How to Develop Your Own Surfing Style

January 17, 2011

How would you describe the way you surf? If it takes more than a few seconds to come up with an answer to that question, you’ve come to the right place. This guide will shed some light on the elusive concept of surfing style.


First thing’s first. The surfers with the best surfing style through the years have also had stellar technique. So before you can develop your own style, you need to become a student of movement.

Critically think about every aspect of your surfing and analyze what all the other rippers out there are doing. Body positions, weight transfers, and the timing of movements all influence your technique when performing various maneuvers. Optimal technique in surfing can be learned and imitated.


Unlike technique, style is more difficult to analyze, because it’s closely tied to how each surfer connects with the wave. Most experienced surfers can spot one of their friends riding a wave from very far away. This normally isn’t because the friend has a radically different technique from other surfers in the lineup, but rather because he has a unique style. From the takeoff to the first turn, and even up until the moment a surfer kicks out, everyone has their own way of putting it all together.

A surfer’s style is an extension of technique combined with elements such as:

  • Maneuver preference
  • Parts of the wave commonly utilized
  • Fluidity in linking movements
  • Speed generation
  • Amount of energy put into maneuvers

Types of Styles

There are several different styles out there and most surfers typify a combination of a few of them. Here are ten surf style categories along with characteristics for each:

  • Powerful: Dynamic, high-energy, and ballistic
  • Flowing: Excellent ability to link maneuvers
  • Aggressive: Attacks the waves
  • Smooth: No jerky movements and makes surfing look effortless
  • Vertical: Uses the wave from top to bottom
  • Down the line: Generates speed along the face of the wave
  • Tuberiding: Shortboarders who log a lot of barrel time
  • Noseriding: Longboarders who log a lot of tip time
  • Front Foot: The majority of weight is on the front foot
  • Back Foot: The majority of weight is on the back foot

If you were to ask 100 surfers whose surfing style they like the most, don’t be surprised if you get 100 different answers. The following surfers, however, have made their fair share of top-10 lists over the years: Kelly Slater, Duke Kahanamoku, Gerry Lopez, Sunny Garcia, Mike Doyle, Rob Machado, Mark Occhilupo, Andy Irons, Tom Curren, and Joel Parkinson.

Developing Your Own Surfing Style

Style is a very individual aspect of your surfing. Here are three tips for how to approach the development of a style all your own:

  1. Choose the right board: Your equipment shouldn’t dictate your surfing style. Choose your boards and fin setups based on how you want to surf, as opposed to simply adapting to the performance characteristics of your equipment.
  2. Become well-rounded: The best and most stylish surfers in the world can virtually do it all. Your surfing style should match and showcase your technical strengths. It’s critical, however, to also continually improve your weaknesses so that they don’t undermine your surfing from a style standpoint.
  3. Be yourself: Your style should ultimately feel extremely comfortable. Above all else, it should maximize your enjoyment of the sport. Attempts to conform to how others surf or emulate another surfer’s style can hinder your performance.


If you want to refine your style, video can be an extremely useful tool. Watching video of elite level surfers can help you create a mental picture of what you’re trying to accomplish. Analyzing video of yourself is another way to help you see the differences between how your surfing looks and how it feels.

Matter of Opinion

Defining an optimal style of surfing is difficult to do, since it’s so subjective. The most stylish surfers in the world have developed their style over decades and countless hours spent in the water. So keep working on creating your own unique style. No matter what, don’t allow others to derail whatever style you’re convinced works and feels best for you.

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