There are a lot of guides out there on how to pop up on a shortboard but here’s what makes this one different:

I’ve taught the pop up to literally hundreds of students - if not thousands. In fact it’s the most important part of the learning process. 

You see, if the pop is executed poorly, the rest of your surfing will suffer.

In this post I’m going to be going fully in depth (like never before) and show you exactly how to pop up, alongside my surfing tutorial video and reveal to you the easiest method to learn quickly.

Let’s jump in. 


Let’s start with the brutal truth, shall we?

Learning to surf on a shortboard is virtually impossible at the best of times. Nevermind in the early stages of developing your surfing skills. 

Here’s why:

  • Less volume equals more margin for error - as if you need anymore, right?
  • 10X harder to paddle -  no waves means no pop up
  • Surfing is ridiculously hard

Any assistance you can get with your equipment take it.


If your struggling to pop up, find a board with more volume. This could be anything from a 6’9 fiberglass to an 8 foot foamie. What's important is, practising in real time. 

Not on the beach, not in your bedroom and not behind a boat. 

You’ll never have a chance in hell otherwise at improving your surfing.


You’ve probably heard the statement - “old habits die hard” and it’s true to an extent. 

A more accurate statement would be…

Bad habits must die!

If that’s hard to understand, think about it this way.

Watching the pop up in slow motion is an excellent way to fully break down each of the movements into the tiniest of details. 

Let’s face it.

Everything happens so quickly in surfing it’s impossible to know where your mistakes are coming from. 

But, when the pop up is slowed down, frame by frame you get a better understanding of what you need to be doing and at what stage. 

Once you learn the formula to perfecting your pop up, it’s then up to you, to ditch your bad habits and start implementing new ones. 

Even if this means one step forward two steps back. 

Because, in the long run your entire surfing performance will advance once you eliminate any bad habits you’ve picked up along the way. 


When you’re a beginner, knowing when to pop up gets confusing. 

Should I wait until I done the face? Or maybe once the wave is already breaking? 

These questions and more are common among surfers who are transitioning from big board to shortboard and from surfing the white water to surfing the green waves. 

Luckily I have the answer...

When to pop up on a wave?

The answer is… 

You must pop up at about 2/3rd of the wave’s height.

There are two reasons for this:

  • This is too make sure you are 100% on the wave
  • You are up and riding before the wave gets steeper

Any later and you’ll be travelling too far down the waves face to pop up.

This isn't good...

If you happen to get to your feet, it’s pretty likely your going to have a lip break right behind you and catapult you forward. 

On the other hand if you’re too early, you’ll be standing on the top part of the wave, with zero momentum to carry you further forward. 

Use this formula each time your popping up. 

You won’t go wrong. 


It’s hard, right?

Consistently popping up, making sure you’re in the right position. Shooting down the face of a green wave. Within a short second it’s all over. 

How are you supposed to remember all the little details and do it over and over again?

Surfing can be strangely stressful at times.

And I have news for you:

It’s completely normal. We hear it from students all the time and we’ve learned exactly how to deal with it. 

Surfing Pop Up Exercises. 

Sounds like a load of BS, hear me out…

Popping up requires one continuous explosive movement of balance and skill. 

All skills take practice and repetition. The more you practice the more muscle memory you will build.

When you perform surfing pop up exercise you will mimic the exact movement patterns, force and timing of a real pop up.

Through the repetition of these exercises they will eventually become hard-wired into you brain. 

Meaning, next time your out in the water, your body muscle memory remembers the movement and kicks into action. 

The results will be a more pop in your pop up and an increased success rate. 

The good news; surfing pop up exercises can be performed anywhere. 

Try it out for yourself. 


Okay, you’re struggling to pop on a shortboard?

Before you start shouting and cursing and giving up all together, consider these two options. 

  • Increase your boards volume
  • Get surf fit


The extra board volume is going to make it easier to catch waves. The more volume the more buoyancy. This will help with slowing down your pop up so you can practice the correct technique. 

Once you’re pop up becomes second nature, speed it a little. 

Think about it like this.

Our Surf School in Mount Maunganui - and others all around the world -always have big foam boards for students learning to surf. 

There is a reason why they use these boards. 

The success rate in popping up with boards with more volume is so significantly higher than shortboards. 

By increasing your boards volume you will experience immediate benefits to your surfing. 


The pop up is a dynamic and explosive movement. And, it’s a movement not usually practiced in your day to day life. 

Building strength, endurance and overall increased fitness levels will see an immediate impact on your pop up. 

Here's what you need to know.

Surfing a shortboards will require an additional levels of fitness, not often experienced in the gym or any other fitness discipline.

This is why you’ve probably heard the term surf fit.

The range of muscle surfing uses is difficult to replicate out of the water. 

It’s quite simple. 

The more surf fit you are, the easier it will be to pop up. 


I’m going to let you in on a little secret…

There is a technique which is used by us, because it simply works. 

We’ve tried and tested many different variations of the pop up but there’s one that comes up trumps time and time again. 

It’s known as the Chicken Wing Pop Up. 

Earlier we talked about when to pop up a shortboard. Now let’s go back and explain a little more detail about the chicken wing technique. 

Getting to your feet is ideally when your on the ⅔ of the wave height. As soon as you feel the wave take you, you need to get your hands right back near your pectorals. 

But, our instincts tell us otherwise...

You see, as your surfboard points down hill on the waves face you have that feeling strong feeling that your falling forwards. 

And our natural instinct is to put our hands out in front of us. 

For instance when you go behind someone and push them, their natural instincts is to throw their hands forward to protect themselves from hitting the ground.

If you put your hands in front of you on a surfboard - by your shoulders or by your ears , it’s IMPOSSIBLE to stand up. 

To counteract this, you need to put your hands right back in the chicken wing position. Near your pectorals. 

When you have your hands down here, it’s much easier to bring your feet though. 

And this process of standing up that stops you from nose diving. 



  • Paddle until you catch the wave. Only stop once the wave has completely collected you and your board. Ideally, you want to be gliding with the wave
  • Feel the momentum - Learn to feel the wave hitting the back of your board. Once you get better at this your timing will improve with your pop up
  • Your paddle needs to match the speed of the breaking wave (remember a shortboard is harder to paddle)
  • Paddle TWO extra stokes -  A lot of surfers tend to stop paddling as soon as they feel the wave take them. This time without the extra glide from your bigger board you will always need TWO more paddle strokes
  • Push your chest up. Rising up with your upper body, only your shoulders, and chest. Your lower body remains on your surfboard
  • Place your hands on the deck, near your pectorals and look up in the direction you want to go
  • Look forward - If you look down you do down, so remember to look up when you pop up
  • Leverage - your need to create space between your body and your surfboard. This will allow enough space for you to bring your feet through
  • Slide your back foot forward and place it on your traction pad
  • As you push up, you move your back foot forward into position
  • Bend your back leg out to the side of the board's rail
  • Push up using your back foot and both hands on the deck of the board
  • Push your whole body up and over the surfboard
  • Bring your front foot forward between both hands
  • This creates the necessary space to now bring your front foot through
  • Bring your front foot forward between both hands

PRO TIP: Do NOT place your knees on the board at any time

  • Keep your hands on your board until you have the correct balance - once you have the correct balance you are able to let go
  • Throw your front knee forward towards your chest
  • It should land about 1 or 2 inches lower than the palm of your hands
  • Once you are stable and comfortable, stand up. Let go of the deck and continue to look up
  • Throw your front knee forward towards your chest
  • Maintain low centre of gravity as you come up
  • Look forward - maintain eye contact forward, during the entire pop up process
  • Check your stance. Staying low and compact
  • The distance between both your feet should be your shoulder’s width or slightly more
  • Your front foot shouldn’t have more than a 45-degree opening
  • Both your feet should be perfectly placed on the width of the board, with your feet arches over the stringer (the line in the middle of the board)


  • Placing your hands on the rails will create more drag and instability. Keep your hands on the deck towards your chest
  • Don't throw your feet at the same time. Even professionals place their back foot first followed by their front foot
  • Don't push up with your hands in front of you. Its impossible to pop up like this. Remember to push up near your pectorals
  • Do not use your knees. Don't be lazy and start to bring your knees up first rather than your feet. This is a really bad habit that takes years to get rid of. Never, ever start. When you progress in your surfing to bigger, steeper waves this technique will hold you back from making some of the takeoffs
  • Don't bring your front foot forward first. You lose your speed and ability to stay with the wave
  • Don't straighten your legs. Maintain your lower centre of gravity to absorb any lumps and bumps in the wave
  • Don't straighten your legs. Maintain your lower centre of gravity to absorb any lumps and bumps in the wave
  • Don't fold at the hip and have your chest too far over your board, you are likely to fall. Bend your knees and lower your hips


Here’s the bottom line. 

Laying good foundations early is a key to your future progression.

It’s these solid foundation that you will experience a consistent and reliable pop up, everytime.

Is it easy?

Hell no, usually a lot of work. 

But this is how you win. 

  • Practice, practice, practice
  • Surfing pop up exercises
  • Be on the right equipment

'nough said. Now it's your turn. 

Let me know in the comments below how these tips have helped with your pop up.

Talk soon,



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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