how to pop up surfing


Here is a “how to surf” tutorial on various surfing techniques which are vital when you are learning how to surf. It is not meant as a replacement for going on a learn to surf holiday (like those we offer at Swell) but rather as a reference with visuals to make learning easier.

About Swell Surf Camp
We offer luxury surf holiday experiences for people who want to learn how to surf in warm, Caribbean water. We focus on a structured approach in our surf lessons, taught by ISA qualified surfing instructors.

Read more about the surf holidays we offer >>


  • Place hands flat on your board under your chest (see note below about hand-position)
  • Push up: Arch your back, weight on toes and hands
  • Twist your hips into a position which allows you to first move your back* foot into position
  • Move front* foot into position, place front foot between your hands
  • Stand up, keeping center of gravity low with your kness bend & looking forward
  • *your ‘back’ or ‘front’ foot is determined by whether you are ‘regular/natural-footed’ (that’s riding with the left foot forward) or ‘goofy-footed'(riding with your right foot forward). In order to test this, have someone push you gently from behind on a flat surface (ideally when you are not expecting it). The foot which leads the step determines if you are natural/regular or goofy. If you have skateboarded or snowboarded, with surfing, you are very likely to ride with the same foot forward.


caribbean surf campThere are various ways on how to do a successful pop up on a surfboard, below is the approach we use the most at Swell in our surf lessons at Playa Encuentro.

This approach to the pop up is only suitable for beginners learning how to surf on big surfboards (anything over 8′ and ideally on a soft top with plenty of volume and stability). Depending on how tall you are, you might adjust your hand position further under your ribcage (imagine a pendulum) in order to give your feet the space to move.

For best results this technique is best practiced first on the beach, so you have extra stability, then when you have mastered it on the beach, practice in small mellow waves, like those we have at Playa Encuentro.

The following images show the pop-up technique for a surfer with a “natural/regular” stance (riding with left foot forward), If you are goofy-footer (right foot forward), the technique stays the same, just move the other foot as opposed to how it’s shown in these images.


Practise on the beach, then go out on small ‘white water’ waves. White water of about 30 to 50 cm is ideal. Enough power to give you forward thrust.

surfing step1 pop up surf

Paddle hard enough to catch the wave and feel the force of the wave pushing you forward. As you gain speed the board actually gets a bit more stable. Now place both hands flat on your surfboard under your chest (don’t grab the rail of the surfboard). Some taller people find it easier to place their hands further down the chest towards the ribcage to ‘balance’ their body before moving the feet.

surfing step2 pop up surf

Now arch your lower back  – by doing a push-up movement. Only your toes/feet and hands should be touching the board, look up / forward, not down at your board.

surfing step3b pop up surf

Now slide your ‘back’ foot into position first (it sounds confusing, but this will be your left foot if you are goofy and your right foot if you are a natural-footed surfer). The back foot should move about 35-45 cm forward. Twisting your body will make this easier as it creates space.

surfing step4a pop up surf
Then move your front foot towards your hands staying very low to maintain balance.

surfing step5 pop up surf

The final part of the pop-up, releasing your hands from the board but making sure to keep a low center of gravity ( = better balance) by bending both knees; you can also extend your arms straight, one forward and one behind you to further increase your balance. Look forward (not down!) and enjoy the glide!


Video by (???Interesting name)

surfing wrongPractise on the wrong waves: the pop up technique should be practised in small white water waves, not out in the lineup (out the back) for first time surfers. Don’t go out in big waves, or crowded surf spots.

surfing wrongFeet in the wrong position: Your feet should be pretty much in the centre of the board, over stringer  ( center line made of wood in the board)

surfing wrongWrong hand position: Don’t grab the rails of the surfboard, it will slow the board down and will also make  the board a lot more unstable for the push up

surfing wrongKnees on the board.  A lot of beginners do this, it might make standing up on your first waves ‘easier’ but it’s a bad technique and correcting it later takes more time, so skip the knees on the board part.

surfing wrongLooking down: A very common mistake in people learning how to surf is to look and see what they are doing, so looking down at their feet / board / water. It make keeping your balance very difficult and you cannot see where you are going. Keep looking forward!

surfing wrongToo early: Don’t stand up too early. Make sure the wave is properly giving you forward momentum. Stand up too early, and the board will lose speed, you miss the wave and will fall off.

surfing wrong
Standing too upright. You have done all this hard work to stand on the board and now you want to stand tall! Don’t do it! By staying low and bending the knees you have a lot more stability.

surfing wrongLeaning over with upper body. All the bend should be in the knees, not the upper body. When you bend / lean over with your upper body, keeping your balance is practically impossible and you will fall.


surfing good pop up surfUse a big soft top surfboard. Sure those little boards look cool, but learning on a board that is too small will make learning to surf far harder and will take you forever. Big soft tops are stable and safe.

surfing good pop up surfPractise on the beach. Before going out in the water, practise 15-20 pop ups on the sand.

surfing good pop up surfWatch other surfers. See how they do it.

surfing good pop up surfAsk for feedback. Ask your surf instructor for tips.

surfing good pop up surfStay positive. As easy as some surfers make it look, learning to surf is not easy ! Don’t get discouraged when you make mistakes, we were all beginners once.

Once you have masterered the surfing pop up on a longboard you can start trying the technique on smaller boards. The video below shows how the top pros do their pop up in slow motion on a shortboard at the Surf ranch.


Here is another good instructional video of the do’s and don’t to master the pop up surf technique


how to generate speed

We hope we made it as clear as possible for you. But feel free to send us a message if something is not clear, or if you want to join us in the Caribbean for a learn how to surf holiday, where our qualified surfing instructors teach you the above steps, and will help you with any questions you might have.


Located on the scenic north coast of the Dominican Republic is our purpose built surf resort

We cater for surfers of all levels, from beginners to expert surfers who are looking for an active surf holiday

Swell offers full surf packages holidays

Follow Us on Instagram

  • “Think of Swell as the anti-surf camp. There’s plenty of surfing, of course, but the similarities to other surf camps end there. For starters, the rooms are stylish — more boutique surf retreat than reggae-loving surfer digs. Then there are the legendary breakfasts (omelets, pancakes and crepes, fresh-squeezed orange juice, and fruit bowls). Structured surf lessons take place each morning, with an instructor alongside you and the head surf coach watching from shallow water, ready to offer learn to surf tips between riding waves. If you are serious about learning to surf, then Swell should be on top of your destination list. Highly recommended!

    Reference Source:
    [Frommer’s Travel Guides]

    Designed with the discerning surfer in mind, Swell is far from a crash pad. The spare clean lines, plush bedding, modern photographs and funky furniture say ‘boutique surf retreat’ but the pool, ping-pong and foosball tables and social vibe suggest otherwise. A huge wood communal table is the center of the hanging-out action, after all the surfing is done. Highly recommended!

    Reference Source:
    [Lonely Planet]


    THE #1 RATED


    4.94 Stars - From 335 Reviews