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How to Pop Up on a Surfboard | Surf Take Off Step-by-Step Guide for Beginners!

When you first start surfing, the biggest question is always “how to get up on a surfboard”. Advanced surfers make it look so smooth and easy, but the first times you try it, you’ll probably struggle with it.

Learning how to do a surf pop up or surf take off properly is crucial to your surfing journey.

If you don’t learn how to do a good pop up on a surfboard right from the start, you’ll carry those mistakes with you as you progress, and it will make everything harder.

Having surfed for 25+ years and taught surfing for 8+ years, I have my fair amount of experience in teaching beginners how to take off and stand up on a surfboard. 

With this article I want to help you nail your surf pop up right from the start.

I have outlined step-by-step exactly how to pop up on a surfboard, with easy photo guides for you to follow, details on the correct and incorrect positions, and an overview of the surfboard parts you need to know.

So without further ado, let’s dive in and discover how to pop up on a surfboard faster and better right from the start!

Ale surfing in Tenerife, Spain

Ale surfing in Tenerife, Spain

How to pop up surfing beginner – key info

The time has come to head to the beach and to start practising  how to get up on your surfboard, as well as how to maintain your balance once you’re standing.

The first thing you need to do before riding a wave is understanding your surfboard. It’s important that you can identify the different parts of the board, know exactly how each of them works and understand how to use them when surfing.

This is because if you’re not clear about it and don’t understand how your board works, you could use your board incorrectly, and thus slow down your learning process.

Understanding your surfboard is one of the most important surf essentials, which many surfers don’t take the time to learn before getting in the water.

Greta surfing in Fuerteventura, Spain

Greta surfing in Fuerteventura, Spain

Know your surfboard

Here are the different parts of the surfboard and how they work. They will look a bit different on a big beginner surfboard compared to the tiny board in the photo, but the essence of the board is the same.

Nose: As the name suggests, this is the front section of the board. It must have an incline curve towards the inside of the board (Rocker), which will allow us to slide properly on the water. This also prevents the board from doing a nosedive into the water.

Deck: This is the central part of the board that makes contact with your body. The deck is where we are going to lie down and stand up on once we are in the water, so it’s important to identify and not get confused once in the sea.

Rails: These are the sides or edges of the board, which will help us with stabilisation and balance depending on its thickness and shape. Generally speaking, for beginners you just need the rails to be thick and round enough for better stability and buoyancy.

The different parts of a surfboard outlined

The different parts of a surfboard outlined

Bottom: Opposite to the deck, this is the underside of the board, which will only make contact with the water. Therefore it must have a completely clean and flat surface to facilitate its movement on the water.

Tail: The tail is the back of the board. It plays a very important role in the control and direction of your board in the water. Depending on its width and thickness it can make things easier or not in the water.

Fins: These can be considered one of the most important parts of the board, as they control balance, direction and speed.

We have broken down in a simplified way all the parts of the surfboard that you should know before getting in the water. This will help you to understand how it works, and how to use your surfboard correctly.

Once you’re clear on the different parts of the surfboard and what they are for, it’s time to start practising your surfing pop up on a flat and stable surface, so that you have good stability and can practice for as long as you consider necessary.

An 8ft soft board, one of the most common beginner surfboards

An 8ft soft board, one of the most common beginner surfboards

Surf take off technique – Correct & incorrect position lying down on the board

Before we look at the full step-by-step breakdown of how to pop up on a surfboard for beginners, you need to make sure you’re lying down correctly on the board.

Position 1: Lie face down on the deck of the board. 

Although it sounds very simple, this step is super important, because if we do it incorrectly, there will be a domino effect and all the following steps will be much harder.

Incorrect: An incorrect position will frustrate you and slow down your learning process, since you won’t have the basic balance you need or the correct movement on the surface of the water.

This will slow down the fluidity you need to paddle and catch your first wave.

Examples of incorrect positions when lying down on a surfboard

Examples of incorrect positions when lying down on a surfboard

Here are the incorrect positions that we see most often when new surfers lie on the deck of the board:

– Too far forward, very close to the nose.

– Too far behind, outside the tail.

– Legs spread open far outside the rails.

– Legs lifted and not resting on the tail.

– Chest and chin too close to the deck.

– Hands holding on to the rails.

More examples of incorrect positions when lying down on a surfboard

More examples of incorrect positions when lying down on a surfboard

Correct: To be lying correctly on the deck your waist has to be from the centre of the board to the tail.

This correct position is what will help you balance the board on the unstable water surface, and what will allow you to glide over the surface with enough fluidity when you paddle.

The correct position when lying down on a surfboard

The correct position when lying down on a surfboard

Here are some pointers for correct position on the deck of the board:

1. Waist in the middle of the deck, from the centre of the board to the tail.

2. Tips of the feet protruding from the tail.

3. Legs together completely straight and relaxed.

4. Straight legs resting on the tail.

5. Chest and chin raised without touching the deck, your back should be as arched as possible.

6. Arms and hands outside the rails and either in or above the water.

The correct position when lying down on a surfboard

The correct position when lying down on a surfboard

Position 2: Once you’ve got your basic position sorted, it’s time to look at your paddling. Remember that to paddle efficiently, the deeper you put your arms in the water, the more effective your stroke.

Paddle deep to ensure maximum fluidity and speed, to be able to catch waves and to paddle back to the line-up.

For a deep paddle you have to keep your arms as straight as possible, both inside and outside the water, to resume stroke by stroke.

In this way we ensure an effective paddle and constant speed, which will help you catch the wave correctly.

Alejandro surfing

Alejandro surfing in Tenerife, Spain

Position 3: Once you have caught your wave, it’s time to get up on the deck of your surfboard.

There are many surf take off techniques, but we have focused on only one; the one we believe is more efficient since it ensures control and the necessary speed to be stable on the board.

How to pop up on a surfboard - the correct standing position

The correct basic standing position on a surfboard

Easy 3-step pop up or take off in surfing

Once you have sorted your position, here are the three simple steps you need to do in order to get up on your surfboard.

Step 1: Hands on the deck at chest height to perform a push-up with the arms fully stretched.

Blonde girl lying on a surfboard with her arms extended and her chest up - the first step of a surf pop up

First step to do a surf pop up / take off

Step 2: Put the foot of the back leg completely flat on the deck, at the height of the tail.

Blonde girl doing the second step of a surf take off, with her back leg resting on the tail of the surfboard

Second step to do a take off / pop up

Step 3: Place the foot of the front leg on the deck at the height where you would have your chest if you were lying face down.

Blonde girl doing the third step to stand up on a surfboard - with her front foot between her arms

Step three of a surf pop up / take off

To know which one is your front leg and rear leg you first have to know if you are “goofy” or “regular”.

Goofy: Left leg is the back leg, and right leg is the front leg.

Blonde girl standing up on a surfboard in goofy position

You’re riding the wave! (Goofy position)

Regular: Right leg is the back leg, and left leg is the front leg.

Blonde girl showing how to stand on a surfboard with regular position (right leg back, left leg front)

You’re riding the wave! (Regular position)

If you repeat these three steps over and over and over again, paired with some useful surf pop up exercises, we can guarantee that you’ll be able to stand up on your surfboard quickly and efficiently in no time.

There isn’t a set amount of time you need to practice your pop up, just bear in mind that the more you practice, both outside and inside the water, the more possibilities you will have to get up quickly and correctly on your board, and thus ride your wave to the end!

If you want to make sure you never forget how to pop up on a surfboard, save the infographic below! It shows each step to do a correct surf pop up or take off.

Step-by-step infographic on how to pop up on a surfboard

Step-by-step infographic on how to do a surf pop up or take off

Final thoughts on surfing how to pop up

There you have it, the ultimate guide on how to pop up on a surfboard! Have you tried following our surf pop up technique? How did you find it? Let us know in the comments below!

I know we gave you a long introduction on the surfboard parts and on correct positioning, but if you don’t understand these crucial elements first, you won’t be able to pop up properly on a surfboard.

Once you understand how these steps flow and how to pop up on your board, make sure to practice it loads, both on land and in the water. The more you practice, the better you will become.

If you’re having any issues with your take off or have any questions, just let us know in the comments below! Check out our other surf guides below to find more surf tips and inspiration!

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Photo collage of Greta & Alejandro surfing with text overlay saying