Being in the right spot at the right time to catch a good wave isn’t luck, it’s down to good decision making and positioning in the lineup.
Yes, good surfing positioning comes after years of experience, but that doesn’t mean you can’t speed up the process by knowing what to look for.
And that’s what this post is all about, sharing with you over 30 years of hard earned lineup positioning tips from all over the world, neatly packed into 12 potent tips.
Keep reading for more.
BUT FIRST, WHAT DO WE MEAN BY LINEUP POSITIONING IN SURFING?
Lineup positioning in surfing refers to a surfer's ability to put themselves in the right spot at the right time - to catch the best waves.
It sounds easy in principle, but it’s much more difficult in practice.
To optimise their lineup positioning experienced surfers will make countless moment-by-moment computations, constantly reading the ebbs and flows of the ocean, wind, swell, rips and other surfers, to put themselves in the best spot possible.
Just like a poker player will calculate the probabilities at each stage of a hand to put the odds in their favour, so to do surfers constantly make adjustments to put the probabilities on their side.
12 POTENT SURFING POSITIONING TIPS FOR BEGINNERS
1. LOOK FOR SPOT X: THE APEX OF THE BREAKING WAVE
In our weekend courses and weeklong incubator retreats we oftentimes refer to the ideal takeoff position as ‘Spot-X’.
What is Spot-X?
Let me explain.
Spot-X is the perfect takeoff position on any given wave, the apex if you like, where the wave is at its highest. The spot where if you were mind-surfing you’d put yourself every time.
That’s Spot-X right there.
And now that you know what it is, now that you’re aware, you need to constantly be hunting around a lineup, changing your position as you go, to put yourself in that spot when a good wave comes.
Easier said than done, but at least you now know what to look for as a base to get you started.
2. MONKEY SEE, MONKEY DO: LOOK FOR WHERE ADVANCED SURFERS ARE SITTING
If you’re not yet familiar with the pattern recognition required to read the waves and adjust your positioning accordingly, why not just follow the experienced surfers in the lineup?
Doing this will take away 80%+ of guesswork for you.
But beware, this does come with a few downsides.
If you’re just a beginner surfing amongst a bunch of more experienced surfers, sure you might be in roughly the right position in the lineup, but you’ll likely struggle to catch waves as the good surfers will be able to out-position you and catch all the waves before you do.
So, use this tip with your own discernment.
3. KNOW YOUR SPOT IN THE LINEUP
This tip leads on nicely from the last, and it’s all about knowing your spot in the lineup.
Not so much knowing where to sit, but instead knowing your spot within the lineup hierarchy.
You see, surfing has a book of unwritten rules that dictate the pecking order out in the surf.
It might seem counterintuitive at first (and it is in a lot of ways), but when surfers stick to the rules, everybody gets their waves and everybody stays safe.
It’s when these surf etiquette rules get broken that accidents happen.
4. LONGITUDINAL & LATITUDINAL POSITIONING
Ok, if you’re a beginner you’ve likely been spending a bunch of time surfing in the whitewater.
In the whitewater, your surfing positioning is very rudimentary:
Positioning once you’re out the back surfing green waves however is much more nuanced and involved.
To put yourself in the right position to catch waves out the back requires more than just one simple frame of reference, instead it requires multiple.
We call this latitudinal and longitudinal positioning.
This refers to how far out you are, plus your position left and right across the beach.
For latitudinal positioning use landmarks on the beach:
And for longitudinal positioning use:
Sounds really complicated I know, but effectively it’s finding things around you that you can anchor your position to, so that you know where you are in the lineup at all times.
5. STUDY THE WAVES BEFORE YOU GO IN
A large part of positioning yourself in the surf comes before you even hit the water.
For an experienced surfer they may be able to understand the conditions simply at a glance, but for beginners however it will take a little more time observing.
So, before you paddle out next time take a moment to analyse the lineup, look for where the waves are breaking, and look for where you’d like to position yourself out the back before stepping foot in the water.
6. LOOK FOR CLUES FROM PREVIOUS WAVES
All waves that break leave visual clues behind them, so it’s always good to study the whitewater trail left behind broken waves as it can tell you a lot.
Here’s what I mean.
Let's say you paddle for a wave, only to pull back last minute because it was too steep.
Rather than simply turn around and paddle straight back out, look for signs as to how the wave broke.
By studying the wave after it’s broken you can further refine your positioning to put yourself in a better spot next time around.
7. PADDLE AROUND, DON’T STAY STATIC
Beginner surfers love to get out the back, sit, and soak it all up - maybe even have a lovely little chat whilst they're at it.
This is fine and all, but it’s not a great way to position yourself to catch more waves.
You see, the chances of your current position being the perfect takeoff spot are virtually zero, so better to be hustling around the lineup than being static in one place.
8. MAKE MULTIPLE MICRO ADJUSTMENTS
This point kind of leads on from the last, and it’s all about making micro adjustments.
Just like a tennis player will bounce on their toes making multiple tiny adjustments before a serve is hit, so too is it beneficial for a surfer to make these micro adjustments in their positioning when surfing.
A metre to the left, a few extra paddles out, a hold and wait can all be the difference to catching a wave or not.
So in short, try to add multiple micro adjustments to your positioning to get yourself in the absolute best spot possible.
9. BE ASSERTIVE, HOLD DOWN YOUR SPOT
As a beginner it’s easy to feel intimidated in the lineup and forgo a dominant surfing position to someone else to not ruffle any feathers.
I get it, this is human instinct, but as long as your playing by the rules and know your spot in the lineup there’s no need to be so submissive.
If you’re in the right position and it’s your turn to go, put your head down and fully commit.
Be assertive, and hold down your spot.
10. ALWAYS BE READY
There’s one thing you’ll notice about experienced surfers, they’re always ready.
They could be mid flow in a deep conversation about the meaning of life, but they’ve always got one eye on the horizon, and they’re always ready to break of the chat for a wave coming their way.
In short, they’re always ready - and you should be too.
Never allow yourself to take your eye off your surroundings, and never allow yourself to switch off.
11. POP, CORK, & GO
You might not know it yet, but there’s a subtle, sneaky way that advanced surfers catch waves with little to no paddling.
With this technique in hand they’re able to make even more refined micro adjustments, and be able to turn and catch a wave in under 0.5 seconds.
Sure, it’s an advanced technique, but this is a skill that’ll set a beginner apart from an intermediate surfer and above.
We call this technique the ‘Pop & Cork’.
This technique allows a surfer to go from stationary to full paddle speed in a split second - just like a fighter jet on the back of a carrier ship.
Harness this technique and you’ll be able to scavenge and hustle for more waves than ever before.
12. MASTER LATE TAKEOFFS
If you’re no good at taking off late on steep waves you're going to reduce your margin for error with your positioning, forcing you to be incredibly refined and on-point with where you sit.
Become a master of late take offs however and you open up the door to more waves, with a higher chance of making them each time.
You can afford to be a little out with your positioning yet still make the wave.
A skill worth investing in if you ask me.
A surfer's positioning in the lineup is key to catching and successfully riding more waves.
By following along with all the tips in this post you’ll be putting yourself ahead of 90% of the people in the lineup, helping you to catch way more waves each time you hit the surf.
Got any lineup positional tips to share?
Pop them in the comments below and I’ll add them to the post.
Rowan is the technical nerd behind the scenes. A lover of everything entrepreneurial, and living a minimal, simple life.