Common Pop-Up Mistakes in Surfing

(and how to fix them)

Popping up, or the act of going from laying down on your surfboard to standing up and riding the wave, is one of the most crucial parts of surfing. While it is not especially difficult, it does take some getting used to. The goal is to keep your pop-up as smooth and effortless as possible so you can focus on enjoying the ride! There are a couple common pop-up mistakes in surfing that most beginners make. However, if you know what you are doing wrong, it’s much easier to fix.

Keep these things in mind during your next surf sesh and hopefully your wave count will be much higher!


Incorrect Foot Placement

We see this happen in just about every lesson we teach! The surfer pops up, but his or her feet are too close to the rail (or the side of the board) and this causes their weight to shift dramatically in that direction. It ends in a wipeout just about every time!

The goal is to have your feet aligned on the center of the board so that your balance will be centered as well. A helpful rule of thumb is to remember to keep your feet aligned on the stringer. The ‘stringer’ is a thin piece of wood running down the center of the board from the nose to the tail. In fiberglass boards it’s easy to see, but its often hidden under the foam in foam boards. However, many of the foamies have a line printed on top of the foam above the stringer. This line can serve the same purpose.

Aim to place your feet on the board so that the stringer is running under the arches of your feet when you pop-up. Your feet should be almost perpendicular to the stringer. This will give you stability as you ride the wave. Yew! 🤙🏼


Nosediving is a common pop-up mistake.
Paddling with your weight too far forward on the board often leads to nosedives. 😬


Finding your balance point on the board can be tricky sometimes and can cause pop-up mistakes in surfing. Beginners often paddle for a wave with their body too far towards the nose of the board. When the wave comes, the wave flips their tail up and they nosedive or slide right off the front of the board as their board flips. Nosedives usually end with a big mouthful of saltwater – best to avoid them if possible haha.

One way to fix this is to make sure that your body is positioned farther back on the board. But, don’t move too far back or it’ll be hard to catch waves.

Everyone’s placement on the board is slightly different, depending on their weight, height, the size of the board, and the strength of the waves that day. However if you’re noticing that you keep nosediving, scoot further back on your board just a hair. Alternatively, if you’re noticing that you can’t catch a single wave, try shifting up on your board just a tad and adjust as needed.


Looking Down

Looking down is one of 3 common pop-up mistakes.
Looking across the wave towards where you want to go helps prevent wipeouts.

It’s natural instinct to look down when you pop up. You’ve got to see how your feet are positioned on the board or see how large the wave is right? Nope! This causes major problems for people. In surfing, where you look is where you go. So if you look down at the bottom of the wave, you’re going to go down to the bottom of the wave. This results in “going over the falls”, or a wipeout where you free-fall down the steepest section of the wave. Pretty gnarly!

To fix this, look towards the section of the wave that you want to ride as you’re paddling for the wave. If you’re planning to head to the right, look to the right and plan out how you will direct your board once you pop up.


Does it feel like a lot to think about?

Most people think so! The good news is all of these things will start to feel like second nature as you are in the water more. As you get accustomed to your positioning on the board and the feeling of the waves, your body will more naturally get the hang of it.

However, the best way to improve your pop-up skills is to have an expert critique your technique in real time and show you all the nuances of surfing. Our private surf lessons here at Wavehuggers do just that! We teach lessons for all ages, skills and abilities. Video Surf Coaching is an especially great option for surfers who really want to refine their technique. Our staff will film you surfing and then pro-surfer Holly Beck will meet with you via zoom to go over your film!

Our private lesson package deal is another awesome option for surfers who know the very basics of surfing and want to become more comfortable in the water. The surf instructors will take you out in the lineup and surf with you at each lesson. They’re trained to find problem spots in your technique and they have a lot of tips up their sleeves that they will share with you! Your instructor will watch your waves, tell you how to improve, and cheer for you the entire time! By the time your lessons are over, you’ll be one of the best in the lineup!