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18 May, 2014


There’s a lot of confusion going around about appropriate surfing etiquette. In the old days it was far easier to learn the subtleties because if you didn’t you got a smack in the head. These days everything is so much more politically correct but what’s been lost with that is that half our population really don’t understand the original surfer’s code of etiquette. Today I want to do my best to explain just one aspect of it.

We’ve all heard of snaking. My bet is you’ve either done it yourself or been on the receiving end of it. But could you actually explain it to me? Do you truly understand what it means? I doubt it very much because snaking is such a grey, ambiguous area that there is no clear, black and white definition that suits all situations. It’s impossible to define for every situation. But by and large, in most cases there is a line in the sand that can be drawn.

Generally a snake is a person who takes off on a wave on the inside without waiting their turn.

If you are surfing a nice spot with half a dozen people out, good manners says that surfers should take turns. This means that after you’ve enjoyed a wave, you should wait at the end of the line and let others have a go next.

But does this work at crowded spots with 30 or more surfers out? With a limited supply of sets and an over supply of frothers, the utopian system of  wait-your-turn simply does not stand a chance. It’s just not realistic on crowded days.

Having said that, if you are one of those really good surfers who gets a lot of waves and is always on the best sets, good etiquette says that you should slow down and let some good ones go through to those less fortunate. Try and share and not be greedy. Just like you would if you were having dinner with your family – you wouldn’t hog all the food just because you’re bigger and stronger than your wife and kids right? At the end of the day some people are selfish in all aspects of their life. In the surf, they’re better known as wave hogs.

But I digress here because there is a difference between a wave hog and a snake. And seeing we are discussing snakes, here are some examples of snaking:-

Snake 1 – a surfer has been up and riding for a considerable time and another surfer (the snake) subsequently catches the wave (snakes them) on their inside well after the first person took off. (It’s debatable, but the wider surfer already up and riding probably needs to have already performed a couple of basic turns in order to establish ownership of that wave. With less time than that, if it then becomes a tighter matter of who was first to their feet, then this same snaking surfer on the inside might now be deemed to be in the right. See below for more explanation.)

Snake  2 – a group of surfers are waiting at a peak and another surfer (snake) repeatedly paddles inside all of them (snakes them) even after repeatedly catching more waves than the others have. (Note the word ‘repeatedly’ can be important here.)

Snake 3 – a surfer (snake) who just caught a wave is paddling out, and without waiting their turn, they spin around (snaking) to catch yet another wave that another surfer who was waiting their turn is paddling to catch.

In contrast, here are some examples of what is not generally classified as snaking:-

First to Feet – a surfer sitting out wide on a big board (typically longboard or SUP) gets onto the wave earlier than another surfer who was also waiting for the same wave on their inside. In this case the surfer on the outside is dropping in and may be oblivious to the fact that a bigger board with superior paddle power does not mean that ‘first to feet’ has right of way over another surfer who was waiting their turn on the inside in a more critical and demanding position. (When two surfers were both waiting their turn in the general take off zone, then right of way always goes to whoever is deepest – which really means whoever is closest to where the wave breaks in its steepest and most critical form. This steepest bit is a.k.a. ‘the critical section’. Taking off here is difficult. Therefore right of way is rewarded to those who have the skill and courage to ride here.)

Talent – a more capable surfer paddles deeper inside less talented surfers and then sits patiently and waits for a wave while they ensure that they let some good ones go through to the other surfers sitting a little wider. In this case, paddling inside without waiting your turn is an earned right on the justification that other surfers of less skill are wasting a good segment of the wave by taking off wider. (Remember though – if you possess the ability to do that, then do so sparingly and with consideration for others. Sit deep but don’t hog.)

Confused? I don’t blame you.

The critical points that needs to be considered are:-

a)    Which surfers were waiting at ‘the initial point of take off?’ If two surfers were both waiting in the general take-off area, and one stands up just a little bit earlier – then it’s the second surfer’s wave and he is not snaking. Remember – right of way is always determined amongst the surfers who were waiting their turn in the general wave take off area.

b) How many waves have been ridden by the people involved relative to everybody else. This is where it gets even more grey. On one hand, snaking is relative to wave count. On the other hand, surfers who have paid their dues with years in the ocean have earned the right to catch a few more waves from a more critical position without having to sit wide and wait around all day. And locals also have the right to catch more waves than non-locals. But not all of them because it’s still a free ocean. So this is why it is impossible to truly define and the best I can do is give some general guidelines.

In most instances, if a surfer is waiting out back in the general take-off area, they take off on a wave and then another surfer who was paddling out at the time after an earlier ride, spins around inside and takes off secondary, then that second person is the snake and they should be ignored. A good old fade bottom turn forcing them to straighten out can be the best treatment that they deserve. Don’t be afraid to politely tell them why you did it.

Some may dis-agree with my definitions above. But having surfed in over thirty countries while being an astute observer of some well ordered line-ups as well as some break-downs in etiquette, abuse, intimidation, fights, violence and all that jazz, I feel like I can offer a balanced point of view that’s not specific to the nuances of one particular break or the other.

Having said that, when I am visiting some other local’s break and that guy with arms as big as my torso and nostrils flaring like a bull mastiff terrier, paddles inside me repeatedly takes off inside me even when I’ve been patiently waiting my turn in the correct take off area, then I tend to ever so politely get off his wave.

Like I said, this etiquette stuff is only ever relevant about 90% of the time.


24 April, 2014

Back Foot Back

In all my years of surf coaching, I’ve observed that the majority of beginner to intermediate surfers never really discover the potential power of their back foot mojo.

Stomping your back foot right back onto the tail is the number one first priority in getting your board to turn sharply.

Whatever craft you ride, you should aim to position your rear foot above the fins during turns – and then to add a dis-proportionate amount of weight there.

If you ride a longboard, you need to physically walk back towards the tail until your rear foot lies above the fin set. It’s a long way back there, so quite a few steps might be required. You need to take them if you want that tanker to turn.

If you ride a hybrid – like a 7- 8 footer, then it’s probably just one step back and bam – you’re there. It doesn’t hurt to have a look down and se where it actually ends up.

If you ride a shortboard, you should already be back on the tail anyway. You might find nudging further back above the rear fin gives you some real added bite in your turns.

No matter which board you are on, once you’re back – then you also need to increase the weight onto your back foot. Do this with the brilliantly simple act of bending your back knee. It’s so easy. As you bend that back knee, your body axis will shift backwards and your front foot will un-weight. This is the desired outcome. Then your board will suddenly be free to carve a tight arc or rad turn.

A good tip is to use a deck grip with arch bar as a locator pad. Place it as far back as you can and then feel your back foot snuggly planted over the arch bar.

See the image of John John below. He’s not much of a surfer so he implants deck pads to position his foot and enhance his performance. Maybe it could work for you too?


Image from Surfers Journal 22.6 by Brent Bielmann/A-Frame


12 April, 2014

Behind the Peak

Sorry … today’s post is not for the kiddies.

Normally I try to write something that is relevant to beginners, intermediates and surfers of all abilities. But then I was watching Aussie surfer Josh Kerr at the ASP Margaret River Pro and I couldn’t help but comment on his adept approach to taking off at one of the world’s trickier waves – The Box which is just a few hundred metres North of the famed Margaret River surf break.

Whilst some of the best surfers in the world were getting hung up in the lip at take off and subsequently thrown over the falls, Kerrzy basically figured out that taking off in the steepest part of the pitching lip was a lot more suicidal than finding a gentler slope-in on the back-side of the peak.

He humbly commented that taking off deeper, behind the peak was really easy – just more of a mind over matter feat than anything.

He seemed to be onto it because he progressed to the quarter finals with a flawless performance and stand-out performance. He definitely made it look easier than everybody else.

Think about it right? Why take off in the steepest, throwing part of the pitching lip when just a few metres deeper is a less threatening area to allow you the time to get to your feet, get organized and set your line.

Many steep waves around the world have what surfers might call a ‘ramp-in’ or a ‘button.’ Don’t assume the entire face is all the same. Look for a tiny area of wave face that is less steep and try to take off from there. In many cases, this could actually be ‘behind the peak.’

In Kerrzy’s case, not only did he get into the wave early, but it also positioned him deeper which allowed him to get well and truly barrelled.

Like he said – it’s just a bit of mind over matter. But when you understand the mechanics in action, and the logic behind the decision, you can at least develop a better game plan aimed at giving you the best chance of getting in early.

Then all you need to do is harden up.



Getting in Early – Behind the Peak:-

(Images by Jamie Scott)

Reaping the Rewards:

Result of taking off IN the Peak:-

Image by ASP / Kelly Cestari


11 March, 2014


A few hours ago, Brazilian wonderkid Gabriel Medina won the Quiksilver Pro 2014 by defeating local favorite Joel Parkinson in a pretty thrilling finale.

When you come from behind repeatedly to defeat the likes of Mick Fanning, Taj Burrow and Joel Parkinson at Snapper Rocks, that’s no fluke let me tell you.

The Aussie legends took early leads and dominated much of their heats. However Medina never flustered. Needing big scores with just minutes to go, he stuck to his plan, kept focused and surfed incredibly well under pressure. Handling pressure is the true sign of a performer.

But how do YOU cope with pressure?

You may never be taking on the titans of the sport like Fanning, Taj and Parko. But you, I and every other surfer will face pressure situations on a regular basis.

It might be:-

-taking off with a crowd of paddlers right in front of you (looking like stunned deer in the headlights)

-taking off with rocks or shallow reef front and centre

-trying to complete a tricky turn in a crunchy part of the wave

-going for a nose-ride when all of your hipster friends are ogling from the channel

-paddling into the biggest wave of your life and contemplating the future of your personal well-being

Beginner, intermediate or pro surfer. We all face pressure.  In fact that adrenaline component of surfing is why many of us get addicted to the stuff.

But when under pressure, many surfers drop their game and make stupid errors. Errors that are far below their true capability. Annoying? You bet! But there is a solution and it’s very simple.

What you need to do is FOCUS.

But that’s not helpful is it? Really… what does focus really mean after all?

Focus is narrowing your concentration towards things that matter. What are the little things that can help you perform better in this situation? Whatever those things are that will make a meaningful difference are the things you need to keep at the forefront of your thinking.

Examples of good focus:-

-taking off with a crowd of paddlers right in front of you (looking like stunned deer in the headlights)

-taking off with rocks or shallow reef front and centre

-trying to complete a tricky turn in a crunchy part of the wave

-going for a nose-ride when all of your hipster friends are ogling from the channel

-paddling into the biggest wave of your life and contemplating the future of your personal well-being

It’s not rocket science. These are pretty simple. But in that moment of truth, do you find yourself thinking of other stuff? Falling off, hitting the rocks, running people over, making a fool of yourself or going over the falls backwards like you did last time? These are all occurrences that have not actually happened yet and will definitely not assist your performance. Therefore they are extremely distracting to better surfing. They become self-sabotaging.

Keep it simple – when you’re feeling pressured about anything, replace any less-than-helpful thoughts by concentrating really hard on small, specifics that could add up to create the exact outcome that you want to happen. Positive reminders. Productive thoughts. Specific and useful commands. Think only of these.

If Medina had of been thinking about winning today, he would have lost. Instead he put his head down and focused on catching some inside runners away from his opponent, drawing out his bottom turns and belting the living daylights off the top of the wave.

Do you see the difference?



Image – ASP /  Kirstin Scholtz

Video –

28 February, 2014

making friends

My wife Di continues to teach me valuable lessons about surfing in crowds.

Where we live, when the waves are up, the crowds at the points are intense. These days there are even zones where if you do not have a 9 foot log and a beard, you are not allowed to surf. True! Well I exaggerate a little. If you have a moustache then you will also be accepted.

Anyway, it seems these days these guys, along with a band of stand up paddlers, (none of whom seem to have ever traveled to any place where surf etiquette actually might be enforced by violence) seem to have invented their own new code of etiquette. This of course results in them getting more waves for themselves and less for everybody else.

A sign of the times maybe? Perhaps a broader statement on the current selfish state of world affairs? Possibly. Wave hogging seems to be getting worse not better.

Anyway … I don’t know how you go in crowds but I don’t cope so well and can get pretty frustrated. When I see people snaking, dropping in and generally hogging the waves, it really sets me off and ruins my whole vibe. I probably hold some unrealistic, utopian view of how it’s all supposed to work out there. But at times it can feel like everyone is your enemy and the whole scene gets pretty intense. It’s no fun at all.

My wife on the other hand is very happy and vocal. She chats with strangers, hoots people’s rides, calls others into good ones and even tells people to go in if they’re mis-behaving. (Who could argue?)

As a result, almost every session, she makes a new friend. Whereas I feel like I make a new enemy.

So last session I tried her technique with a few lines like ‘that was a good wave’, ‘how does that board go for you’ or the old ‘beautiful day isn’t it?’

I still didn’t catch many waves. But I made new friends and had a whole lot more fun which is what it’s all about after all. I guess these days, my happiness in the surf is no longer determined by how many waves I get. But it’s a lot easier to have fun this way.


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