Learning how to catch waves is the first step in surfing, after paddling out, that is. There are techniques that one should employ in order to smoothly and successfully take off on waves, and to prevent falling. At first, it is not nearly as fun lying on the beach trying to learn the pop-up technique in the sand, but with time and patience, you’ll master the techniques which will give you the confidence to try the move in the water and catch any wave you want.

The joy of surfing lies partly in one’s ability to catch the waves. For a beginner, small and close waves are the best and easiest to learn on when trying to catch waves like the pros.  However, no matter what size of wave, catching the wave is all about timing and positioning on the wave.


Surfer Pearling in How to Catch Waves
A surfer taking off on a wave right as it is breaking, and pearling

Just to clarify, “catching the wave” is the point when the wave hits the tail of the surfboard and starts to push the surfer as he or she is paddling to catch the wave. In general, you never want to catch the wave right as it is breaking; this will most likely cause you to “pearl” or nosedive.


a surfer in a wetsuit catches a green wave before it breaks at a beach in los angeles
Catching the waves before it breaks and dropping down the face

You either want to catch the wave before or after it has broken. If you catch the wave before it breaks, you will drop down the face of the wave and should stand up as the wave is breaking.


a sea green wave breaks into foamy white wash at a beach in southern california
A wave that has already broken and turned into whitewash

After the waves breaks, it turns into white wash. If you catch the wave at this point, the whitewash will push you straight towards the beach.

Now, to catch a wave, the first thing you’ll need to do is estimate where the wave is going to break, and decide when to start to paddling to put yourself in a good place to catch the wave. Once you have done that, turn the board so the nose faces the beach the beach, and start to paddle as the wave is coming so you are catching it either before or after it breaks.

To come out successful on catching your first wave, here are two important things you should do as the wave approaches:

  • Push the surfboard in the direction of the beach while lying flat on top of it.
  • Make sure you are in the “sweet spot” on your surfboard – being too far forward on the board will also cause you to pearl.
  • After finding your balance, it is time to paddle. Paddling helps to keep up with the speed of the wave gradually. After a while, the speed will increase and the wave picks you up. At this point, you will be excited to see that you have managed to catch your first wave.

Like many other things, including all sports, surfing is a complicated and difficult sport. Catching waves takes time, effort and practice. Don’t be discouraged if it takes several sessions in the water to effectively catch a wave so you can ride it. With a dedication to learning, you’ll be catching small to large waves in no time!