Here’s the thing. 

Every surfer dreams of catching the perfect wave. Taking off, drawing your line, then setting yourself up for the ultimate ride.

This is why you surf.

And more importantly this is why you need to know how to catch green waves so you can repeat, repeat, repeat. 

Yes, surfing is hard, but getting better is quite simple: the more waves you catch, the more you will improve, and the more fun you’re going to have as a result. 

And before you know it, you'll be up and riding catching green waves exclusively. 

Yes, there's a lot of ground to cover before that point (that's what this article is all about), but the journey here. 

Are you ready? 

Let’s get to it.


Catching unbroken waves is one of the hardest aspects of surfing you will need to master.

There is a plethora of nuances to understand and learn.

From assessing the swell as it comes in, to noting where it is peaking. 

All of these factors and more will help you to determine which waves to catch and why. 

To add, even the slightest of subtle differences can turn a good wave into a bad wave and vice versa. 

For example: Too much shoulder (wall) might mean the wave will close out.  

The simple task of watching the waves carefully and noting how and where the waves are breaking will save you time, conserve your energy and limit your frustration. 

And the best part:

You can do this anytime and anywhere.  


Before catching a green wave, you will usually need to decide which direction you’re going to be surfing on the wave. 

What this means is: are you going to be surfing the left or the right?


On most beach breaks, you’ll be able to go either right or left. The wave may build up in a wedged shape or an A frame, allowing you to choose either a left or a right hand wave to surf. 

A good habit to practice, is to decide prior to entering the water which direction you will be surfing - based on wave conditions and your personal preference. 

This is a great way to eliminate and avoid any indecisiveness or uncertainty out in the water.  

But remember, things can and often do change from wave to wave. 

Here’s a tip:

Experienced surfers catch more waves because they move around a lot. 


As a wave forms on the horizon this will eventually transform into waves known as sets as it approaches the shore. 

These waves will form into many different shapes and sizes depending on what type of surf break you are surfing. 

The majority of waves can be categorized into 4 main types.

  • Left
  • Right
  • A Frame
  • Closeout

It’s important to note here; surfers identify the wave direction from their perspective out in the water.

ie. what appears to be a left from the land, is in fact a right out in the water. 

Let's break down each of these wave directions a little further.


left-hand breaking wave

A wave that breaks to the left from the vantage of the surfer riding the wave. For people looking from the beach, the wave will be breaking to the right from their position. How to catch green waves.


right-hand breaking wave

A wave that breaks to the right from the vantage of the surfer riding the wave. For people looking from the beach, the wave will be breaking to the left from their position.


A wave that closes all at once. There is neither a left or a right to surf. Usually your only option is to go straight. These waves are very limited and you pretty much have to ride straight, unless you're a famous pro surfer like Felipe Toledo that is.



A wave shaped like an A which has both a left and a right wave peeling away from the take off position. 


Catching waves on a shortboard is a whole different story compared to catching waves on bigger boards.  

Here’s why.

Shortboards have less volume, so paddling and catching waves is much harder.  

This makes catching waves on a shortboard difficult for three reasons:

  • Margin for error: As you have reduced paddle power, you’ll be catching waves later, meaning you’ll need to negotiate steeper drops more often.
  • Paddle power: Shortboards have less volume than their larger counterparts and they’re harder to paddle.  So, in order to catch a wave on a shortboard you’ll have to paddle harder to gain momentum.
  • Positioning: Because you need more paddle power, and you have a lower margin for error with a shortboard, your positioning needs to be much more accurate in order to catch the waves.

When making the step up from beginner surfboard to shortboard things will likely get worse before they get better.

But, stick with it as over time you’ll hone in on your skills and it’ll become second nature in no time.


Let’s face it. 

Surfing is a hard sport to master. It takes a lot of practice and you’re going to encounter a lot of setbacks before you see any results. 

There’s a reason why only a small percentage of surfers in the world are good...

But, the one thing you need for all of this is to be able to catch waves so you can practise and perfect your skills to improve. 

There’s nothing worse than sitting out the back and not catching anything. Ahhhhhh surfing can be so frustrating at times. ‘

So how do you get waves without feeling defeated?

There are two main areas you need to focus on;

They are:

  • Paddling speed
  • Where you are lying on your board

Let’s break these areas down into a little more detail. 


Your body positioning catching green waves at first may seem counter intuitive.  

The last thing you want to do is move your body further forward. The thought of racing down a green face is enough to put you off. 

On the other hand, this is why you see so many Level 1 and 2 surfers getting hung up on the lip. 

Their noses are higher than the tail which makes it almost impossible to catch green waves. 

Beginner surfers = spectacular wipeouts. 

Moving your body further forward and creating as little space between the nose and the water is what’s going to give you the edge getting you into most waves. 

Ideally you need to have the nose of the board lower than the tail at the moment you're entering into the wave. 

Talk about commitment! 

This at first will take a lot of getting used to, but stick with it and you will find you are catching more waves with less effort.


Catching green waves requires you to begin your paddling in advance. 

I’m sure you’ve heard a surf coach shout “ remember three extra paddles” and for good reason. This is to make sure you keep your momentum with the moving wave as it travels to shore. 

Most Level 1 and 2 surfers feel a slight push and they stop paddling. 

The problem is, you need more paddle speed than this - in fact, when you feel this push start ACCELERATING. 

That means - you need to paddling at full speed by the time the wave begins to lift the back of the board. 


If you are lying on your board correctly but you’re not moving at full speed by the time the wave lifts the back you're going to nose dive. 


There is a reason why you learn to surf in the white water. 

It’s easy, safe and predictable. 

It’s also really helpful when it comes to catching waves. 

Here’s why;

The power from the white water pushes you forward without really needing to paddle. 

This force makes it relatively easy to catch unbroken waves. 

Even better, there is no take off zone or positioning - did I mention crowds?

Green waves on the other hand is like learning to surf all over again. 

These waves are unpredictable and challenging at the best of times. This is also what makes them so much fun. 

Once you get a taste of surfing a green wave, you’ll never look back. 

What makes catching green waves so difficult is...there is no push forward. The force that lets you into the wave is gravity. 

In other words you're trying to paddle down a hill that’s moving forward. 

This is what makes surfing so hard!

Knowing gravity is at play can really help you to understand how to use it to your advantage so you get out there and start catching all the green waves you want. 


I let you in on a little secret…

There are four stages to a wave breaking. One of them is the ideal position for you to catch an unbroken wave. 

Let’s find out which one. 

the stages of the wave


The wave is a lump.

At stage A the wave is only a lump out to sea. It’s not defined by a peak and is only an indication that there is a wave coming. 


Paddle!!! & catch wave.

At stage B this is the perfect shape and steepness for you to catch the unbroken wave. 


Too late.

At this stage the wave has formed into a  ‘lip’. This lip is now really steep and full of power making it impossible to catch the wave without eating shit! 


White water warrior.

At this stage the wave has now broken and formed into white water before hitting the shore and fading out. 




  • Observe - Ask yourself is it a right, left or a close out. Decide which wave direction you’re going to go. This will help you to get into the correct position for your take off
  • Landmark - Once you know your position, take a look at the shore and line yourself up with a landmark on the beach. Use this everytime you catch a wave so you know you are in the right position
  • Get into position - Sit up on your board at Stage B. This is usually about __? metres out from the Stage D. Pay attention to the oncoming waves
  • Pick a wave - Turn around, lie correctly on your board and start paddling
  • Paddle Speed - You need your paddle speed to match the speed of the wave transitioning from Stage A to Stage B. As you are paddling keep checking your position. Look behind at the wave as well as in front and to the direction your going as you start to draw your line
  • Stick - As you continue to paddle you’re going to feel your tail lift. This is when you need to remember your 3 extra paddle strokes
  • Head down - get your head chin down towards the board. This will put extra weight on your nose to get into the pitching part of the wave
  • Momentum - The wave needs every bit of help it can get from you. If you don't have the right speed and the right momentum the wave will simply pass you by
  • Chicken wing elbows - As you feel your tail lift, your nose will push down. This is when you need to get your arms back near your pectorals. If you do this right your elbows will look like chicken wings
  • Pop on ⅔ -  Using the momentum of the wave, it’s time to pop up. You want to be up, with your feet in position as your ride down or across the face of the green wave


Feel is your most important thing to remember. As cheesy as it is… Most of surfing is to do with feeling.

Timing comes down to you feeling the wave and reading the wave correctly.

  • Wrong choice of a wave: This will be evident immediately as you will wipe out. Be patient, wait for the mellow waves to take you all the way to shore
  • Incorrect body position: If you are even the slightest off center on your board, you’ll struggle to paddle effectively and gain the speed that you’ll need to catch the wave
  • Don't paddle too fast, too early and burn all of your energy: Timing is key and this is something that comes with more experience
  • Nose diving: You nose dive because of two factor: Paddle speed or your body positioning 
  • Don't rely on your surf coach to place you in the right spot position all the time: Allow for some independence so you can learn first hand
  • Too little power: If you have chosen a tiny wave it won't have the power and the momentum to carry you forward. You will know this because you’ll come off the back as the wave continues to shore


Surfing a green wave for the first time is truly an unforgettable experience.

As surfers we all know, in order to experience the highs you’ll also have to endure many lows...

Granted, there will be times when you want to give up, but with practice and a little persistence this will eventually pay off. 

Each wave will teach you something new. This is what makes surfing so alluring. No wave is ever the same. 

What you will notice however, is there will be similarities and patterns. This new found knowledge and understanding of the ocean and how waves break will give you confidence to catch waves like never before. 

As the saying goes… Only a surfer knows the feeling. 

Let me know in the comments below how these tips have helped you catch more green waves. 

With Love,



Ex WQS warrior, and all-round frother - Loz is the technical coaching queen at the House of Surf.

She is also a mindset and life coach and has a habit of living in her van way too much. 

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