How to Pop up Fast When Surfing: Full Guide!

The surfing pop up is one of the most difficult parts of learning to surf and is something that causes many people lots of difficulty, especially in the early days. However, there is a technique there that you can definitely learn and improve on.

This is something we’re going to cover in this article and I will explain everything you can do to get a super fast surfing pop up. It will help you have more fun in the surf, ride waves better, and just, all around, improve your surfing. So let’s get to it without further ado.

How Do You Pop Up When Surfing?

Plant your hands beneath your shoulders just as a wave gives you momentum, thrust your head up and bring your feet right under your body at a right angle to the nose of your board, staying crouched and flowing with the wave.

Practice this every time you come out of the surf and get those muscles ready. When it comes time to pop up in the surf, you will then be as prepared as you can be!

Now, let’s get into some more of the detailed tips on how you can pop up fast below.

surfer catching wave
My wife about to pop up while I capture the footage from the side on a tiny day. For now, just notice the arched back and head – we’ll get more into this below!

How Do I Pop Up Fast?

Let Gravity Help You

A well-timed pop up should happen just when the wave is starting to pick you up and give you momentum. This means that your board is actually dropping down the face of the wave just about as you’re popping up.

This allows for a little bit more space between your body and the board. So you actually have to push up a bit less and it will just feel natural as gravity will take its course.

So essentially, you are going from lying to standing just as your board starts to drop away from beneath you. This, if done at the right time, can really enhance your pop up and makes it that much easier for you to go along the wave and ride it successfully.

Even if the waves are not very steep, doing it as soon as the wave picks up and gives you that momentum will help immensely. The speed from the wave as you start glide along the surface of the water on your surfboard will make for an easier transition to standing because the rails of the board will not dig as you pop up.

If your board is going more slowly, then the rails can easily dig, the board gets out of trim and you fall much more easily. So going faster, having the speed from the push of the wave makes you pop up that much easier as well.

Pop-up Everywhere!

By this, I mean practice your pop up everywhere you possibly can. This could be on your carpet, on a yoga mat, out on the grass, anywhere you can, on a balanced port even. Keep trying to do that pop up maneuver whatever you’re doing.

Whenever you get a chance because this will help your muscle memory and it will help to speed up and enhance your pop up. This is probably the best way you can make your pop up faster. Training those muscles to do this movement will help them when it comes time to hit the surf.

It’s a really rare and bizarre move if you’re not surfing. So it’s not something you will really be doing out of the water anyway. So you need to try and practice it as much as you can.

My suggestion would be to do 10 to 20 pop ups every morning, and then every evening, or as part of a regular workout routine. Get those muscles firing and that movement feeling normal for your body. The more you do it, the easier it gets and the faster your pop up will be.

Use Row Interval Training for Explosive Power

Row interval training is basically where you assume the height of a press up position. With dumbbells under you, you pick them up in a row, just in line with your torso, put one down and pick the left, then other one up.

This can really help with the start of your pop up because those muscles, just as your arms are cocked behind you, really helps to give that explosive feel. This kind of row training will also help you with paddling.

So when it comes to actually popping up, after you’ve paddled very quickly, you won’t be as fatigued and you’ll have some energy left for that explosive movement of the pop up. You can do this as part of your workout or do it every day if you like, and it will really help.

Get in Complete Shape (Not Just Paddling Muscles)

Something that many surfers think about is improving their paddling muscles. However, this is just one part. I know because for years I neglected training my whole body.

I just did things I enjoyed like playing basketball or squash or go running, but really this wasn’t enough. My pop up was pretty terrible for a long time as a result.

Instead, I would say look for a complete workout and training program. Something that helps you particularly with your core muscles, upper body and shoulder strength.

It will be really helpful to have well-trained core muscles because the way you pull your legs from behind you and under you is incredibly important when performing a surfing pop up. Speeding that up will make your overall pop up that much faster too.

Burpees for the Win!

Out of the most common workout exercises, burpees are probably the most similar to a surfing pop up and likely one of the most beneficial. If you lie down and pop up with your feet planted straight ahead and then stand up, this is really close to what you’d be doing with a pop up.

Although, in a surfing pop up, you would twist. Either way, having this core workout for your burpees, along with the shoulders and all the other elements of it, will be really helpful for increasing those muscles strength.

Getting that strength there and, again, to get that rapid pop up on your surfboard. So don’t overlook them and incorporate them into your overall workout plan as well to increase that speed.

Look Where you Want to Go and Your Body Will Follow

Something it took me a long time to figure out is that actually when I’m surfing, and as part of my pop up, wherever my head goes, my body will follow.

So if you are looking straight down the face of the wave, you are probably going to go straight down! However, most times when popping up, you really want to be looking in the direction of travel, i.e. down the line, along the wave.

So if you make sure that your head is looking in the right direction, where you want to go, that will help your pop up.

If you’re looking straight down, your head can droop and actually have a negative effect on your pop up.

However, if you’re looking to the side, your body will also then twist in that chain-like motion. That really helps because your legs will be more easily planted in the right position as well if you do that.

Plant Your Feet (My Big Mistake!)

When popping up, make sure to consciously kick out your front foot and plant flat on your board. If you don’t do this, you can often end up almost tripping over your feet and slow down your pop up entirely.

What a lot of learners do is plant their feet too far back almost behind them and they end up in a downward-dog type position. Which is not good, especially when you’re on a moving surfboard on a wave!

To counter this, plant your foot confidently with front foot forward at a 45-90 degree angle to the nose of your board. This kicking motion will actually help to put your foot under your body, taking the weight off your hands and give you that firmer balance.

It’ll make your pop up much faster as well. If you leave your feet dragging, again, you get caught in that in-between no man’s land and you can’t pop up.

So think about that. Plant your feet (both front and back feet). Kick out your front foot. Try and get them as flat as quickly as possible. And you’ll be up and surifng much more quickly as well.

Don’t Let Your Body Get in the Way

By this, I mean different limbs and parts of your body actually impeding your pop up movement. It took me a long time to see it for my own surfing.

In fact, after many years, and only when I got a GoPro, was it that I saw that my knees were actually getting in the way of my arms in the pop-up motion. This happened because when I was popping up, I was cocking my knee out to one side and then my arms were going inside of my knee.

surfer standing up on a board
Me in West Sumbawa way back in 2010 (it shows right?!), capturing my awkward take-off with knee all skewiff! I definitely learned from this, though. If looking for more on GoPros, check out my guide to surf GoPro accessories now!

This meant that I actually had to overcompensate and then swing my arm in a bizarre way that would take momentum away from my pop up and also from my riding. This messed up my ride more often than not.

Another thing that’s common for learners is actually not to have their back and head arched upwards. This means that you might not have enough room between your board and your chest to actually plant your foot.

As a result, you don’t actually have enough room to plant your front foot properly because your knee can’t get to the right place since your chest is in the way. Therefore, you end up again having your foot too far back and slowing down your pop up, even perhaps ruining it.

So with that said, remember to put your knee in line with your solar plexus, the middle of your chest. When you’re popping up, twist it whichever direction, but inwards usually.

Also, make sure your head and shoulders are arched upwards and not blocking your feet from getting to where they need to be.

This sounds a little bit odd, but it’s a really common problem. It will make a big difference if you think of it that way and follow these points.

Training with a Weighted Vest for Simulation

When you are doing the workouts that we’ve talked about to strengthen and get better for the surf, remember that you should use a weighted vest like the RUNMAX Pro from Amazon. This is because this will actually simulate the added weight of having a wetsuit.

I actually weighed my winter wetsuit with boots, gloves, hat, rash guards, and everything when wet. It came to an astonishing 11 pounds. So if you’re going to be surfing in colder waters, you really need to be prepared for that extra resistance that you’re going to be up against surfing in a wet wetsuit.

On top of that is also the limited flexibility you will have when wearing a wet suit. So any resistance training you can do will be extremely helpful and be less of a shock to you when you get out in the surf and fight against that restricted feel of being in a wetsuit.

This will, again, help with your pop up because if you are trying to lift that amount of weight from flying flat on the ground to when you’re getting up. Thus, doing the resistance training with a weighted vest will help.

Just make sure you follow recommended guidelines on this because not all exercise should be done with a weighted vest. So be sure to check with a qualified professional and maybe even your physician if needed.

But either way, doing this will have a big, positive impact on your surfing pop up.

Looking for a Little More?

If looking for a little more on how to improve your pop-up, the video below by Brent Rose shows some of the top professional surfers popping up and really digs deep into their take-offs and styles.

Definitely worth a look!

Video Credit: Brent Rose in Youtube

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