The Take Off
"The steeper and more critical your take off is, the more potential speed you have. Therefore the best take offs only need one or two paddle strokes." Philip Watson, England team rider
The take off forms the basis of every single ride. Generally every single one you perform is different but all are based from the same set of core skills.
Ensure that the boat is close to the shoulder (the breaking part of the wave). This will ensure that the wave is at its steepest and therefore easier to catch, but also the most amount of energy is stored in this part of the wave so a take off here will ensure the maximum amount of speed is gained from the start. Your positioning will determine the type of take off used. If you are struggling to catch waves, or find yourself falling off the back of the wave, think about your positioning, look around at where the other surfers are positioned, they're probably there for a reason!
Loosely speaking there are three gears in forwards paddling. Gear one is the stroke that we use to move the boat from static. This is the first two or three strokes that tend to be very powerful. Gear two is our normal cruising gear that we might use while paddling around out back. You should be able to paddle in this gear comfortably for prolonged periods. Gear three is sprint, this is the gear we should use when trying to catch a wave. The stroke should be short and rapid, with the blade entering close to the boat, giving us the maximum forward drive. The cadence for this stroke should be at least twice that of gear two, and you should only be able to sustain it for very short bursts.
The body should be forwards to engage as much of the hull into the wave as possible. This gives the maximum waterline length possible which will encourage the boat to plane earlier. It's very common to lean back when trying to take off, try to avoid this! If you find that the nose of your boat is digging in and you're looping, then either:
a) You're taking off where the wave is too steep, think about your positioning; or
b) The boat is pointing straight at the shore and you may need to make your take off more diagonal to the wave.
Types of take off
A straight take off is one of the most commonly used types. It begins with the boat pointing straight at the beach, going through the paddling gears to arrive at gear three, and then descending down the face of the wave ready to do a bottom turn. The photo sequence below shows a straight take off.
- Boat aligned perpendicular to the wave. As the boat is drawn up the face, gear three is engaged.
- Once you feel the boat start to slide of its own accord, keep weight forwards to maximise the speed from the drop. Stop paddling.
- Body weight trimmed forwards to maximise the waterline length, and to encourage the boat to drop over its bow wave.
- Boat now planing, as can be seen from the bow wave The body is returned to a neutral position in readiness for the Bottom Turn.
A diagonal take off allows you to move away from the shoulder straight away. This works particularly well in fast moving waves or where the wave is too steep for a straight take off. The disadvantage of this type of take off is that you don't get as much speed from dropping down the wave. However when you arrive at the trough of the wave the bottom turn can carry all of your speed, as the change of direction required is much less than after a straight take off. The sequence below shows a diagonal take off.
- Line the boat up so it's pointing at roughly 45 degrees across the wave. This angle will vary by a small amount dependant on the steepness of the wave you are trying to catch. If the boat is too straight it will just drop down the wave and the nose will bury into the water in the trough. If the boat is too broad to the wave, it will just get drawn up over the wave and you'll miss it.
- Much less sprint is required to perform a diagonal take off, this is due to the positioning of the paddler to the breaking wave. You can see in the photo above that the rider has engaged his wave side rail, rather than keeping the boat flat to the wave, this is to avoid tripping over the outside rail.
- The boat follows its original course down into the trough of the wave and the rider is now in a perfect position to execute a bottom turn, already being in a position across the wave.
A Faded take off is perfect should you find yourself trying to take off when you are slightly out of position for the shoulder. It's made up of a diagonal take off but instead of moving away from the shoulder the rider surfs towards it, and then turns back onto the green wave. This moves them into the steeper section of the wave.
- You can see from the photo above that the rider has taken off diagonally towards the shoulder, then made a turn away from it as the wave steepens up. How far you go into the shoulder varies hugely between different waves.
- The rider is now fully engaging for a bottom turn, you can see the arc where her boat has travelled, and this wake has caused the wave to steepen up even further, giving her the potential to generate more speed.
A regain take off is also used when you find yourself out of position for the shoulder. This type of take off occurs when you are positioned too "deep" in the white water and the wave has already broken, but you can still make it to the green face of the wave. The sequence below shows a paddler using this take off. It's possible to perform this from a much deeper position than illustrated here.
- Angle your boat slightly towards the green face that you are trying to get to. allow the white water to hit you so that it propels the boat forwards rapidly. This is one of the few take offs where a slight rearward lean of the upper body is required to stop the nose of the boat digging in.
- Bring your body weight back to neutral as you approach the base of the wave. This will help maintain all the speed you've gained by being hit by the white water.
- The boat should now be in a position to engage a bottom turn. If the take off is performed from deeper than shown here, the bottom turn can be used to carve around the white water to regain the shoulder.
Paddle Out Take Off
Quite often when you're paddling out you'll see the perfect wave coming in, but you're facing the wrong way to catch it! The paddle out take off allows us to catch those waves, by converting our speed paddling out into a take off using the shoulder. This is an advanced take off requiring commitment to put the boat into the most powerful part of the wave.
Approach the shoulder at an angle. The more you open this angle up to make the boat sit across the wave the easier this take off becomes. Try learning it with the boat wide to start with then progressively narrow the angle, until you're pointing straight out to sea. You should be aiming to paddle in a fast gear three towards the shoulder.
Pre rotate your body so your chest is pointing at the beach, this will show the hull of the boat to the approaching shoulder and will initiate the turn. Position the blade toward the back of the boat to prepare to rudder the boat round. Lean towards the beach and slightly back, to absorb the impact of the wave.
The boat turns around the paddle as the upper body unwinds. You can now see the head is looking towards the shoulder to keep the rotation of the boat going. Let the boat follow its natural path in falling down the white water, but keep your weight engaged on the inside rail.
Surf off towards the green part of the wave as per a regain take off.
- Falling off the back of waves
- Check your positioning, is the wave steep enough where you are trying to catch it? If you find that you are sprinting flat out for ages, you're probably in the wrong position. Try catching waves using as few strokes as possible, this will hone your positioning skills. Challenge yourself to reduce the number of strokes you use each time until you can catch the wave with one paddle stroke!
- Are you using gear three to catch the waves? If you aren't sprinting, the wave will just pass underneath you unless you are in the optimum position, as highlighted above.
- Is your gear three twice as fast as your gear two? If not, borrow someone else's paddles which are either shorter or have a smaller blade area. This should allow you to increase your paddle rate, make short rapid strokes and get a good feel for the rate at which the blades enter and exit the water, before returning to your own paddles to see if you can replicate it.
- Digging the nose
- Are you moving quickly when you catch the wave? Sometimes if the boat isn't moving forwards fast enough it can be picked up and thrown over the nose. Think gear three!
- Is the wave broken or unbroken when you catch it? If it's broken have another look at the section on regain take offs. If it's unbroken, are you travelling straight down the wave? Is it too steep? Think about trying to use a diagonal take off which will stop the nose digging in.
- Look at the type of boat you're riding - does it have a turned up nose (rocker) or is it flat? The rocker profile can often determine how easily the nose digs in!
When it all goes wrong!
Even the World's best get it wrong sometimes! The sequence below shows 2009 Mens High Perfomance World Champion, Dave Speller getting beaten on a really late diagonal take off. Photo sequence taken by Pete Copp at the World Championships in Portugal.