Everyone has had those surfing experiences – the kind where you find yourself being pummelled by the full force of the ocean, thrown off your surfboard over and over again and drained of all the energy and determination you started out with.

Surfing is a sport where no two days are the same. Mother nature chooses the conditions you will have and the waves you will ride. You can equip yourself with all the right tools and knowledge and still have your ass handed to you when you get out into the water. Might sound pretty rough, but it is actually what makes surfing so addicting!

“When you make a mistake, the ocean gives you an instant reminder. You get punished. If golf clubs could shock you every time you hit the ball wrong, we’d probably learn how to play golf pretty well.” – Laird Hamilton

Every surf session is different. Every surf session allows you to learn something new. Keep reading to find out the most common beginner surfing mistakes and what you should do to correct them.

[Surfing Mistake 1]

You Keep Nosediving

  • Move backwards on the surfboard: Try positioning yourself further back on the surfboard. This will remove the weight which is driving your nose into the water. Keep in mind that you do not want to end up too far back on the surfboard as this will make paddling difficult. Aim to have just the nose of the surfboard out of the water.
  • Take control of your body: As the wave takes you, arch your back and put more weight and tension in your legs. This will prepare your body for a faster pop up and minimise the chance of the surfboard nosediving.
  • Avoid catching waves as they break: Trying to paddle onto the peak of a breaking wave will cause you to nosedive. Try catching the wave earlier, when it is still rolling towards you. Keep looking over your shoulder at the wave while you paddle so you see when it will break.

[Surfing Mistake 2]

You Cannot Paddle Onto a Wave

  • Move forwards on the surfboard: Being too far back on the surfboard makes it really difficult to paddle and catch waves. Position you body further forward so that the nose of your surfboard is a couple of inches out of the water. Be sure not to come too far forward or you will risk nosediving.
  • Paddle stronger and paddle earlier: In order to catch a wave, you need to be going roughly as fast as the wave is travelling. Start paddling well before the wave reaches you. Cup your hands, spread your fingers slightly and make a small ‘S’ shape with each stroke, allowing your hands to go under the surfboard. Paddle with determination and power. No half-hearted strokes. Give it everything you have!
  • Check you have the right surfboard: Your surfboard’s volume is key to generating speed. The bigger the surfboard, the easier it will be to catch a wave. Check that you have the right size surfboard for your height and weight.

[Surfing Mistake 3]

You Cannot Pop Up

  • Change the position of your hands: Make sure you are using the top of the board to push off for your pop up. Using the rails of the surfboard will create imbalance and you will fall off. Using the top of the surfboard will allow you to stay stable. A great way to improve your pop up is by practising at home or on the beach.
  • Don’t Stall: Stalling can come in two forms. The first is when you get to the moment where you need to pop up and freak out. The second is when you get to your knees first instead of trying to pop up in one fluid motion. Both of these types of stalling will delay your pop up. Just remember: You are a surfer not a bodyboarder. Surfers get to their feet, bodyboarders freak out and stay on their stomach 😉


  • Prepare your body: In the same way as to avoid a nosedive, arch your back just as you feel the wave take you. This gives you more space on the surfboard to place your hands in preparation for the pop up. Keep your head up and your eyes in the direction you want to go. Look back at the wave while you are paddling and then focus on your line once you are taking off. Don’t look down at the board as your body will naturally follow.
  • Check your body position when you stand up: Make sure your body weight is in the centre of the surfboard, your back foot on the tail of the surfboard directly over the front fins and your front foot in the middle of the surfboard. Keep your knees bent and your body slightly crouched down. Also be sure to know what type of rider you are – goofy or regular.

You Got This!

Most people are prone to experiencing one or more of these common surfing mistakes, especially when learning to surf. Use the pointers above and overcome your barriers. It will take some practice to get them right but keep at it because you WILL be hanging ten in no time.

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