Surf Tips & Research

Why do we swim in between the red and yellow flags?

The lifeguards will find a large sand bank, which will indicate where to put up the red and yellow flags each day. To identify the sandbank, they will look the area where the waves are breaking evenly and parallel to the shore. At low tide particularly, the waves and whitewater will determine the sandbank. The sandy bottom will also be more prominent in this area. The whitewater should carry all the way to the beach, making it the safest area. If this is not the case, the lifeguards should look for the next best area - ensuring the flagged area is not close to any major rips.


How do we identify a rip?

You'll find rips in between the sand banks - mainly indicated by a deeper, darker section of water. These will be easier to identify at low tide, as the sandbanks on either sides of the rip become shallower and the differences in colour shades will be more obvious.

There will be no breaking waves or consistent white water in the main part of the rip, any waves that reach this area will be affected by the deeper water and an immediate transformation will occur. You will also notice ripples on the surface - indicating the strongest part of the rip and the seaward movement of the water. This area is only to be used by experienced Surfers.

Rips are all different shapes and sizes and can change within a matter of minutes depending on the change of tides, wind intensity & direction, and surf conditions. Water will move off the sandbanks into the rips, so make sure when you're swimming on the sandbank - to constantly look at the surrounding area.


How do we know where the rips will take us?

Rips move off the beach quite fast, but 90% of rips will not take you beyond the surf break. Instead, these rips will move off the shoreline and then travel toward a sand bank within the surf break. The larger the surf - the bigger & faster the rips move. A rip will not take you under the water, therefore is not the cause of drowning.

Very few rips go further out than the outside of the surf break, normally these occur in bigger surf.

What if I'm caught in a rip

If you can't float comfortably - do not swim in the surf any where except patrolled beaches and in between the "red & yellow flags" (see surf tip 1) because rips will take you out of your depth.

If you can float/swim and get caught in a rip - you should allow the rip to take you off the beach - then take time to feel which way the current is taking you. Float with the current towards the sand bank - which is indicated by the waves and the white water. The most important thing you can do is to stay afloat by conserving energy...if you feel you must swim, move within your comfort zone with the current at an easy pace to conserve energy.

The rip should carry you over to the shallow sand bank where you can walk back to shore, or be carried by the waves. If you are scared, put up your hand and yell for help, never swim back toward the beach, as you will not get back. Remember you are the only thing that can make yourself drown. If you cannot float - see a lifeguard or lifesaver before you go in the water.


How do I know when I've escaped a rip?

At low tide - the rips move quite quickly and they will travel more directly over to the sand bank. When you reach the waves you will notice your direction will change and you will be pushed toward the shore by the water flow.

At low tide you should be able to stand up and walk back to shore. If this is the case - follow the white water back to the beach, other wise, if the whitewater stops - you could end up in deeper water and back in the rip.

If it is high tide, the water will move slower, you may not be able to stand when you reach the waves, so face the shore and let the waves push you back to where you can stand. Remember - do what ever you have to, to stay afloat, and don't try to swim away from the waves, as they will most surely save your life.


Should I swim at unpatrolled beaches?

You should not swim at unpatrolled beaches; however a lot of people do - because beaches in remote areas aren't patrolled or patrols aren't on at the times they wish to swim. If you must swim at an unpatrolled beach, make sure there are other people in the water - particularly surf board riders. Make sure you find the largest available sand bank - indicated by the broken waves or whitewater. The waves should be parallel to each other and to the beach, and the whitewater should travel all the way to the shoreline. This will indicate the sand bank is even right through to the shore and shallow enough to be safe, all the water is pushing toward the beach. If the whitewater stops at any point this indicates the water has become deeper and may be moving in another direction.

Keep to the middle of the sand bank away from any rips, which will exist on either side.


What sort of waves should I catch?

If you are strong enough to get through the surf or educated enough to negotiate a rip - you should be able to manage the waves out the back. Be careful of dumping waves or plunging waves which break in very shallow water, usually in off shore winds - which blow from the land - out to sea, and make the conditions nice and clean. These waves form what's called a tube or a barrel, which are great waves for experienced surfers, but not for weekend warriors. Barreling waves can pick you up and drive you into the bottom, risking neck and back injury.

Waves that break in onshore winds - blowing from the sea to the land, are safer because they break in deeper water and the wave spills down the face - allowing a nice gentle ride or a less dramatic fall. Taking off on these waves is a lot easier.

If you are less experienced - become comfortable with surfing in the whitewater before you venture out the back.


Should I go to the bottom when I go under a wave without a surf board?

Yes you should, the waves and white water are quite turbulent, but as the water gets deeper this turbulence doesn't reach the bottom, in fact the water underneath the turbulence rotates outward. If you want to get out through the white water - use the bottom to get under the whitewater and then the best way to get back to the surface is to push off the bottom. A lot of people are afraid to go to the bottom, but let me assure you that if you are on a sand bank - the only thing to deal with is sand & water.


How do I paddle?

There are two main components to paddling a surfboard - positioning on the board and body posture. Position yourself on the board so the board is trim in the water. For example the board lies flat in the water and the nose of the board is not pushing under the water. If the nose keeps going under - you will have to move back. If you are too far back your board will stick up in the air and push too much water - then you will need to move forward.

Good balance comes from good posture and strong chore muscles. When you lie on the board you need to lift your chest off the board, keeping your lower back and stomach flexed. Your bottom and hamstring muscles will also be flexed pushing your pelvis into the board; every other muscle should be relaxed.

Paddle using one arm at a time without wobbling from side to side, keeping the middle of your body stable, and rotating the larger arm, shoulder and upper back muscles. Your arms should be bent and relaxed. Don't try to over extend your stroke - rather keep it compact, fast and powerful on exit.


How do I take off on a wave on a surfboard?

Firstly make shore that you commit to the wave that you want, the more you hesitate the more trouble you will get in. Learn to know when a wave is going to break, and paddle onto the wave accordingly. If you paddle too early you will get dumped by the wave, if you paddle too late you will miss the wave.

Paddle until you feel you are traveling down the face of the wave. At this point take a couple more quick strokes to make sure you on the wave - and then quickly position your hands by your ribs. Holding the side of the board - use your arms to adjust your body weight back to avoid a nosedive. If the wave is steeper, you may have to move your body further back. The rule is - the steeper the wave - the faster you will have to move. After you survive the initial take off - you can adjust your body back up the board. If you can master this, it will become easy to stand up as the board points down the wave on take off.

How do I body surf in white water or a broken wave

As the wave reaches your body, dive forward at the same speed of the wave - landing on the surface. Keep you head down and hold your breath. Keep your body straight and stretched out from the belly button, but still relaxed. Become part of the wave - by feeling all your weight forward of your stomach and on your hands. When you feel your speed is the same as the wave and you have control out in front, you can then take a breath - by using a quick one armed freestyle stroke or if you are advanced - tilt your head forward, without moving your body weight backwards.

The smaller the wave becomes - as it heads towards the shoreline, the more streamlined you will need to become, by keeping your head down. The most common mistake people make body surfing is to lift their head and their body making a banana shape, which is not the most streamline of positions in the water.

How do I corner a wave on my board and how can I travel all the way to the beach on one wave

Once you have gotten used to taking off on a wave lying down its time to learn how to corner a wave. Finding the peak of a wave is important; this is the highest part of the wave and usually the first to break. In other words the sand bank will be shallowest at this point and the break will normally be pretty consistent.

If you can catch this part of the wave, you then need to look for a corner, which is a lower part of the wave; it will break across the face from left to right or from right to left. When the surf is like this it is considered good surfing conditions, and the sand banks are a good shape.

The idea is to follow this part of the wave just beyond the breaking part of the wave or the whitewater. At some point the wave will close down and you will need to straighten up your craft. To turn a board lying down or standing up there is no need to dig into the wave with your hands. Just like motor bike riding, leaning into the corners will turn your board, and the faster and more you lean - the more dramatic or radical your turn will become.

To take the wave into the beach you need to follow the whitewater, so look to the side and follow the strongest part of the whitewater by turning your board in. You can also look ahead to see where the white water has died out and avoid this area - as it will be deeper.


How do I stand up on my board?

You can learn the simple techniques of standing up by practicing on the beach, but it is the timing of catching the wave and those take off skills, which will enhance your surfing. Focusing on your stomach muscles, to go from a lying down to a standing up position in one movement will also help.

When you are catching a wave and in a position to take off - your board is actually pointing downward, so you nearly fall onto your feet. It's the radical distribution of your weight to the back of the board, which actually stops you from nose-diving; this is why those earlier techniques are so important. It will take a few goes to get your feet into the right position, then you will need to get a feel for using bent knees to produce power from your legs - for those radical manoeuvres.


How do I negotiate the surf on my board?

Getting out the back on your board is tough, that must be why god created rips. Obviously the best way to get out the back on any craft or in any ocean race is by utilising a rip.

As discussed previously, the majority of rips do not go out past the surf break, so negotiating waves will be a necessity during each journey out to the back of the surf break. There are several techniques to negotiate smaller waves, or waves that are not breaking top to bottom. The first is to paddle hard into the wave, and as you hit the whitewater - put your hand to the front of the board to keep streamline, and allow the wave to roll over the top.

As the waves get bigger you can duck dive a surfboard, which can sink under your weight - by pushing your knee into the board and using it to scoop the board under the whitewater. Your body will fall in behind the board - also trying to duck under the impact of the wave. This technique can't be used on foam boards and bigger boards, as they will not sink.

For these boards - you can sit back as the wave approaches, and as the whitewater hits - you lean back into your paddling position on the board. The momentum from this movement should bounce you over the wave.

Lastly for those larger waves, you can eskimo roll. By doing this - keeps the lifted ends of the board away from the impact of the wave - stopping the wave from lifting the board and carrying it toward the shore. Your momentum from your roll and your weight will force the board under the water and away from the heavy whitewater. Failing this, some surfers throw their boards away, this can be a nuisance as your board can hit other surfers, and there's always a chance you could snap your leg rope.