Gerlach, a stylemaster in the late '80s/early '90s, practicing what he preaches. Photo: Engelbrecht

Gerlach, a stylemaster in the late ’80s/ early ’90s, practicing what he preaches. Photo: Engelbrecht

Style partially comes from functionality. What makes a surfer stylish is perfect technique, precise timing, and the intangible – a projection of personality, spirit, and confidence. This last piece makes the surfer more than just a predictable machine, but rather shows off uniqueness and flare and makes the surfer one you can't take your eyes off. This illustrates a connection with themselves and Mother Nature, deriving joy and freedom from the source, which is the the wave itself. Below are nine techniques you can make to improve your surf style.

Keep your back straight
Miki Dora, Phil Edwards, Mark Richards, Wayne Lynch, Buttons, Gerry Lopez, Curren, Machado, Slater, Reynolds– all of the best and most stylish surfers in the world naturally surfed and surf with a straight back. There are no hunchbacked Stylemasters, because it's impossible to twist effortlessly while bending at the waist. Style comes from a lack of effort and ease of movement.

Keep your arms fairly still
The best surfers have relaxed arms. Their arms may look like they're in motion, but really, they're just moving with the turning/twisting of the torso. The body surfs best when it moves simultaneously.

Turn the back knee inwards
Stance is super important in terms of function translating into style. The back knee being turned in, towards the nose of the board, is aesthetically pleasing. To make the knee do this, the toes must slightly face the nose of board or there will be strain on the medial collateral and the turn won’t be functional. Basically, the back foot moves a little when bottom turning and again before top turning – it's leverage, once you have it, it's easy to turn.

Conner Coffin, doing fancy footwork on an open face at J-Bay. Photo: Ellis

Conner Coffin, fancy footwork on an open J-Bay face. Photo: Ellis

Keep your front arm down and on the outside of the knee
Leaving the front arm relaxed at your side, in front of you, with the leading hand falling somewhat on the outside of the front knee, will allow for an easy torso and shoulder turn on a forehand re-entry or backside bottom turn. Sometimes placing that front arm on the inside of the knee to stall for a tube looks super stylish also.

Keep your butt down while bottom turning
Many surfers, including several top-level pros, put their face down close to the water and leave their butt up in the air during frontside bottom turns or backside top turns and cutbacks. This is poor technique, and not very pleasing to the eye. People often think that because their eyes are close to the water, their whole body is near to the water when it’s actually not. This is a huge No-No in big surf as well, because one bump can knock you right off. Keep the back straight, head in the center, and drop the butt down to the heels. All the best bottom turns have been done this way.

Tom Curren at Sunset in 1985, showcasing one of the best bottom turns in the business. Photo: Divine

Tom Curren at Sunset in 1985, showcasing one of the best bottom turns in the business. Photo: Divine

Keep the head calm
Keep your head centered, smoothly turning it to see where you are going. Snapping it around too fast or lifting it up too soon after a turn looks rushed and takes away from the power and length of the maneuver.

When doing airs, go inverted
Whether it's a method, a slob, a reverse, a stalefish, or a flip, the most stylish-looking airs are when the tail is above the nose and the knees are close to the chest. Whenever you see someone doing big airs, their board is close to the body.

Creed McTaggart, knees close to his chest and tail higher than the nose. Photo: Craig

Creed McTaggart, knees close to his chest and tail higher than the nose. Photo: Craig

Paddle smoothly
Typically a stylish takeoff is one that doesn't use a lot of strokes (maybe one or two paddles) and is timed butter smooth. "Popping up" is a bit of a misnomer because we're doing more of a slide-up. You pull and slide to standing. It's easy to recognize a good surfer from how he or she slides up onto their board into a perfect stance. This is the first point in style.

Bend your legs, not your back in the tube
Stylish frontside barrel riding has much to do with a straight back, bent legs like you are sitting in a chair, and relaxed arms. Sometimes you have to curl your back in order to fit into a really small tube, but for the most part, if you hunch your back in a big enough tube it tends not to look very stylish. Lightly running your fingers on the wall is a nice touch too (pun intended). Backside is another story: using your leading hip and back to slowdown is the ultimate in style and one of the best ways to get intimate with a wave. Ask Kelly.

Mitch Coleborn, demonstrating how to look seriously smooth while getting tubed. Photo: Carey

Mitch Coleborn, arms still and relaxed, demonstrating how to look seriously smooth while getting tubed. Photo: Carey


Check out Brad Gerlach’s new book on surf technique, available for purchase next spring at WaveKi.com