The soft, spilling waves of southwest Costa Rica are perfect for learning to surf. Even so, many beginners struggle before mastering the art of standing up on the board. Whether you are surfing in Costa Rica or anywhere else, learning to “pop up”, is the first challenge in surfing.
Put Your Best Foot Forward
To pop up successfully, you will need to put your best foot forward. The question is: Which is your best foot? You will need to determine if you are going to be riding “natural”, meaning you balance better with your left foot forward, or “goofy”, with your right foot forward. It’s not a simple matter of being right-handed or left-handed. Many right-handers, for example, are more comfortable balancing with their left foot forward.
To figure this out, imagine what you would do if you were walking on ice. Most people will slide one foot forward in order to maintain balance. Which foot is that? That’s the foot you will put forward when surfing.
Popping up on a Surfboard – the Skinny
“Popping up” is getting to a standing position on your surfboard with the correct foot forward as quickly as possible. It is the key to successful surfing. To pop up successfully, grab the edges of the board just above your rib cage. Arch your back and lift your shoulders and chest. If you are a practitioner of yoga, the position you are in before popping up is similar to the cobra pose.
Keep looking forward. Then in one fluid motion, bring your correct foot forward placing it on the board where your belly button was. Turn your back foot down to your instep. When you stand, you will be facing out to one side. Remain in a low crouching position and ride.
Keep in mind that the correct motion consists of bringing your foot forward to be under your body. If you find yourself kneeling on the board you are probably shifting your weight back over your feet. To avoid this, try to keep your butt down and your head high.
Practice Makes Perfect
Before heading out to the waves, practice popping up on the beach. Use a stick to draw the shape of the surfboard in the sand. Lie down and try it a few times.
Once you head out to the waves don’t get too discouraged if you don’t master it right away. Most beginning surfers experience a rite of passage when it comes to popping up. Keep at it until you master it.
Few beaches are as forgiving to beginners as the beaches of southwest Costa Rica, but even surfing in Costa Rica will be a challenge until you master the art of popping up.
When it comes to learning how to surf, some waves are better than others. For the beginning surfer, spilling waves are the best.
A spilling wave occurs when a gradually sloping ocean floor causes the wave to become steeper and steeper until the crest spills down the face of the wave in a rush of foaming whitewater. The wave continues in this manner until its energy is dissipated in a froth near the shore.
Spilling waves break for a longer time than other waves, providing ample energy at the start of the ride and a gentle decrease in power as the wave nears the shore. For beginners who are just learning to stand and balance on the board this is ideal.
When a wave breaks over a sandy bottom, it’s called a beach break. When a wave breaks over an obstruction, like a rocky bottom or a reef, it’s called a reef break. Reef breaks produce plunging waves which, while they are highly favored by experienced surfers, are difficult for beginners.
Plunging waves rise quickly and become steeper, almost vertical at the crest, before plunging suddenly into the trough, creating a barrel or tube as they break along their line. To catch a ride inside that tube is the ultimate surfing experience.
However, the suddenness and force of a reef break can be too much for a beginner. What’s more, the rocky bottom can result in a painful battering if the wave crashes down full force on a fallen surfer.
Finding the right beach to learn on should be one of the chief concerns for aspiring surfers. Yet many surf schools make no mention of the importance of learning on the right waves, taking all levels of surfers to the same beach.
At the Uvita Surf School, in Bahia Uvita, Costa Rica, beginners are taught at Colonia Beach in Ballena National Marine Park. Colonia has a beach break and produces plenty of vigorous spilling waves to learn on. The gradually sloping sandy bottom at Colonia is most forgiving to surfers who fall in the course of their lessons, dramatically reducing the chance of cuts and abrasions, and Colonia is not frequented by experienced surfers, who prefer the plunging waves further up the coast at Dominical.
Waves are not all the same. Some are better than others. For beginners, a spilling wave that results from a beach break is the best kind of wave to learn on. ♦
Author and Client: This post was written by Malcolm Logan for Uvita Surf School at Uvitasurfcamp.com