Practical Unique Tips on How to Improve Your Surfing Pop Up

The surf pop up, is one of the most challenging aspects of surfing for a beginner or experienced surfer (that still needs improvement), like me. You’ll find the below tips on improving your surfing pop up all over the web, from articles to forums/groups. However, I tried to inject some unique and helpful tips as well as videos that hopefully will help you find some inspiration to help improve your pop up.

Being fit, hand positioning, not standing up too fast, practicing on dry land, and not using your knees are some of the most popular tips, along with a few other unique ideas I have or found online below.

Get in Shape

Let’s face it, when you pop up, you do really need abs of steel! Popping up fast without using your knees is mostly about core strength. If you’ve got a belly hanging down, it reduces the amount of space that you have to bring your knees up through your torso area, especially if you have shorter arms like me. 

That’s why I bought these surf knob things, to give me a bit of extra room to pop up, as I’m still working on the whole abs of steel thing, as that is my weakest point in surfing!

Increasing your flexibility and arm strength also goes a long way in improving your pop up speed!

Have the Correct Hand Positioning

Before you even start to pop up, you need to get into the cobra yoga position with your hands placed slightly under your chest. This will help ensure hands are properly placed to give you the most room for your legs to swing through in the pop up.

If you try popping up with your hands too far forward, you won’t have enough room to get your knees to go through.

Try putting a sticker on your surfboard where you need your hands to be, for an easy quick reference.

Then there’s the whole debate on whether you should put your hands flat on the board or grab the rails.

The general consensus is to have your hands flat, because if your hands are on the rails it creates drag in the water, which slows your surfboard down and can get you off balance. However, some former coaches and pro surfers believe that grabbing the rail gives you more control. So in certain situations, for example a choppier water day, you might want to try that.

However, when your hands are flat, that also gives you a bit more space to swing your legs through and land on your feet. Another tip would be to position one of your hands slightly further up on the board than your other hand. This helps you get turning the board where you want to go and also gives you more room to pop up.

Use Your Toes and Legs to Help Push Up

Longboarders can use their toes to give themselves a bit of space and spring to their pop up. Shortboarders can’t do this due to the length of their board. However, both shortboarders and longboarders can try the backfoot pop up/chicken wing approach. With this tactic, you push up on your back leg with your knee out to a slight angle at first to give you some space to pull your front leg through to the front of the board.

For me personally though, it just feels awkward, as I want to press on the gas first with my front foot hitting the board first. It’s all personal preference though, so whatever works best for you is great.

Don’t Stand Up Too Fast

Make sure you’re gliding on the wave first and use the speed and momentum from catching the wave to give yourself more balance while popping up. Also, keep your hands placed on the surfboard and knees bent until you feel completely balanced, and then stand up.

This video shows footage of pro WSL surfers and as observed at the :23 second mark, you can see that the pros keep their hands planted on the board throughout the entire motion of the pop up.

Practice Popping Up on Dry Land

Conventional wisdom says that you should practice your pop ups or just do burpees after burpees to engrain the process in muscle memory. I did that awhile back and did around 50 pop ups a day for a couple weeks, however it didn’t help me much (although the whole get in better shape thing could still apply).

Popping up on land is in a completely different environment with less distractions going on around you. When you’re trying to catch the wave, waiting to feel it pick you up to know when you should start to pop up, angling the board, etc., my land muscle memories completely go away. In addition, you don’t have any drops to deal with in practicing regular pop ups or burpees.

Instead, try pop up practice on land by integrating some other type of distraction, whether adding in balancing elements on a Goofboard/Ebb & Flow type board or even a trampoline.

You can even try popping up practice on your bed, be a kid again and jump on the bed.

This guy has an interesting approach here as well with his couch and an Indo board.

I’ve also always thought this Juvo board, or something similar would be an interesting way to practice pop ups, simulating some sort of drop.

The Pro Trainer Surf mat is another option to practice your pop ups on land. It won’t introduce any other elements like instability or steepness into the equation, but it can help you practice landing with the right stance and your feet in the right spot as well. It’s bigger than most yoga mats so better mimics a real surfboard size.

Practice on a Bigger Board in Flat Water

If you have an SUP or a bigger, more floatable board that lets you practice popping up in a pool or in flat water between wave sets, what better way to get a more realistic feel for popping up, using the water for instability!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KCLWvAcPcPk

Try To Not Pop Up on Your Knees by Sabotaging Yourself

This is way easier said than done. However, I have come across one super cool tip I heard from someone in a surfing group that I really think will help with this one.  Do something like putting an athletic tape like Rocktape on your knees with dry peas or something like it taped underneath. By doing this, it will literally hurt to get on your knees and you’ll HAVE to land on your feet first, as that is one muscle memory that you’re brain will remember in relation to the surf!!

Don’t obsess about not using knees to pop up

Don’t get into the habit of using your knees to pop up on a surfboard. That’s something you’ll hear everyone tell you when you ask them about tips on popping up. However, I slightly disagree.

It’s not the actual act of landing on your knees that is bad. The negative aspect of landing first on your knees is that you’re putting on the breaks because all of the sudden a majority of the weight is at the back of the surfboard.

Look at the pros that do insane drops into barrels. Those pro surfers actually are practically down on one knee the entire time anyway, as it actually helps for stability. There’s actually a term for it, it’s called drop-knee surfing or the pig-dog. Not to mention that knee-boarding itself is a form of surfing!

Top left – Lakey Peterson, Top Left Kelly Slater, Bottom Pics Jamie O’Brien

So instead of obsessing on not using the knees, just focus on popping up and getting that front foot on the gas pedal as soon as possible.

Popping up on your knees, or at least just one knee, I admit is a crutch, and makes your pop up slower. However, if it helps you feel more balanced and you’re a longboarder, don’t fret about it! As long as you’re catching as many green waves as you can and having fun, that’s all that matters! Especially if you have back injuries, popping up using one knee puts less stress on your back. I’ve even seen older surfers out in the water starting out paddling on their knees, then they just pop up straight from their knees and always seem to have really great rides to me!

If you want to pop up on a shortboard and have a great ride, it’s pretty much impossible to use your knees though. The punchier, hollower, and faster short board waves really require a much faster pop up to get ahead of the waves.

Believe me, I’ve tried renting a shortboard a time or two just to try them out, and even when I got to standing up using one knee on them, the rides are much shorter because I didn’t get ahead of the wave enough in time for a longer ride.

Focus on One Tip at a Time, Having a Key Phrase in Mind

When you’re catching a wave, there’s so many tips you could think about while you’re trying to both catch it and then pop up within seconds. Therefore, I just like to focus on one tip at a time. Either I keep repeating foot, foot, in my head to remind me to just get my front foot up as fast as possible or I just focus on hand placement, it’s easier when you’re just focusing on one thing at a time.

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