Quick heads up, this is a guide to surfing bigger waves for normal, everyday surfers.

A guide to help you gradually expose yourself to ever larger surf, and to arm you with the skills to be able to surf them well.

We’re not talking about 20ft waves here, instead we’re talking about everyday bigger waves at your local, the type of waves you'll likely want to attack and get amongst, but can’t. 

In this guide you’ll learn:

  • The difference between surfing bigger waves vs small waves - and how your approach must change.
  • How your equipment choices can impact things in a big way.
  • The vital skills you need to surf bigger waves effectively.
  • How to conserve energy in bigger surf.

And a whole heap more.

If you’re ready, let’s go.

But first…


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ARE BIGGER WAVES EASIER TO SURF?

Technically, bigger waves are easier to surf than small waves.

Why?

Let me explain.

Small wave surfing is all about top to bottom surfing, speed, power & flow, combined with technical tricks and flair. 

This style of surfing takes huge amounts of coordination, skill, and years of practice. 

Surfing larger waves on the other hand is much more about commitment, and much less about trickery.

Sure, there’s insane levels of skill to be able to position yourself in the right spot, understand the lineup, how waves break, etc. But the act of actually riding a bigger wave takes less skill than doing a backflip if you catch my drift.

That’s not to say it’s easy, far from it, but it’s definitely less technical.


WHAT DO SURFERS CLASSIFY AS A BIG WAVE?

The classification of a big wave is totally subjective. 

If you’re from Hawaii a wave wouldn’t be deemed as big until it’s double overhead for instance. 

And for beginners learning to surf, a 2ft wave can feel terrifyingly big. 

It’s all subjective. 

For the majority of surfers though once your past that full beginner level, anything above around 5-6ft will be deemed as big.


6 TIPS TO SURFING BIGGER WAVES FOR THE EVERYDAY SURFER

Ok like I said before this is not a guide for surfing huge waves, the type of waves you see on the internet - I’m absolutely not qualified to teach you that.

Instead it’s for normal surfers that want to surf bigger waves, the type of waves you'd catch at your local beach, you know that ones. 

So if that’s you, keep reading.


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1. KNOW YOUR LIMITS

First up, you’ve got to know your limits. 

It’s no use throwing yourself way out of your comfort zone and expecting everything to be ok, nah, surfing bigger waves is a gradual process and it takes time. 

Know your limits (even if that’s waist high waves that’s fine), and gradually push them every time you can. 

The more you can expose yourself to the outer limits of your comfort zone, the faster you’ll move through them.


2. MANAGE YOUR FEAR

Everyone experiences fear in bigger waves, it’s totally natural.

But not many people have a plan for how to mitigate it, and how to control it. 

We've written a whole guide on how to overcome a fear of big waves here, and if this is an area you really want to get handled we have a full course we built that goes insanely deep on the topic too. 

But in brief, here’s what you need to do to manage your fear:

  • Step 1: Unpack it - If you know how fear effects the body's autonomic nervous system, it'll go a long way in diffusing the effects it has on you.
  • Step 2: Managing trauma - Learn how trauma effects bodily responses, and understand that traumatic sensations are self induced - hence you are in control.
  • Step 3: Master your mind - Humans have an inbuilt negative bias. This has served us well throughout our evolution, but holds us back to. Learn how to overcome this.
  • Step 4: Breath - If you want to surf bigger waves, you'd better know how to hold your breath underwater.
  • Step 5: Exposure - Constant exposure to your fears helps to diminish their effects on the body. 

3. BE ON THE RIGHT EQUIPMENT

Bigger waves require different types of equipment. 

Granted, if you’re transitioning from two to four foot surf, your equipment can stay the same, but if you’re looking to challenge yourself a little further you may need to adjust your equipment a little. 

Here’s what you need to consider: 

Bigger waves move faster: Bigger waves have more power, move faster through the ocean, and are harder to catch. For this reason, having a bigger board with more volume can help you to paddle faster, to catch the waves earlier - making the takeoff less difficult. 

Stability: With all that extra speed, stability becomes important too. Longer surfboards provide more stability. 

Shape: Generally speaking, surfboards that are suited for bigger waves will be narrower at the nose and tail. The reason for this is that you want more grip with the narrower tail, and more down the line speed, with less rail curve needed for sharp turns. 

Leash: If you’re surfing bigger, more powerful waves you might want to consider upping the thickness of your leash.

Fins: If you’re just surfing everyday-person normal waves you don’t need to worry about fins, but it’s interesting to note that big wave chargers will ride different fin sizes in bigger waves, counterintuitively riding small fins in bigger surf, go figure. 


4. FRONT LOADING - BE PREPARED

Here at the House of Surf we’re massive fans of front-loading. 

Doing the work early, and being prepared. 

Now if you’re surfing bigger waves than normal that might mean doing some breath training to improve your breath hold time underwater, visualisation, fitness and stamina training, meditation, the lot. 

If you want to surf bigger waves, do the work, go above and beyond beforehand, so that if you find yourself in a scary situation, you’re prepared. 


5. ENERGY CONSERVATION

The last thing you want in bigger surf is to be out of energy, and out of breath.

This is where panic can set in, and this can put you in some less than ideal situations. 

Below are some tips to conserving energy when surfing big waves:

Tactical Paddleouts: Time your paddle outs to avoid the sets.

Use Rips: Rips can be your best friend or worst enemy. For surfing larger waves however they're a gift. Use rips to help you get through the impact zone quicker, without burning through all your resources. 

Skip The First Set Wave: If a set comes, don't be the one to catch the first wave. If you fall you'll not only get a good beat-down, but you'll have to wear the rest of the set on the head too.

Don't Swing & Go: If you've just paddled out and your out of breath, don't take off on a wave before you've regained your composure and got your breath back. 


6. SETTING YOUR EXPECTATIONS

When the waves are bigger, so too is the playing field for catching waves. 

This makes it far, far harder to be in the right place at the right time, and as such, your wave count will be much lower than normal. 

So rather than getting all agitated that you're not getting as many waves as normal, try to be patient and tune into the rhythm of the ocean.

Adjust your expectations, and be happier with a reduced wave count. 

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Take proper big wave surfers for example, they'll often be out in the surf for four hours + and catch just a single wave, and sometimes not even one. 

With the stakes raised, it's better to be safe than sorry that's for sure.


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CONCLUSION

If you want to surf bigger waves the first thing you've got to do is expose yourself to them more frequently.

Aim to spend as much time as possible in the zone whereby you're pushing the upper echelons of your limits, but not overdoing them at the same time. 

Find that sweet spot, and your threshold to surfing bigger and bigger waves will shift rapidly.

And soon, a wave that would once scare you to the core will be a walk in the park. 

Yew!
Rowan 🤙

ROWAN CLIFFORD

Rowan is the technical nerd behind the scenes. A lover of everything entrepreneurial, and living a minimal, simple life.

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