Most surfers turn their nose up at messy onshore conditions, but they’re making a mistake.
They’re losing out on a whole lot of learning, and a whole heap of fun (once you know how to approach them that is).
Don't get me wrong surfing onshore waves is tricky and takes time to master, but don’t worry, in this post I’ll give you my top tips on how to surf onshore waves like a pro.
Ok well, maybe not like a pro but better at least.
Read on 👇
WHAT DOES ONSHORE MEAN?
Onshore is a reference to the direction the wind is blowing - from the ocean towards the shore.
This onshore wind can dramatically change the shape, texture, and formation of the ocean landscape turning once dreamy, calm and silky conditions into a mess.
Onshore waves tend to (but not always) come from more localised storms, causing the wave period to be very short, resulting in weaker waves closely bunched together.
WHY ARE ONSHORE WAVES HARD TO SURF?
Onshore waves are hard to surf because they’re unpredictable, irregular, and bumpy.
This makes reading the waves very difficult, but not impossible (more on that in a minute).
To the untrained eye the ocean in onshore winds will look like chaos, with no rhythm, no patterns, no shape or form.
But the expert eye will see something different.
In amongst that chaos an expert will see a particular order, and like a pattern recognition supercomputer will be able to find quality waves in amongst a sea of junk consistently, and find pathways to stay with the waves power source in a cohesive dance with the wild ocean conditions.
Yup, this takes a whole lot of time to master, but you’re missing out big time if you don’t try.
WHY ONSHORE WAVES ARE GOOD FOR YOUR SURFING
Surfing onshore waves helps you to develop an invaluable skill set in wave reading, timing, positioning, speed control, paddling, reaction time, just to name a few.
And practising these skills in amongst the craziness of onshore messy conditions will supercharge your progress, and the next time you’re surfing in clean dreamy conditions you’ll be a step ahead of the pack and notice a massive difference.
And a whole not more.
Not to mention the fact that surfing onshore waves can be a whole lot of fun in the process.
HOW TO SURF ONSHORE WAVES: 7 TIPS TO SURFING ONSHORE SLOP LIKE A PRO!
As a self proclaimed expert in surfing slop, I’m going to share with you my top tips to surfing onshore waves better.
Battle tested in the frigid, crappy waves on the West Coast of Wales (UK), these tips will serve you well I promise.
1. MAKING ORDER OUT OF CHAOS
In amongst the disorganised chaos of onshore waves there is a rhythm.
It’s hard to find - and it takes years to perfect - but in amongst the mess there are patterns which will help you to find the right spot to sit, know where the good waves are going to break and when.
Unfortunately though there’s no shortcut, no sneaky tip I can give you to help with this, instead it just takes time.
The more time you spend in the water the more refined you’ll become.
And just like a sailor can somehow see wind (I have no idea how they do that btw), you’ll be able to hunt down and find the diamonds in the rough of otherwise terrible conditions.
It's a super power once you get it dialled.
2. TAP INTO THE POWER PEAK
Onshore waves are erratic and irregular, making it very difficult to find the right take off spot.
Unlike clean offshore waves where the peak of the wave is clearly defined and easy to predict, onshore waves are a different beast altogether.
In fact, most waves will have many peaks - some good, some bad, some that’ll take you where you need to go and others that’ll sell you a dud.
So it’s important to find the right peak - the one with the right power and shape - that’ll take you where you need to go.
3. ALWAYS READY TO POUNCE
Onshore waves are typically closely packed together - usually with a wave period in the range of 3 - 8 seconds.
This, coupled with the unpredictability of the conditions means that you have to be ready to turn and go at all times - like a spider ready to pounce.
Unlike surfing clean conditions where you have all the time in the world to chat to friends, see a wave, turn and paddle - in onshore waves you’ve always got to be ready.
Reducing the time it takes to spot a wave, swivel your board and paddle is key.
4. POP, CORK & GO
I rave on about the Pop & Cork technique (in fact I cover it in detail here) for good reason, as it’s in waves like these that it really shines.
What is the Pop & Cork technique?
In short it’s a way of catching waves with little to no paddling, reducing the need for big paddle runways to gain the speed needed to catch a wave.
Mastering this technique will allow you to have a sniff at many waves without committing fully, and be super reactive - which is absolutely vital if you want to surf messy waves well.
5. JOINING THE DOTS
Have you ever played dot to dot?
You know, the game where you have to draw lines from one dot to another, to eventually create a picture.
Well that’s how you have to think when surfing onshore conditions.
There are dots on the wave - places where there’s power and shape - that you’ve got to join together.
Do it right, and you’ll create an artful masterpiece of uninterrupted speed, grace and flow.
Knowing where the dots are, and drawing the right lines in between them is the hard part, but as with everything it can be mastered with a little practice.
6. PUMP TRACK PUMP LINE
In addition to the dot to dot above, you'll find a hidden pump track in amongst the disjointed mess - visible only to the trained eye or slop surfing expert.
And just like a pump track on a bike where you lift your weight over the humps and drop your weight in the troughs to gain and carry speed, these lumps and bumps in the wave allow you to generate your own speed where previously there was none.
This skill is something that you can take with you when the waves are good and you’ll be able to tap into the contours of the wave, maximising your speed at all times.
There’s a good reason why expert surfers are able to go so fast.
It’s not because of their equipment, it’s because they’re masters of putting themselves in the right positions on the wave and harnessing every ounce of energy the wave has to offer.
7. THINK ON YOUR FEET
Reactivity is the word when it comes to surfing onshore slop.
It’s not about planning what you’re going to do, it’s about being present to what’s in front of you, and reacting on the fly.
At first this will be a conscious process, but over time this’ll become second nature to a point where you’ll instinctively know where to be and what to do at the right time, every time.
Let go, stay present.
WRAPPING IT UP
90% of surfers turn their nose up at onshore waves steadfast in the opinion that the waves aren’t good enough.
But they’re missing out.
Learn how to ride onshore waves well and you’ll double - if not triple - the amount of surfing days each year, which is not only fun as, but it’ll help you improve a whole lot too.
Then when the waves really turn on, so will you, and you'll reap the rewards of the work you've put in.
Onshore, Cross-shore, Offshore - just get in there.
You'll feel better for it, and learn something along the way as always.