Tips on how to surf like a pro

Jul 4, 2024 | 0 comments

How to Look Like a Pro Surfer (Even If You’re Just Starting Out)

So you’re heading to Maui, and you want to accomplish something challenging while getting cool photos.  Surfing is an amazing sport that can be really enjoyable, especially on our hot Maui summer days. But if you’re new to the sport, it can be easy to look like a complete kook.

Maui surfing professional

Here are a few tips and tricks to help you look like you know what you’re doing.


1 – Don’t take yourself too seriously.

You’re not a pro, and there’s no amount of articles you can read to make you an advanced surfer.  Laugh mistakes off, and have fun!

2 – Take a lesson.

You don’t have to take a surf lesson, but it sure is easier.  The biggest issue we find with those not taking a lesson, is that visitors will rent a board, then head out somewhere unsafe.  It’s important to at least have someone with you that is familiar with surfing and familiar with the breaks around Maui.  Also, you should know what the swell direction is, forecast for size, tides, weather, etc… With an instructor, this is all done for you.

3 – Start with the basics.

Before you even get in the water, make sure you have all the basic gear you need: a recently waxed surfboard, sunscreen, a long enough leash, and a rash guard or wetsuit (depending on the water temperature).  It’s a good idea to have some booties too, just in case you encounter sharp rocks, reef or vana (sea urchin.)  Once you have all your gear, familiarize yourself with your board.

4 – Paddle with purpose.

When you’re paddling out to catch a wave, don’t just flail your arms around aimlessly. Use strong, deliberate strokes to move yourself through the water as quickly and efficiently as possible. Not only will this help you conserve energy, but it will also make you more confident and in control when you’re paddling for a wave.  Place your body in the center of the board and take alternating strokes with closed fingers.  It’s hard.  It’s a lot of work.  You can take breaks.  The only time when you can’t take a break is when you’re trying to catch the wave.  In order to catch the wave, you need to paddle like your life depends on it!  Pull hard until the wave has picked you up.

pro surfer Hawaii

3 – Pop up quickly.

One of the most important things in surfing is timing your pop-up correctly so that you can smoothly transition from lying on your board to standing. Practice this move on land first until you have it down pat before trying it in the water. When you’re ready to try it in the water, it’s ok if you want to start off on your knees.  Just know you’ll have better chances later if you get up quickly and stand.

4 – Ride the wave like a pro.

Once you’re up and riding the wave, stay calm and focus on maintaining your balance. Lean slightly forward on your board so that your weight is evenly distributed between your front foot and back foot. If you start to feel off balance, quickly shift your weight accordingly until you feel stable again. Beginners tend to stand too far forward and pearl (the nose goes under and you go flying, often with the board falling on your head), or too far back, in which you’ll slow down too much and lose the waves.  There’s a perfect balance both being in the center both along the width and length of the board.  It’ll take some tries.  Bend your knees, and keep your center of gravity low.

5 – Know Surf Etiquette!

There are unwritten rules in the water.  Knowing these will keep you out of trouble.   More experienced surfers aren’t afraid to get in your face if you ruin their wave, ding their board, or hurt someone.  See below:


The Unwritten Rules of Surfing Etiquette

When in Doubt, Don’t Go Out!

If you’re unfamiliar with the break, it looks too big, or the water is murky, don’t go out.  Period.

Paddle out with a plan.

Paddling slowly and aimlessly not only can put you in someone’s way, but it can also put you in danger if a big set comes through. If you need to rest, paddle over to the shoulder of the wave (the part where the wave stops breaking) and hang out there until you’re ready to paddle over to the waves.  A lot of spots don’t have shoulders, especially when big, so be careful.

professional surfer Maui

Don’t drop in on someone.

One of the cardinal sins of surfing is dropping in on someone who is already riding a wave. This not only steals their wave, but can also cause serious injury if you happen to collide with them. If someone is already up and riding a wave when you reach the break, wait for another wave.  The wave belongs to the person closest to where the wave is breaking and to the person that stands first.  …or it belongs to the biggest local dude.

Be patient while waiting for waves.

Surfing can be frustrating when it seems like every other person in the water is catching wave after wave while you sit idly by waiting for one of your own. This is where most people get in trouble.  They drop in and snake waves.  If you only catch one wave by being respectful, it’s still a successful day.

Respect others’ space.

When you’re out in the lineup waiting for waves, be mindful of how close you are lingering to other surfers. People usually like to have their own space while they wait, so hanging too close might make them feel uncomfortable.



More important Maui Surfing Notes:


Weather, swell, tides, sea life, and crowds all determine a good surf session. Weather changes constantly, and it can either ruin or enhance your session. Wind direction is crucial—it can destroy waves or make them hollow for barrels if it’s offshore.


Swell is something you can plan for, but it depends on the spot, direction, size, and interval between waves. My favorite spot on Maui breaks best on a very large northeast swell, which is unusual since it faces northwest. The waves wrap around the island, creating unique conditions. Certain spots perform better or worse with different-sized waves. For example, La Perouse is actually less-dangerous on a giant swell because it breaks further out, avoiding the dry reef. However, even experienced surfers can get injured; my buddy, a pro, broke his back, ribs, leg, and suffered internal bleeding from a recent swell there.  Took him 6+ months to get close to healthy again.


Tides aren’t as much of an issue in Hawaii since they don’t fluctuate as much as in other parts of the world. High tide is generally better because there’s more water between you and the sharp reef. However, at low tide, waves break faster, which is better for shortboarders, despite the risk. In California, tides swing widely, making or breaking a session. Too high, and you get mushy waves; too low, and it might break on the shore or close out in big sections.

Sea Life

Sea life is a consideration. Vana (sea urchins) live in certain spots, making it challenging to get in and out of the water, especially at low tide. I’ve had spines in both feet during a session, and it took three years for a few pieces to come out. It’s very painful, and sometimes the spines start growing in your feet. Sharks are more active during changing light, rainy days, or murky waters. My friend Kai got attacked last year. She’s okay, thank God, but it was a close call.


Crowds also determine whether you paddle out. Some websites like have live webcams showing some waves at popular spots, so it’s easy for a good day to get crowded quickly. At some spots like Honolua, it can get violent. It’s such a magic wave, but idiots drop in on each other, causing injuries. I’ve had my share of altercations over the years—punches thrown, boards smashed, and bloodshed.

The Search

One of the greatest feelings is the surf trip, “The Search.” Putting 99% of your energy into finding great sessions in unfamiliar places requires a lot of research and watching. Even at home, surfers are famous for driving from spot to spot for far longer than they actually surf. I’ve spent over two hours driving around before ending up at the first spot I looked at. Nowadays, as a grown-ass man, I need almost every minute to work or take care of the kids, so I paddle out if I’m there.

Chris Norberg surfing

Surfing and Golfing

Surfing and golfing are often compared due to the many subtle variables that affect a session. Most surfers golf, and a lot of golfers surf. Not sure that’s worth much sharing, but it’s true!


Mahalo to the Treehouse Dad for your surfing photos!


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The Australia Maui Connection

The Australia Maui Connection

Australia Loves Maui! From beaches to bbq to surfing, Aussies come from all over the country to enjoy the laid-back vibes of the Valley Isle.

The Cove – Kihei Surf Guide

The Cove – Kihei Surf Guide

Kihei may not be known for having stellar surf, but you can get your feet in the wax almost year-round at the Cove – one of Kihei’s most well-known surf spots.

Maui surf lessons