The Transition from Surfing Foam to Real Waves


The transition from surfing foam to real waves requires patience and mastery of basic techniques.

Learn to Ride Foam Waves First

transition from surfing foam to real waves

Catching real wave at an angle

When I teach Surf Lessons in Oceanside, I begin students with the three basic techniques.

  • We learn to paddle the board so it stays level and it goes straight to the beach. When there are so many things (anxieties) going through their heads, they loose focus on their board.
  • We learn to catch foam waves. This is a timing thing. We get on the board in plenty of time before the wave arrives. We start paddling to build momentum. We paddle hard once the wave hits the board (hardest thing to remember)
  • We pop up into the perfect posture. This is the front foot in the middle of the board. The feet are shoulder width apart. The hips and shoulders are facing the beach while we look over the nose of the board.

The Perfect Pop Up

I observe several different instructors with their own particular style of popping up on the surf board. Before the transition from surfing foam waves to real waves can be accomplished, we must have the right posture mastered or bigger waves cause bigger wrecks.

transition from riding foam waves to real waves

Master the pop up

In the perfect posture, the front foot is in the middle of the board (you can look to see if its there). If the foot is not in the middle, the student’s weight will tip the board to the side on which the front foot is pressuring. Your weight is on the front foot so it needs to be in the middle of the surfboard.

The second most important component is the hips and shoulders need to be squared to the front. This is the most difficult technique to understand for most and it takes a lot of water instruction to get the idea into student’s brain/body. My one piece of advice is that the hand opposite the front foot also has to be in front of the body. This keeps the hips and shoulders square to the front.

Snowboarders and skateboarders ride with the body parallel to the sides of the boards (one hand trailing and one hand in front)  instead of squared to the front. It takes a while to change their style to surfing. I call the sideways stance “butt over the rail” or “snowboarding”. Once the hands are in front of the surfer, the board will ride straight to the beach.

Paddling Level and Straight

This seems like a given during the dry lesson portion of the lesson. In the transition from surfing foam waves to real waves, if you are not paddling the board level and straight to the beach, the wave turns the board over rather violently and you get wrecked before you start. Getting turned and rolled at the beginning is more painful than falling off while riding.

When paddling, the student’s weight has to be equal on both sides of the center stringer that runs from nose to tail. The feet have to be together on the back of the board with the balls of the feet on the board. The balls of the feet on the board helps support the pop up push. The surfer’s nose has to be in the middle of the board (which centers the heard). At all times the body has to be straight as a pencil and the butt balances the board by moving right or left.

To help the board go straight, students spot a landmark on the beach like a life guard tower or umbrella and paddle straight for it. If the board gets sideways to the wave or even a slight angle, the wave flips the board. On a big wave, its called “going over the falls” and its the worst type of fall. This is why I work hard on students at the beginning to paddle level and straight.

Timing A Real Wave

transition from riding foam waves to real waves

Catching the real wave is about timing

In the transition from surfing foam waves to real waves the timing is the first difficulty. Catching a foam wave is easier than catching a real wave. The first difference is the window of opportunity is smaller with a real wave. A foam wave is obvious as it breaks and then pushes toward the beach and gives a student 20 seconds to intercept it.

A real wave gives only a few seconds to get in the right spot. As it arcs, students want to be in the position where the wave rises under the board. Then they need to paddle hard two or three times. The higher volume the board, the easier it is to catch waves. If the wave is not too steep (practice creates this judgment), the student can angle in the direction the wave is breaking and have an easy pop up and ride.

If the wave is small (like two feet), it is easy to ride down the face. If the wave is bigger (three to five feet), the speed is greater and the student needs to be prepared. Staying in a low center of gravity often helps. The pop up and posture have to be perfect on bigger waves or the fall occurs sooner.

Paddling for a Real Wave

Paddling before a real wave arrives to create momentum is a beginner’s secret.  I suggest surfers paddle parallel to the beach and wave before it breaks to get the board moving.

As it starts to arc, you paddle at a slight angle towards the beach watching the wave over your shoulder. You want the wave to come under the board. As it gets close, you turn towards the beach or decide whether you want to go right or left. The wave might be breaking straight toward the beach where you are located or if you are at the lip (where the foam first comes over the top) you probably have a choice to go with the pocket as it forms right or left (might be a little complicated for you at this point).

Watching other surfers becomes a learning guide. The more students progress, the more they learn watching others.

Completing the Transition from Surfing Foam to Real Waves

As students feel they are mastering foam waves, they might observe that, at times, real waves are breaking among the foam waves.

As students transition to bigger foam waves, they should look for opportunities to take some small real waves. As they get more confidence riding small real waves and bigger foam waves, they will develop the courage to ride bigger real waves. Riding bigger real waves comes in steps of skill and courage. Students also learn how to fall and how to avoid getting wrecked as time progresses. Both are welcome. There is no easy way other than the hard way.

Keep it fun and the passion will start floating through your emotions.


For Oceanside Surf Lessons, see my Home Page

Good video on how to surf .

My video on How to Do Pop Ups

Everyone wants to duck dive once they have a short board. Here is the technique on YouTube.

Great YouTube video on how to catch a real wave.

An advanced wave catching video for riding real waves.

If you are interested in Surf Lessons, see my Home Page

If you would like to ask questions, feel free to email me.  markap12 at



Download my 17 page  Surf Guide  It covers your basic fundamentals and techniques.  $1.



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