How to Avoid Pearling into a Nosedive and Wasting a Wave

How to avoid pearling or nosediving and wasting a wave

You’ve spotted the perfect wave coming at you and are so stoked at what’s to come. The wave gets to you and then you feel like you might just be catching it (after an extended flat spell between sets when sitting out in the line up). Then, boom, you’re suddenly spiraling forward, head first into the glorious nose dive and made the clip for kook of the day.

Pearling, another word for nosediving, is unavoidable for most beginner surfers. I still nosedive from time to time, after surfing for over 10 years. Over those years, I’ve had many surf lessons, read countless articles, & watched a ton of videos on surfing and collected quite a few tips I’ll give you my perspective on below.  As every surfer and wave is different, some of the tips might be more useful for some surfers and in different circumstances.

Tip #1: Position yourself correctly on your surfboard

This is something I’ve always heard when taking surf lessons. It’s important to be far up enough on the board to catch the wave, but not up too far to the nose as to weigh the board down which will make it go under the water and propel you into the act of pearling. This is true to an extent, but only a basic starting point guideline.

proper surfboard positioning to prevent a nosedive

Sometimes on smaller wave days, you really need to be as far forward on the board as possible to catch anything. Then, on those smaller days, once I catch it, if I feel like I’m going to pearl, I shift my weight backwards, which works sometimes. 

Another approach, instead of shifting back, I’ve heard, is about just where you’re placing your weight on the surfboard.  If you keep your hands back, and in a cobra position, this places more weight on your hips, and if correctly positioned on the surfboard, the place on the board that needs more weight to anchor it down to prevent the nose dive.

However, these tips don’t always work because when you shift your weight back, that puts on the breaks and prevents you from catching the wave at all and it just goes past you. These strategies are best used if you really think you are going to nosedive and help prevent it.

Ideally, the best scenario is to have faith in yourself and keep paddling (maybe 2-3 more paddles once you think you’re starting to catch the wave) to keep the forward momentum, because as the wave starts to peak and gets steeper, the nose should pop back out of the wave. Think about it, when a boat starts going fast, the front of it starts rising up. Believe me, I once rented a boat and the front rose up so high I could barely see in front of me and had a hard time figuring out how to get it down!

This leads me to my next tip.

Tip #2 Paddle Fast & Efficiently

The term “catching a wave” is a bit misleading I think. To catch something, like in baseball, players typically run towards the ball at first, then stop and position themselves to let the ball come to them.  With “catching” waves, it’s more like “hopping on a train”. To hop on a train, you need to be running as fast as the train is going so you can grab it and jump into it as it’s moving along.

The same thing goes with “catching” waves. It’s almost like you want to try to race the waves to the shore and not let them catch you. By doing that, hopefully it will mentally get you to paddle faster and match the speed of the wave (at least that’s my strategy for trying to paddle faster, perhaps even imagine a shark is on that wave coming at you). I’ve used the RipCurl Search GPS watch a lot and usually the waves I catch are slower, around 8-10mph, so for practice, try and see if you can paddle that fast, and take the watch out and just time your paddles!

By paddling as fast and efficiently as possible (with deep strokes like you’re grabbing something under water and pulling it back toward the tail of the board), you’ll be going at a speed where the wave can catch you and lift you up vs. stumbling on you and pounding you down.

Tip #3: Get in the Proper Wave Positioning

Even if you are the fastest paddler ever, if you are too far inside (close to the beach), paddling fast won’t help because the wave will be too steep and tumble over you sending you down. However, if you are further outside (away from the beach), you can catch it when it isn’t so steep and therefore it will be less likely to propel you down the face, head first.

where to catch a wave to best avoid nosediving

Therefore, you need to decide fairly early on if you want to try catching the wave or not. You can’t wait for it to come to you and then decide you are going to try and catch it and paddle for it (for the most part, except for extremely skilled short boarders that can manage the late take offs.  That’s why you typically see herds of surfers start paddling out to sea, towards an oncoming wave, as soon as they see a wave forming.

That’s what the term “chasing waves” refers to, you can’t wait for them to catch you. If you can paddle out towards the wave as soon as you see it forming and then give yourself enough time to turn around and get some paddles in ahead of the wave, you’ll be in a much better position to catch the wave at the perfect angle, when it’s not as steep and less likely to send you into a nosedive.

Tip #4: Angle slightly on the Takeoff

When I went to a surf camp down in Nicaragua, the instructor there told me to slightly angle my board on the takeoff. That way I’m not going down the face of the wave so steep and less likely to tumble down and nose dive. This works to an extent (on bigger waves), but if you angle too much, you won’t get as much power from the wave and it will simply go under you and pass you by.

Tip # 5: Pop Up Sooner

When you hesitate and don’t pop up fast enough, the wave will often push you off it, sending you down the wave head first. If you feel like you are going to pearl, pop up as fast as you can. If you’re already popped up on the board when it starts to break, it’s much easier to control where exactly where you place your weight. Then by placing most of your weight on your back foot (essentially the surfboards breaks), it levels the board (on the downward wave slope) so the nose is level to the tail, off of the water, and not going down.

Tip #6: Surf the Right Spot with the best Type of Surfboard

If you’re surfing close out waves, waves that break at the same time across the horizon of the wave and don’t peel to one side or another, nose dives will probably be inevitable, especially if the waves are steep and you are on a longer board.

I’m usually a longboard surfer that surfs mellow surf spots, and I still nose dive from time to time at those spots.  However, when I’ve gone to other surf spots that i know are more powerful and have steeper and hollow waves, I take my shorter fish board. I really feel that it’s much harder for me to nose dive with a shorter board (like my feisty fish), even on those types of steeper waves.

This is because a shorter board, and one especially that has more rocker (more curve to the board from tail to nose), fits better into the pocket of a wave and is easier to maneuver. Check out da Surf Engine app to find the best surf spots for your preference of waves, whether hollow, or fun but powerless! Also, waves tend to be more hollow on a lower tide, as the ocean is sucking back water, which makes the waves steeper.

Tip #7: Look Ahead and Where You Want to Go, Don’t Look Down at Your Surfboard

Your body tends to go to where you want it to go. Therefore if you’re looking down toward the nose, where do you think you will go – you will go down, and down the wave you will fall, head first!

When you’re about to catch the wave, pretend like your crossing the street and looking both ways, but look a bit further back, over each shoulder, toward the wave to check it out and see what’s going on. This is also good for checking if someone else is already riding the wave.

This will help you figure out your positioning with the wave and how you need to adjust your take off strategy. If the wave is going left (breaking first toward your right shoulder) and you need to angle left, if the wave is going right (breaking first toward your left shoulder) and you need to angle right, or if you need to speed up or slow down depending on how inside or outside you are. Then, once you’re about to catch it and pop up, look up and ahead, in the direction you want to go (easier said than done, I know).

If All Else Fails

Feel good that you at least you didn’t miss the wave entirely and got some action from it. I’d rather nosedive (safely) a wave than not go for it or let it pass me by, by not committing to it. 

The best approach I’ve found in handling the nose dive with least amount of turbulence, is to just body surf the wave when you get launched off the board.  Keep your head up and the nose dive will turn into something you did, like a trick, on purpose, because you felt like body surfing that wave (or that’s at least what you can tell people – ha).

Be careful with this trick though, because if your leash isn’t long enough (meaning slightly longer than your board) or the wave is too steep, the board could come back to hit you. In that case, it’s best to dive for cover and just press your top lip over your nostrils to prevent the water from rushing up it while you’re diving down into the water, nose first!. Then when you come out of the water, put your hands over your head in case the surfboard hasn’t all landed back in the ocean yet.

My Last tips for Preventing Nosedives – Forget about all the Above Tips

Well, not really, keep them in mind. However, there are a lot of tips here, and when you catch a wave you really don’t have time to think about and remember all of these items. You don’t have time think at all when catching a wave. As the Wheeland Brother’s sang in their Safe Side song/video, “hesitate and it’s too late” and thinking is hesitating in surfing. Also, if you think about not doing something too much, you’ll do it, so focus more on what you should be doing vs. what you should not be doing.

Also, what I’ve found most helpful is to concentrate on one surf technique at a time, such as not nose diving. That way you can focus on a specific goal for each wave you catch.

Sometimes, I think I could be a surf instructor because I’ve surfed for over 10 years and read immensely about the subject, so I know exactly what you should do when surfing.  The trick is actually “doing” what you know and getting enough practice and surf time to really work on specific drills and techniques.

That is the best tip of all for surfing – just to go out and surf more, surf as much as you can!

After all, no one taught the original surfers how to surf, they picked it up on their own after a lot of trial and error.  By reading about surfing, taking surf lessons, etc. you won’t have to go through all of that trial and error and can improve your surfing faster, but you still have to put the time in. That’s where I struggle, with my 9 to 5 job and dawn patrol allergies! Here’s to getting more time to surf!

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