Speed. The essence of riding waves. There is no one magical secret to moving on a wave, but to extract as much speed as humanly possible from a wave depends on your knowledge of key elements such as equipment, your body, and the wave itself. Without a little help from everyone else, you could spend a long time trying to work it out yourself.
In all forms of knowledge, people have passed down information from one generation to the next, and now, with technological advances, information gets spread to everyone at the speed of light. If Jordy does a rodeo at Macaroni’s you can bet you’re gonna see it on YouTube in a day or two. That doesn’t mean you’ll be able to do it, but you can see it nonetheless. With that, advancements in surfing speed up for the average person. You could say that surfing progresses because of all the different approaches and ideas that guys have on a wave, relative to their abilities.
But although each person’s ideas are totally unique, there are basic positions that everyone uses to get from point A to point B. To break down the elements that go into maneuvers, you have to look at what you are dealing with. Boards and waves will change constantly, but the positions of the body are the one thing you are totally in control of at all times. Each movement of the body will have an effect on the other, and then on the board, and ultimately on the wave.
Let’s start with an overview of how the body works as a turn happens:
Legs: As you set a turn, you are compressed and coiled. Think of the compression in your legs like shock absorbers—catching the energy by compressing and then pushing back energy by extending. How much you can push back is the true source and test of power.
Shoulders: Rotation is your shoulder turn when compared to your hips and lower body. This is what creates extra power to release through your turn. In general, I like to keep the shoulders just ahead of the line of the board, with the rear shoulder dropped lower than the front shoulder. At the apex of a turn, the shoulders move further ahead of the board and should be basically rotated as far as you think the board is going to rotate by the end of the turn. The more speed you have, the less you need to turn your shoulders to create extra resistance and the more you cancan concentrate on just compressing. The tighter the arc of your turn, the more your shoulders are going to rotate—but this is where your hips also come into play.
Hips: I like to feel the hips “lead” into the turn and stay ahead of my front shoulder instead of the front shoulder being out in front of the hip. I think this is the real key to flowing from turn to turn. If your shoulders get in front of your hips, you can’t open to the direction you are turning and too much pressure/weight gets forward on your board, pushing into the nose and rocker of the board and, in effect, slowing you down and digging the front rail. Your arms also then have to counterbalance as the weight gets too far forward. To draw out a longer turn, your hips stay further forward. The tighter the turn, the further back your hips stay on the board and under your body to shorten the radius of your turns. (That is something we’ll get more into the details of later.)
Some of this may sound like a mouthful and a little bit too much info at once; so just take one idea at a time and work through it consciously. Only after years of thinking about these things did it make sense to actually verbalize it to myself, and I’m not sure if those translations will come out right to everyone else. I am trying to articulate the biomechanics that happen without the mind or words getting in the way.
I once took a golf lesson, and the guy told me to be a scientist on the range and an athlete on the course. In other words, work on things specifically to improve your results in practice, but when you’re either competing or just enjoying yourself, don’t think about any of it and just see and do without thinking anything in between. Go by feel. Once you get comfortable with the principles of breaking things down to smaller elements, you can probably get to a point where you can actively apply a tip or different mechanics on the fly without needing to do it over and over again.
Over the coming months I’ll be trying my best to give you both a basic and technical understanding of getting the most from your surfing. That journey begins on the next page.
Good luck, and have fun. —Kelly Slater