Which wave should I paddle for?

Only time and experience can get you to know when you should paddle for a wave or to skip it. Here are the 3 most typical stages of waves for a quick overview

If the wave is flat

  • you are unlikely to catch it
  • you are wasting a lot of energy
  • more likely gonna get the next wave on your head if you paddle for this one further

If the wave is half formed

  • means you have the real possibility to catch it
  • you just need to paddle hard and with commitment

If the wave is fully formed

  • most of the time it will break over the top of you
  • late take off often happens (you catch the white water, not the unbroken wave)
  • you should skip it, paddle over the top and look for one wich is ideal for you


There are 3 key things that can help to increase your wave count when catching a wave:

  1. Understand the wave you are about to surf before you are going in the water (and look for alternatives when it is crowded)
  2. Always try to catch the wave at the peak
  3. Know which wave to paddle for (distuinguish between flat, half formed and fully formed waves)

If you are still not sure how to do it, or the above didn’t resolve your issue with catching the waves, take the below quiz to find your number 1 surf blocker and keep progressing with your surfing!

Do you know what is the number 1 thing holding back your progress in surfing?

Takes 2 minutes

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