Surf Techniques - by Dawid Mocke

Wednesday, 21 December 2005 18:16 | Written by  Dawid Mocke
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(First published in SA Paddler, April/May 2005) 

Photo: Alain JaquesWhen it comes to ocean racing there are a number of things that one needs to master to get ahead in the game. 

One of the biggest challenges facing any paddler is the SURF ZONE….

Here are some pointers which can save you from having a big swim when you least need it…



This includes being honest with yourself when it’s out of your league.  Look for the easy way out like paddling next to a pier, in a rip current or next some rocks.  If you watch the guys warming up before the race you’ll see where to go and where NOT to go.

There are a couple of ways to get through the surf but all of them require the following:

  1. Be ASSERTIVE – put the ski down, get on and get going.  You need to be aggressive about it.  This is where you can get rid of some anger.
  2. DIRECTION – ALWAYS face the ski into the waves, NOT side-on.
  3. SPEED & COMMITTMENT… He who hesitates, will get dumped.  When you decide to go, you go, flat out.
  4. ALWAYS BE AWARE – don’t paddle out without looking around.  Just because you’re in a rip or next to a pier doesn’t mean that there aren’t any waves
  5. PADDLE INTO THE WAVE – Even in the foamies, you need to be going forward to get through and not get wiped out. 
Photo: Alain Jacques

Master Class, part 1: Oscar Chalupsky approaches the break at Buffels Bay, Cape Town during the 2005 Cape Point Challenge. Photo: Alain Jaques

Photo: Craig Dutton

Master Class, part 2: Oscar Chalupsky airborne as he blasts through to the other side of the same wave at Buffels Bay. Photo: Craig Dutton


The waves break in an area called the impact zone.  This is where the waves have a lot of energy.  After that the wave is just a foamie which is relatively easy to get through.  The Impact Zone is not your friend and you need to get past it quickly.  Here’s how:

  1. Paddle through the smaller foamies to just before backline
  2. Scope out the scene – check if there is a set of waves coming and just generally try and read what the ocean is up to.  If it’s open, go, but if there is a set, wait.  Be patient and just keep popping the foamies.  
  3. When in doubt…legs out!  Putting your legs out helps you stay in control in the foamies.  As soon as the front of your ski hits the foamie use your paddle to “catch” the top of the wave i.e. pick your paddle up over the wave.
  4. When you’re ready…strike, but do it hard.  The Impact Zone is very rarely more than 30-40 strokes long, so once you go for it you only have to cover a relatively short distance.  Count your strokes and when you get to 50 you should be in the clear.
  5. Once you go, don’t stop.  You only have to cover a short distance but you have to move it. Keep paddling…ALWAYS
Swim time
 If you get it wrong and you get worked there are a couple of things to remember:
  • Direction of the ski – immediately turn it to face into the waves or back to shore, not side-on.
  • Right side or wrong side – If you can’t get it to face into the waves make sure you are in between the ski and the wave so that you get washed onto the ski and the ski doesn’t get washed onto you. 
  • Get back on quickly 
  • Hang on tightly – if there isn’t any time to do any of the above, grab the foot straps and hang on.


When coming back to the beach you have to decide before you go whether you want to catch a wave or not.  If you just paddle in blindly, chances are the ocean will decide for you and generally this means you’ll get wiped out.

Missing the waves…

  1. Paddle to and wait just behind backline
  2. Scope out the scene – be aware; check if there is a set of waves coming.  If it’s gone flat then go.  Remember that you only have to get past the impact zone to be in the clear so count those 40 strokes. 
  3. If there is a set, you could wait for to finish, but then you’re going to lose positions in the race, so you want to try and come in in-between the waves
  4. As you approach, wait for a wave to pass underneath you and quickly tuck in behind it.  Try and chase the wave down; this will ensure that get over the impact zone before the next wave hits
  5. You only have to cover a short distance, but do it quickly
  6. Keep paddling…ALWAYS


Catching a wave…
Sometimes you’re going to have to catch a wave to beat that arch-rival of yours, so here’s what you have to do:

  1. It’s extremely important that YOU pick the wave you want and not the other way around
  2. Get the boat speed up, i.e. paddle hard-hard-hard.  You need to be going the same speed or faster than the wave to keep your steering 
  3. Face straight to shore, now’s not the time for tricks
  4. Push both your feet on the foot pedals keeping them straight.
  5. Keep paddling ALLTHE WAY DOWN the wave – you’ll feel the wave pick you up.  One you start getting better you’ll be able to ride it. 
  6. Don’t stop paddling, you need all the speed you can get - otherwise the rudder becomes ineffective and you'll broach.
  7. If you go skew (broach), put both your legs over the side, lean towards the horizon and grab the top of the foamy with your paddle (brace)
  8. Worst case scenario – grab the foot straps

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