Free shipping on most accessories and apparels!

Your Surf Authority Expert Advice and Friendly Staff - Free shipping on most accessories and apparels!

My cart (0)

Your shopping cart is empty!

Continue shopping

How to Surf Better Part 5 of 9: Riding the Barrel

Anyone who has gotten barreled will tell you that there’s no better feeling in surfing. In fact, getting tubed might just be the best thing in life, period! But it is also incredibly difficult, requiring impeccable timing and positioning, intense focus, a huge amount of ability, and a willingness to turn off your brain and intentionally put yourself in harm’s way.

Finding the Right Wave

If you have gotten to the point in your surfing career where you are capable and willing to do all of that, then the first thing you need to do in your pursuit of the barrel is to find a hollow wave. The best barrels often break over shallow reefs or sand bars, although some point breaks also have hollow sections (often more almondy rather than top to bottom). Because these waves are so hollow and critical, they often require you to navigate a steep, abrupt drop, so make sure that you already have that part of your surfing dialed. 

Positioning for the Barrel

Once you find the right wave and make the drop, it’s all about positioning—but there’s no one correct way to set yourself up for the barrel. Instead, you have to read the conditions and decide on your approach. If you are surfing a peak, the easiest and most straightforward way to position yourself is often to sit deep, a bit behind the peak, then backdoor it upon takeoff. Of course, this requires you to take off in an even scarier part of the wave, and also means you’ll need to be able to pump through the barrel and generate enough speed to make the cascading sections.

Techniques for Stalling

A more complicated but less intimidating approach is to drop in a bit less deep and then stall for the barrel. There are a number of ways to stall, ranging from a bottom turn/snap stall combo to dragging your arm (or butt, if you are riding backside) and even simply stomping on the tail and doing a small wheelie. The double arm stall is particularly effective at slowing you down, but it comes with the risk of getting sucked up the face and pitched.

Stalling for tubes requires a lot of wave knowledge, as well as a highly developed sense of ocean IQ and intuition. Although you can see the various sections of the barrel throwing over, a lot of reading the barrel comes from feeling rather than vision. Understanding what the wave is going to do and knowing when to stall and when to pump requires both surfing experience in general and specific knowledge of how a particular wave breaks.

Finding the Right Line

Once you have stuffed yourself deep into a barrel—whether from stalling or backdooring the section—it is important to find the right line. This is typically around 1/3 of the way up the face, although that will vary depending how hollow and heavy the barrel is. If you get too high, you will get sucked up the face and thrown over the falls. However, if you stay too low, the lip will hit you and you’ll get equally blasted. Finding the right line comes with hours and hours of practice, so don’t be afraid to pull into as many barrels as possible to get it right—just make sure that the spots you are learning at are deep enough to avoid serious injury before you get it dialed.

Board Angle and Speed

After you establish your line, you’ll also want to remain aware of the angle of your board in relation to the wave. You generally want to be driving toward the exit of the barrel, which means your nose is pointing toward the shoulder of the wave. However, you can get a bit of extra speed when your nose is also pointing slightly down the face toward the trough, which means that having your tail a little bit higher on the face than your nose can be an advantage. However, this also increases the risk of getting sucked up the face, so you have to practice and refine this approach. Again, it is more a feeling than anything, and that feeling can only be developed by spending as much time as possible in the barrel.

Backhand Barrel Riding

When riding barrels on your backhand, it is almost always better to hold a pigdog stance than to try for a standup barrel. Pigdogging is when you drop your back knee to the deck of your board and grab your toeside rail with your back arm. This creates a stable tripod stance that helps keep you centered over the board, driving forward with your chest and head while pulling up on the rail to help keep your board engaged in the face. Because you are controlling the inside rail with your heels in backside barrel riding (as opposed to the toes, which are much more sensitive and effective), this hand on the rail is a huge help in holding your line. Once you get very good at backside barrel riding, you can consider letting go of the rail and going for backside standup barrels, this is typically more a form of showboating than a utilitarian maneuver.

The Experience of Getting Spit Out

As you get better at tuberiding, you will find that you’ll start seeking out bigger, heavier, and deeper barrels—and these types of waves are more likely to spit. Getting spit out of a barrel is the pinnacle of the surfing experience, but the spit can come as a bit of a surprise. It can hit you hard enough to blow you off your board, plus it can also blind you as the blast of water droplets passes by you. In addition, you’ll sometimes feel yourself being pulled back into the barrel before and during the spit, due to the pressure that is being compressed in the tube. Be prepared for this, maintaining a stable stance and driving toward the exit of the barrel, even when your vision is impaired.

Alternative Training Methods

If you find barrels intimidating and are afraid to pull into them on your surfboard, you might consider spending some time bodysurfing shorebreaks or pulling into barrels on a bodyboard. Although this won’t teach you all of the techniques that you need to successfully make a barrel standing up, it will get you more familiar with the feeling of being in a barrel. You’ll become more comfortable with the power and learn to handle the wipeouts better—and there will definitely be wipeouts! Even the best surfers in the world don’t make every barrel they pull into, so falling is inevitable—and when you fall, you can expect a pretty intense wipeout. After all, when you are in a barrel, you are literally inside of a wave of energy that is expelling all of its power in one violent, final gasp—often over extremely shallow water.

When you finally make your first barrel, you will probably be instantly addicted—and after that, you have a whole new set of techniques to learn, such as finding ways to work less, afford trips to places like Tahiti and Indonesia, and convincing your partner that barrels are so important to your mental health that you have to miss important events and anniversaries for them. Good luck with that!



More Articles👈

Waves of the North Shore Series 

Longboard Guide