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9 Tips for Riding Barrels


Want the keys to making it outta tunnels? Step inside for tube-riding enlightenment.

We can’t all weave through six-second drainers on a regular basis — but we can still maximize barrel time wherever, whenever we surf. Here are some things to keep in mind.

Bend at the knees, not the waist. This tip applies to all surfing at all times, actually. Waist-bending is stylistic cancer that you have to consciously fight and unlearn — especially with barrels. Picture the awkwardly squat-stanced surfer with his legs locked stiff, his rear end high in the air, bent in half with his head down at hip-level trying to poke his face into a two-foot tube. And then claiming his “cover-up” later. Don’t be him. Bend at the knees.

Square your shoulders. Keeping your shoulders open and square to the exit will keep you moving in the right direction. You shouldn’t find them closed and parallel to shore, facing out to sea (frontside) or toward the beach (backside). There are exceptions, of course — watch any surf video — but while you’re still getting comfortable in the barrel, square shoulders will help you keep the right line. The one that takes you back out of the tube. That is, after all, the point here.

Travel. Another “duh” tip but its value can’t be overstated. A week or two in good, hollow waves is like boot camp for barrel riding. Your surfing will transform. You’ll progress so much further in a few days abroad than you would in years of hunting the odd lucky head-dip at home (unless home is Hawaii). Among its many other benefits, a surf trip will fast-track your tube skills, so book one and skip a few levels. Sumatra’s nice.

Pull in on closeouts. It doesn’t count if you don’t come out, but that’s not very helpful. Closeouts are a tool — they’re your driving range, your batting cage, your practice field. For decades low-rung surfers at Pipe and Backdoor have gained respect and experience by forcing themselves into closeouts nobody wants. The same will work for you. Use closeouts to get familiar with the tube, with getting in and traveling. The exit can come later.

Don’t won’t go. Guys in the Momentum Generation used to use “You won’t go” on each other as a little reverse psychological nudge in heavy waves. The natural human response to “You won’t go” is an emboldened, “Oh yeah? Watch this.” You may have to use this trick on yourself to maximize tube opportunities, because a lot of the best ones will look like closeouts. Too ledgy. Too deep. Too shallow. Unmakeable. But you have to be in it to win it. Silence your doubts with an imaginary friend taunting, “You won’t go,” then show that punk he’s wrong.

Stay low on the face …Particularly on small waves with small barrels. They’re hard to fit into, so the tendency is to hug the face, stall hard and lean into the wave, trying to squeeze under a tight lip. But this pulls you up the face of the wave. You cease forward motion, get sucked upward and pitched. Done. Instead, stay low on the face and as compact as possible (see: bend at the knees). If you have to try that hard to fit in the tube, it’s probably not worth it.

Plan to come out. One of the simplest barrel-riding mistakes is that surfers put all their focus on getting in — but forget that the real goal is to come out afterward. When you set your line and pull in, do so with full intention to make a clean exit. There should be no question in your mind that you’ll come out. It sounds simplistic but this makes a giant difference. Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.

Don’t be surprised. Beginners, or anyone rarely tubed, are often so shocked at finally finding themselves in a barrel that they freeze up. They get stage fright. They don’t want to blow it and waste their shot, so of course they do, and that’s frustrating. But avoidable! Don’t be surprised when tubes happen. Relax. It’s just like being on the open face, but with a ceiling.

Don’t claim. Finally and perhaps most importantly, please mask your private awe at having successfully come out of your little barrel. Nothing will ruin it faster than a self-serving fist pump or two arms in the air. Don’t even look at the beach. Be cool. Yawn if possible. What would Curren do?