Popping Up

Lesson 12 Chapter 2

If you're really into your surfing, look no further than trying to perfect the Pop Up action. Knowing that you can pop to your feet in the correct stance, every time, will give you confidence, and set you up for making the most of your ride.

But there's a catch. Popping up requires a combination of both skill and strength.

However, there is a secret ingredient that isn't often mentioned in many surf school or surf camps and it's to do with your MUSCLE MEMORY.

The actual movement is a skill and one that should be practiced and repeated because of your motor programs or motor engrams.

What does all this mean? Well, it’s a movement that is programmed into your nervous system/brain so you can carry it out without much actual thought. Repetition of the movement will drill in the muscle firing sequence, so your body immediately recalls and performs a movement.

Pretty scientific I know, but so fundamentally important to your learning curve.

This becomes particularly tricky when you try and break old habits.

Pro tip: If you have been surfing a few times already and are noticing you are using your knees, you will need to focus on your re-programming of your brain rather than your technique.

Skill v Strength. Both, ideally. You really need to build the foundational strength components of the movement, and then improve the actual skill and train your brain/nervous system to perform the movement efficiently.

So let's break down the popup into more detail with our two specific areas:


Making your pop up more consistent and reliable starts with a solid foundation. Laying good foundations early is a key to your future progression.

Poping up requires one continuous explosive movement of balance and skill. As with any skill, it takes practice. The more you practice the more muscle memory you will store.

What does this mean? The more you practice at home, on the sand or in the water the movement pattern, force, and timing will be hard-wired into your brain.

If you are landlocked or you're caught up in other commitment the good news is, practicing in the privacy of your home is an effective way to perfect you pop up. This with the right mechanics will smooth out the learning curve even just a little bit.

Let's break down some of its components.

How to ride prone

This is the first explosive movement of the pop up. This is difficult because it's more about your strength rather than your technique.

√ Placing both your hands on the deck towards your chest, your arms are bent similar to chicken wings

√ Extend your arms and lift your chest up and away from your board creating space between you and your board to eventually be able to bring your leg through

√ Looking forward, keeping your back arched and your feet together

Common mistakes

Too much weight on either side and you will topple your board. Your weight has to be evenly distributed on the board

Too much drag. If your body isn't in the correct positioning on your board, you will create too much drag for the wave to collect you

Incorrect timing. Placing your hands straight away on your board without finishing your paddling. You'll find your in position but without any speed

Pro tip: The more leverage you have the easier it will be to bring your feet through


Lean forward with your chin down moving your weight forward


Lean back, arching your back and extending your arms


Go left: Place all your weight on the left rail

Go right: Place all your weight on the right rail

After a long time in the water, your muscles will start to tire. If the explosiveness and movement deteriorate your pop up will look...average.

How to Pop Up

The Pop Up can be done in multiple ways. The technique below is the one we’ve had the most success with at the House of Surf.

Pro tip: Below's example is for a big board. See Rock your Surfing program on how to pop up on a shortboard.

So let's break down each step in detail:

1.Paddle until you catch the wave. Only stop once the wave has completely collected you and your board. Ideally, you want to be gliding with the wave

√ Feel the momentum - Learn to feel the wave hitting the back of your board. Once you get better at this your timing will improve with your pop up

√ Paddle TWO extra stokes - A lot of surfers tend to stop paddling as soon as they feel the wave take them. Often that isn't enough and you are likely to always need TWO more paddle strokes

√ Prone position - Be ready for your pop up by placing your hands near your chest on the deck

2. Push up. Rising up with your body, extend your arms. Your toes are on the tail of the surfboard and your hands remain in the same position as your prone position

√ Look forward - If you look down you go down, so remember to look up when you pop up

√ Leverage - your need to create space between your body and your surfboard. This will allow enough space for you to bring your feet through

3. Slide back foot forward to the position of your opposite knee

 Simultaneously as you push up, move your back foot forward into position

 Position your back foot in line with your opposite knee. Roughly 40-50 cm forward on your board

√ Rotate your hips as you bring your front foot forward so that your chest is side on

4. Bring your front foot through between your hands

√ Keep your hands on your board until you have the correct balance - once you have the correct balance you are able to let go

√ Look forward - maintain eye contact forward, during the entire pop up process

√ Maintain low center of gravity as you come up

Pro tip: Do NOT place your knees on the board at any time

5. Bring your arms up for balance. Knees bent and ride the wave 🙂

√ Use your arms for balance. Make sure they are out in front of your chest away from your back foot

√ Stance - Shoulder width apart or maybe a little bit more

√ Feet arches over stringer or the center - Back foot is parrel to the tail, your front foot is at a 45-degree angle, max

Common mistakes

Placing your hands on the rails will create more drag and instability. Keep your hands on the deck towards your chest

Don't push up with your hands in front of you. Its impossible to pop up like this. Remember to push up near your pectorals

Do not use your knees. Don't be lazy and start to bring your knees up first rather than your feet. This is a really bad habit that takes years to get rid of. Never, ever start. When you progress in your surfing to bigger, steeper waves this technique will hold you back from making some of the takeoffs

Don't bring your front foot forward first. You lose your speed and ability to stay with the wave

Don't straighten your legs. Maintain your lower centre of gravity to absorb any lumps and bumps in the wave

Don't fold at the hip and have your chest too far over your board, you are likely to fall. Bend your knees and lower your hips


This is where you're going to burn some fat. Women find the use of core muscles particularly hard when executing the pop up, so building strength is a great place to start.

There are a few surf specific exercises you can do to gain more strength.

Let us begin:


It all starts with your ability to do a push-up. Not just any old push up, but a - perfect spinal alignment push up. Straight away this will give you an indication of your strength.

Begin your push up on a hard surface and then move onto an uneven surface. You will find unstable surface forces the body to increase the stabilizing capacity of the upper body, this will mimic the pop up in the water.


The stronger your core, the better you will surf 🙂

Any surf training where you focus on building the strength in your core and activating the same flexor chain movement, you will see some game changer improvements to your surfing.

Core specific workouts include:

Do reps, do circuits do what feels fun for you. The most important thing is that you actually do something.

Little by little you will get fitter, stronger and better.