A Meaningful Approach to Reading Waves

The coach of the Russian national team tells how to analyze the wave

I spent several days in Portugal in Cascais, where I stayed at The Portugal Wave surf camp.

The place is very calm and the most important thing, why I highly recommend it, is the fantastic coaches. I was able to ride and talk with Pedro Barbudo, the coach of our Russian surfing team.

Top-level: in one surf session, he gave me many valuable tips. He also shared his knowledge regarding the topic of this article – reading waves.

For his training, Pedro compiled a set of rules and key points that describe and guide the thought process from the moment the surfer saw the wave and then through all the phases of preparation, start, and, in fact, travel.

The information is very versatile and fits a wide range of people. It is done to keep the guide as simple as possible and applicable to surfers of all skill levels.

Who is Pedro Barbudo

Since 2019, I have been coaching the Russian national surfing team

Here’s what he says about himself:

“I have been human since 1974 and surfer since 1988. I dedicated myself to surfing; it has become my passion and lifestyle. Since 1990 I have participated in competitions and many other activities related to surfing in one way or another.

I started my competitive career at 15 and finished at 31; I was in the TOP 16 surfers in Portugal for several years. As a student, I won the title of Champion of the National University.

From 2004 to 2014, he coached the national team as part of the team of the Portuguese Surfing Federation

I have continuously invested in my professional development and received Coach Level III certificates from the FPS, Level II from the International Surfing Association, Postgraduate education in the Surf program at the Faculdade de Motricidade Humana University, and a Level I Sports Coach.

In 2015 I took the IOSUP level I instructor course and sometimes gave SUP lessons.

From 2012 to 2014, he also participated in training surf trainers in Ecuador and lectured nationally in Guatemala.

Over the years, I’ve been inspired by surfers like Willis, Potter, Taylor Knox, Matt Archbold, and Kelly Slater.

In other areas, among others, personalities such as Lobsang Rampa, Buddha, Osho, Eckart Tolle, Sadhguru, and Krishnamurti have in one way or another been a source of inspiration for surfing this incredible wave of life. ”

A Meaningful Approach to Reading Waves

And for this, you need to understand this wave

Why be able to read a wave at all? The main goal of any surfer is to maximize the potential of every wave that the ocean gives him.

You can have a very high technical level, but to apply it in business, you need to see the wave, catch it and predict how it will develop.

As more and more artificial waves become in the world, fewer people will surf the ocean. Who wants to learn how to interact with an unpredictable element when you can sign up for the pool at lunchtime and catch a few waves predetermined in shape and size?

Pedro Barbudo

Russian national team coach

Often people who have a lot of experience and a good level of skiing in Bali or Sri Lanka come to Portugal and face enormous difficulties.

It is difficult for them to “read” another ocean and, as a result, catch the waves and show them what they seem to be technically able to do.

The point is not that they are incompetent, but simply the ocean and the waves here are entirely different

My concept of reading waves is a universal instruction to get the most out of a wave.

What’sWhat’s the main thing?

  1. Wide field of view. Your eyes should constantly run to the sides, analyze the picture as a whole. It does not mean that you do not need to focus on the details, but you should not hold your gaze for a long time, and even more so, stare at one point on the wave. It is a common mistake when a person sees a peak and fixes all his attention on it. You need to be able to consider the wave as a whole.
  2. Fast reaction. Decisions need to be made quickly. And of course, it is advisable to make the right decisions. For example, when you see an approaching wave, you have a few seconds to decide if you will try to take it. The faster a decision is made, the more time is left for action.
  3. Forecasting. It is necessary to decide what you will do on the wave in advance, even at the stage when you watch how it approaches. Having a clear plan of action significantly increases your chances of completing maneuvers since you are mentally ready for them.

Thus, a meaningful approach to reading waves is based on three key points: you receive information, you process it, and, based on the result, form in your mind a projection of what you will do on the wave.

Wave analysis can be divided into several stages, which go in a specific sequence and determine the order of actions. It starts before the start

Seeing the wave

We are looking for a peak. The starting position is chosen relative to the height of the wave, so the point where the tide starts to break must be found first.

Determine the direction of the wave. It would help if you looked in which direction the lock will give a potentially long travel distance.

For example, if the tide is A-Frame, it closes from the peak and gives an asymmetrical wall in both directions; then, you decide which direction you want to ride it.

We estimate the complexity of the start. Here you need to take into account your skills and equipment features.

Decide if you want to start very sharply behind the peak, from the mountain or the shoulder. Will the board and experience allow you to make such a start? Here you also need to consider the type of wave – how sharp and fast it is.

These three points allow you to determine the place to start accurately and how quickly and in which direction the surfer needs to move to catch the wave.

Whether to row under the peak or vice versa a little to the side of it, whether to move closer to the coast or a little higher into the ocean, how fast you need to row

In addition, depending on the complexity of the start, the surfer must choose how to direct the board at the time of the Peikoff – straight or at an angle relative to the wave, and also whether it is necessary to push it and get up quickly, or, conversely, you can take your time and stay in the deflection.

Important! The process of analyzing the wave should go in parallel with the movement; that is, while you are looking at the lock, choosing a place to start, you are already rowing towards it.

Unfortunately, many people are so focused on analysis that they forget about rowing, as a result of which they do not fight efficiently enough and, as a result, cannot catch the wave. You need to think but at the same time row!

At the moment of start

The moment you take the last decisive strokes, the head is already thinking one step forward and evaluating the first section of the wave

The decision about where to start the ride has already been made at the rowing stage: if you choose to create straight, then the first maneuver will be the bottom-turn; if you start at an angle, then on the move, you find yourself on the wall and accelerate sharply.

Before the already planned start, it is necessary to decide what maneuver to do in the first section.

We look at how long, sharp, and fast the area is. What is the general size of the wave? Is there any place on it to go up? Basic options for section maneuvers:

Carve – in a broad sense, it is driving in a curve. It can be a cutback followed by a turn back; it can be just a wide arc along with the entire wave height. We performed if the section is sufficiently flat and wide and closes slowly.

Hit the lip – a sharp turn at the top of the wave. We performed if the section is strong enough but does not blow and closes at an average speed.

Pump – set of speed, snake riding along with the wave in the middle part. Performed if the section is sharp and fast, you need to skip it.

Barrel – pipe. Possible if the section is a pipe. Sometimes surfers deliberately start after the peak to immediately enter the tube.

Air – jump. Jumping requires a specific section of the wave, commonly referred to as a ramp, as in skateboarding.

On the wave

You perform the chosen maneuver in the first section, but you already look at the next section and plan what to do on it

How you decide to process the next section depends on how you need to complete the current quarter, in what position the board should be when moving from one area to another.

At the end of each maneuver, there should already be a concept in mind for further actions:

– slide straight down with the board perpendicular to the wave to make another bottom turn

– turn the board at an angle to the wave to accelerate since you need to skip the section

– direct the board straight along the wave wall and slow down to enter the tube section.

In the next section, you choose from the same set of maneuvers as shown above. Again, you can connect them when moving from area to section with a bottom-turn, overclocking (trim, pump, tic-tac pump), or through a cutback.

Next, we repeat the process from section to section until the wave ends

More about wave sections

Intuitively, it is clear that a section is a part of a wave that closes in a certain way: with uniform speed and energy.

Pedro describes a section as the movement of a certain amount of water. The lock closes unevenly; in some parts, there is more water, in some less, and it moves differently.

An everyday analogy will help to understand: imagine a road along which people stand with buckets of water and, one after another, splash it in front of them.

Then, someone has a giant bucket, someone smaller; they pour it out with different speeds and energy, someone turns the bucket over and forcefully throws it forward.

These are the sections formed on the wave since our world is not ideal: the bottom is uneven, there are obstacles in the path of the waves that form a relatively complex three-dimensional movement of water

It happens that a wave is so perfect and uniform that there is only one section on it, a vivid example of this to Chop. But this is more the exception than the rule.

Considering the Desert Point spot on Lombok Island in Indonesia, regarded as the ideal left pipe, the wave still has several sections.

Watch the video and pay attention to where the wave breaks a little faster and where it seems to slow down.

But what about the technique?

This approach focuses exclusively on the mental process and does not involve technical skills.

At the same time, technique plays an important role, but it is necessary to develop these two sides of surfing in parallel to synchronize the thought process with the physics of the body.

On the wave, the movement goes parallel to the operation of analysis and construction of the trajectory, roughly speaking, you are mentally one step ahead.

From the technical details: while driving, it is essential to continue to look at the entire wave and not to get stuck at one point half a meter away from you

It is the only way you can effectively analyze the approaching section. You also need to monitor the position of your legs and where your center of gravity is.

Turning your body, working with your hands, springy knees – all these are essential aspects that should not be forgotten.

After the described thought process has been brought almost to automatism, it will be easier to focus on the technique.

Therefore, the ability to read the wave is paramount to progress.


The speed of thinking is different for everyone, especially in extreme conditions

For other people with varying technical backgrounds and experience levels, the time it takes to process incoming information can vary greatly.

It even depends on the wave – somewhere you don’t have to rush, but somewhere you have to decide the lightning speed.

It is essential to make the decision-making process fast and at the same time accurate, but how much time and effort it takes is very individual.

There are no benchmarks here; you need to focus primarily on yourself, set your own goals and work to achieve them

Reading a wave helps to understand better the interaction between humans and the ocean, waves, and boards, and, in the end, gives the surfer more than a learned technique.

Visualization is the key to success.

Pedro advises watching more surf videos, but not in the way that is customary in the age of Instagram: 1 minute, swipe, let’s do the following.

“When I was young, we only had 1-2 new films a year. And we looked at them to the holes, twisted them a hundred times, thanks to which we paid attention to the minor details of the wave and passage. Of course, there is too much information these days, but in the end, it all is perceived very superficially.”

Pause the video, observe the wave and position of the surfer, try to guess the minor in the next section. Train the analysis process in the water and on the shore, and then it will become natural for you faster.



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