How to Pump the Wave and Check If You’re Doing it Right?

As you begin to be accustomed to the feeling of surfing, you will probably try to angle your surfboard across the wave. This is called pumping. It is where a surfer glides up and down the face of a wave in a smooth motion.

Speed is very important in surfing to complete the most basic moves, puling the most towering airs or jumps, and creating the most powerful carves and snaps. Thus, mastering the art of speed will help the surfer navigate smoothly through the wave. To do this, practice the skills needed to pump through the wave and propel yourself forward at optimal speed.

Before going further with speed generating techniques, the following must be considered:

A surfer’s board, volume, and dimensions can affect maneuverability, and ultimately, acceleration. Longboards are generally easier to use but harder to maneuver.

While fish boards (commonly used by intermediate and advanced surfers) are generally used for smaller waves. On the other hand, the gun is designed to tackle the biggest of waves but harder to control.

Moreover, without a proper surfing stance; you cannot shift your weight correctly and maintain balance throughout the ordeal.

How to Pump the Wave
How to Pump the Wave

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Paddling and wave positioning

There are generally two types of speed generation: either riding waves with power or waves that are relatively weak and flat. A general rule of thumb is that a surfer generates more speed and control with a clean green-faced wave rather than a wave covered with a white layer of foam.

The latter is known as a foamy wave and is more challenging to navigate.  Since pockets of air rise up to the surface in the form of air bubbles rather than H20; thereby, de-balancing the board.

With powerful waves, the focus is on utilizing its potential to propel you forward. This is mostly done by repeatedly carving to the top of the wave and bottom. Staying close to the wave’s power is integral for maintaining speed.

As such, paddling and wave positioning is important to seize the best opportunity in riding the wave. If you take off early at the peak of the wave or behind the peak of the wave, you could either go too fast or too far out of the shoulder of the wave.

The faster you paddle, the higher your chances of having a good start in terms of speed and positioning.

For flat or powerless waves, it is essential to generate your own speed either through pumping or bouncing. For pumping, you need to move your board quickly with your thighs and upper body whilst maintaining balance on the upper body, to generate speed as you glide through the wave.

Bouncing can be done but is not highly recommended. It should only be used as a last resort.

**Bonus: Bouncing/Hopping

Sometimes, waves may take time to build; hence, it is important for a surfer to bounce on top of the waves. This entails lifting the nose of the surfboard out of the water, then pushed his foot back down; creating a bouncing motion. This gives the surfer a boost before entering the pocket of the wave.

Catching the wave

Paddle your way to the front side of the wave with the nose of the board slightly towards the open face of the wave. When the wave gains speed, get your feet on the board quickly.

Keep your board turned down the line towards the open face of the wave, instead of going down the face of the wave or directly pointing to the shore.

Aiming for the pocket

Pumping through a wave is to utilize the wave’s power. The most powerful part of the wave is the top one-third of the wave closest to the “lip”, most often referred to as the “pocket” or “curl”.

Keep your eyes on the most powerful part of the wave. Don’t look back as this causes you to lose speed and concentration.

When pumping through the wave, don’t make quick and small pumps because of this limit your movements to the middle portion of the wave. Instead, use the whole face of the wave by pumping up and down in a fluid motion.

Surfer stance

Surfer Stances

Pumping through the wave entails shifting your weight; hence, the correct surfer stance is needed.

How to do it

Keep your back straight. The best surfers naturally surfed with their back straight since it is difficult to twist while bending at the waist. This also gives them ease of movement and fluidity.

Avoid pumping your arm by extending it over your head. Instead, the arms should stay still at a 90-degree angle with the movements only coming from the twists and turns of the torso.

Stand upright with your knees bent and keep your body centered to the surfboard. Shift your body weight to your back leg with your front foot propelling you forward.

When changing course, turn your hips, knees, and ankles smoothly. Drive the wave by applying pressure to your toe side rail, but this should also be balanced by the front foot, propelling the surfer forward.

Moreover, the back foot should be a bit forward for ease of movement.

Reasons why you’ll lose speed

Stalling your board by applying too much pressure on the tail of the board can either cause you to lose balance or speed your way up to the top of the wave.

Pro-tip: Don’t “overwork” the wave

Some waves are relatively weak while others are strong. When a wave is weak, you may have to make several pumping motions before gaining speed. However, if a wave is strong, you don’t have to do much pumping; instead, rely on the wave’s power to propel you forward.

Pumping through the wave

The art of pumping speed through the waves is to glide through specific parts of the wave using proper techniques. In this case, it is not enough to reach to the top of the wave and go down, you need to know when to be heavy (compress) and when to be light (decompress).

How to do it:

As you progress up the face of the wave, you need to feel light. Extend your legs and keep the pressure on the front foot. As you approach the steep part of the face, unweigh yourself and let your legs compress to the highest point.

When you have reached the top wave and gained some speed, transfer your weight to the opposite side of the rail. Apply enough pressure on your front foot and let gravity gradually push your board down the face.

Before dropping too far, apply pressure on the inside rail (frontside- your toe rail and backside- your heel).

When your board starts to descend the face, pump your board back up the face with your back foot applying pressure on the tail. Balance this with your front foot to avoid lifting the nose up too much. Repeat the above instructions to pump through the wave.

Throughout the process, your body language or stance should be in line with the direction of the travel. The faster and harder you pump your board, the more speed you generate for each pump.

After a few pumps, you should have enough speed to do other styles such as hitting the lip, doing a floater, or busting through the air on top of a 2-foot wave.

Reasons why you’ll lose speed

Going too far down the line (by applying too much pressure on the board) will distance yourself from the pocket and slow you down. To tackle this situation, you can do the following choices:

First, you can do a cutback. A cutback is an S-shaped line drawn on the face of the ripple. It is a basic carve on the wave’s wall and entails burying the rail to get back to the curl.

Second, stall the board by applying added pressure on the back foot. Point the board to the top of the wave and gradually let the wave catch up with you.

Pro -Tip #1:

Don’t go too low to the bottom as this could cause you to lose speed and get stuck in white-water or foam.

Pro-Tip #2:

For beginners, shift your front foot forward for more speed. For intermediate and advanced surfers, use specific parts of the wave to gain acceleration.

Pro-tip #3:

Throw your arms in the direction where you need help to propel you forward to that area.

Speed lines

Speed lines are imaginary routes across the face of the wave. These are the best spots for gaining speed. The surfer needs to keep an eye on these sections of the wave, as they are constantly changing when the roller peels across the line-up.

Most of the time, speed lines tend to be either horizontal or vertical, depending on the type of wave.


It is important to keep up with the speed of the wave. Going too fast will end up at the shoulder of the wave. To avoid this, make a few turns while trimming the line to keep the workable section.

Rail-to-rail surfing

To go as fast as possible, you need to surf on your rails as you pump up and down the wave. Rail-to-rail surfing takes time to master and requires practice and adaptability for each wave encountered.

The goal here is for the board to only have partial contact with the water (sinking either on the right or left edge). The more the board is touching the water, the greater the friction or “drag”, and the slower the ride.

To accomplish this feat, the surfer gently carves his surfboard to the ripple by laterally cutting down the line. He/she has to move from rail-to-rail rather than nose-to-tail with fast motions.

The lesser the board’s bottom comes into contact with water, the faster the surfer travels across the wave.

How to do it

Adjust your weight accordingly by either decompressing or compressing when you go up or down the wave. Advanced surfers shift their weight to the inside rail (the part facing the wave) when going up the pocket.

Then, they shift their weight to the outside of the rail (the part facing the shore) when going down. This reduces drag as the surfer propels forward.

Most surfers who practice rail-to-rail surfing adjust their stance by either compressing or extending their legs, as if on a pump motion when they go through each rail-to-rail cycle.

This repeated effect will add maximum speed and momentum to your surfing.

Reasons why you’ll lose speed

When your surfboard lies flat on the water, you can lose speed quickly; especially when the waves don’t have much substance.

At the end of the journey

If all else fails and you feel yourself falling or the waves die down, anticipate the scenario and remain calm. Jump away from the board and your momentum.

Try to land flat to avoid any injury from landing in shallow water or reef. Cover your head with your arms and let the waters carry you. When the wave has passed, pull the leash, and swim upwards gently.

Climb up to the board and rest on your belly. Regain control over your breathing.


Overall, it is important to keep focused on the top 1/3 of the wave since this is where the speed is. It is important to catch the right momentum to catch the wave and pump your way through it.

Avoid pushing down your board too much since this automatically happens with gravity, and to avoid distancing yourself too far away from the pocket. Keep your board in balance through the correct stance. This allows easier movement and efficient shifting of weights with the back foot and the front foot.

Avoid the surfboard from having full contact with the water to avoid friction. The body should be in line with the direction and travel of the board as it rides through the wave. Lastly, it takes a lot of practice to be able to surf and pump through the waves properly.

Surfers should always maintain balance as they catch and ride through the next wave.

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