August 9

7 Expert Tips To Surfing Steep Waves Better…


There's a way, and a way not to take off on steep waves...

Get it right, and you're in for the ride of your life.

Get it wrong however, and you're on a one way ticket to getting smashed.

So, how do you take off on steep waves - the right way?

Keep reading as you're about to find out.


A steep wave is a term for measuring the level of incline in a wave before it breaks. 

Surfers refer to waves as 'steep' when the level of incline is severe, which results in the surfer having to negotiate a late drop.


Different waves have varying degrees of steepness depending on:

  • How powerful the swell is.
  • How big the swell is.
  • How quickly the water goes from deep to shallow.

All of these factors combined will dictate how the wave breaks, how quickly it goes through the breaking stages, and will ultimately determine how steep the wave will be.

the stages of the wave


Being able to take off on steeper waves - and make them more often - will open you up to a new spectrum of waves which perhaps previously you didn’t think possible.

This’ll increase your wave count, increase your make-rate, and it’s what separates beginners from intermediates and above. 

So it’s something you’re definitely going to want to learn.

How do you drop in late on a wave?

Let's find out: 


Positioning is EVERYTHING when it comes to taking off on steep waves. 

Get this part right, and the rest is a breeze (well kind of…).

Why is positioning so important?

Well, steep waves typically go through the four stages of a breaking wave very quickly, in fact some waves like slabby reef breaks will go from ocean swell to breaking wave in the space of a few metres.

If you’re sitting 1m too far in you’ll be too late to take off.

And if you’re sitting 1m too far out the wave will just roll underneath you, and you won’t be able to get into it. 

With little margin for error in such waves getting yourself in ‘the spot’ can be a matter of inches. 

Here are a couple tips to help with positioning:

  • Pay close attention to the waves once they break: Each wave will leave a footprint of how, and where it broke, use this to make positional adjustments.
  • Use visual markers: Try to find markers on the beach (a house, tree, people, rocks, etc) to gauge your position in the water.
  • Look for in water cues: Look for visual cues in the water movements. Like the way the water draws off the reef, a boil in the water when a wave passes, how the water moves as a wave approaches, etc.


Now that you’ve got yourself in position, you’re in ‘the spot’, now it’s all about timing the damn thing.

Paddle too early, and you’ll take yourself out of position and the wave will be too steep. 

Paddle too late, and the wave will just roll underneath you.

This is something that takes experience, and there's no shortcuts unfortunately.

Gotta pay your dues, and be in it to win it.


If you’ve got the steps above right, the next step is paddling.

How do you paddle into a steeper wave?

The answer, as hard and fast as you possibly can.


The earlier you can get into the wave, the less severe the steepness of the wave will be. 

Put in the work early with your paddling and you’ll make the take off easier for yourself as a result.


The goal when paddling into a steep wave is to ‘get under it’, and by that I mean get all your weight - you and your board - under the lip of the breaking wave. 

Let me explain.

Getting under the lip allows you to keep your board connected to the face of the wave, and if your board is attached to the wave, you have control.

If you’re not under it, you’ll likely get pitched by the lip of the wave which means you’ll have to air drop the take off which is not ideal.

Not impossible, but not ideal.

So, do everything you can to keep yourself under the lip if possible.


It goes without saying that you’ll need to pop up to your feet as quickly as you can. 

From there you’ll want to do two things: compress, then release. 

Here’s what I mean. 

  • Compress: Try and fit your body into the curve of the wave, stay small and stay compressed as you do this part.
  • Release: Gradually release the body’s compression and extend to adjust to the curve of the wave.

Here's a good video of how this is done in action:


How does a skier go down a steep mountain? 

From side to side right.

But why is this?

Cutting across the mountain rather than going straight down reduces the severity of the incline. 

Why all this twaddle about skier's and mountains?

Well, we can do the same thing when we catch a steep wave surfing. 

Hear me out.

The steepest, hardest way to take off on a steep wave is to go straight, so instead you want to angle your take off to cut off the incline (just like the skier) as much as you can. 

Get this right and a previously unmakeable wave becomes makeable.


Commitment is the opposite of hesitation, and hesitation is where things can go badly wrong when taking off on steep waves. 

Any slither of hesitation and you’ll take an otherwise makeable wave, and get smashed. 

If you’re in position, and the wave comes to you, and you’re in the ‘the spot’...

...put your head down and GO!

No hesitation, just go. 

You got this 👊


Knifing-in is a surfing term used to sum up all of the steps outlined above done well on a steep, hollow wave. 

Here are a few examples of how surfers use this term:

  • "I was trying to knife into it but I was too late."
  • "The only way to get into it is to knife-in real late."
  • "That guy just knifed-in to the sickest barrel!"


90% of the work in taking off on steep waves is done before you actually catch it.

Positioning, Paddling, & Commitment.

Get those right and you’ll be able to get into waves before they get steep anyway.

Which is what we all want anyway right?

Let us know in the comments how you tackle steep waves, or any funny stories of when things go wrong (I know I’ve got many…).

Rowan 🤙


Rowan is the technical nerd behind the scenes. A lover of everything entrepreneurial, and living a minimal, simple life. Surf, Travel, Create. 

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