"Speed is your friend. Speed gets you changed quickly when the surf's up, speed gets you changed quickly and warm again post a mid-winter surf. More importantly speed will take your breath away when you link your turns, hit that critical section and power along that open face. Drop down, tuck up and maintain speed as best you can. This will take you from surfing to really surfing."

Tamsin Green - England Team Rider and Ladies World High Performance Champion

Speed, and the control of it can really allow your surfing to progress. The ability to develop speed from the boat is one of the key skills required when you are trying to move towards the more advanced manoeuvres like aerials and re-entries. The following exercises and tips will hopefully arm you to be able to maximise the speed of your boat. 

Boat Choice


Without trying to get into a whole page describing different boats, the boats that we paddle will have a top speed. For some boats that top speed is very slow. If we took a freestyle boat as an example, its top speed is very slow because:

  1. It has a very short water line length
  2. It has a lot of rocker in the tail which pulls the back of the boat down onto the wave causing drag
  3. It's constructed (generally) in a heavier material (plastic)
  4. Its design is centred around its manouverability as opposed to speed.

High speed boats, like surf kayaks, are designed with compromises in mind. Trying to ensure that the boat will go fast whilst still being as manoeuvrable as possible is the challenge that kayak designers face. Even within the surf kayak market, some boats are very much faster than others, which is why it's always important to try different boats out before you buy one, to find the one that suits your riding best. Speed in surf kayaks is determined by:

  1. Increased water line length
  2. A low rocker profile, which helps to lift the boat off the water to enable it to skim
  3. Light weight construction through composites
  4. Design based on a speed versus manoeverability balance.

The two photos opposite show the clear difference between the surf boat hull (bottom) which is creating very little drag, and the plastic boat hull (top) which has created a large amount of turbulence around it, slowing it down.

However the techniques we talk about here apply to any boat, the results will be just far more dramatic in a boat designed to go fast!


The two sequences below show the difference in hull speeds. Both paddlers are displaying the same accurate technique in trying to move along the wave face. However the boat on the left is unable to go fast enough to outrun the shoulder, wheras the boat on the right can continue surfing on the green face because of its superior speed.

Maximising The Drop


The first place that we can begin to develop speed is from the take off. The initial drop in allows the boat to develop speed as it falls down the face. The further the fall the greater the speed.


If you look back at the take off page, the various take offs basically involve paddling to get the boat moving so that you can catch the wave. One of the dangers of paddling too fast to get the boat to catch the wave, is that you end up taking off in the middle of the wave face.


To maximise speed, you want to be as high on the wave as is practically possible, so that when you drop in you have the maximium amount of speed to carry through into your bottom turn.


Philip Watson takes a slightly diagonal drop, from right at the top of a nice steep wave, maximising his potential speed for the bottom turn.



Fast Cornering

The boat runs at its fastest when it's on a flat plane. So if all we were interested in was short lived speed, we'd find the biggest possible wave, paddle into it, and drop straight from the top and shoot out in front of it at the bottom. Fast for a short time? Yes. Good surfing? Not really, you'll stall out in front of the wave and your ride is over. To truly surf the waves we need the ability to generate speed along the wave with the speed we gain from dropping down it. Turns can sometimes slow the boat down. The following exercises will hopefully help you keep your speed up.


Easy in, easy out

Easy in, easy out is the mantra for high speed bottom turns. You should try to position your boat at an angle relative to the wave that makes it easy to turn. If you point the boat straight at the beach, to turn back to the top requires a large direction change. Wheras if the boat is angled across the wave, the direction change required is significantly less, and therefore faster.

The rudders used through the turn should try to offer the least amount of resistance. Through the use of the rail of the boat, it's possible to create a high speed bottom turn without placing the blade in the water!

Try to ease the boat through the turn as opposed to stamping it. Imagine you are drawing a wide smiley mouth on the wave for the people on the beach to see. If you are looking at maintaining speed, then your smile should be long and drawn out, as opposed to a u shape.

The sequence below shows Aidan Brackenbury, going easy in, easy out into a little air. Note the wide smiley mouth shape he leaves behind.




The use of your body weight is vital in making the boat go fast.

When the boat is descending down the wave you should try to get all of your body weight forwards and drive the boat down into the turn. This uses the water to push against with your backside, helping the rail and fins grip, giving you maximum drive out of a turn. Conversely, whilst ascending and turning the boat at the top of the wave, try to make it as light as possible by lifting yourself out of the seat and trying to "float" through the turn. This can only be achieved if you have weighted into the turn earlier.

Think of it like a trampoline. If you just sit on the trampoline immobile, there's no change in your weighting, wheras if you drive your weight down into the trampoline you end up bouncing back up feeling un-weighted.

Try not to just surf along the wave bouncing up and down! The timing of the weight change is probably the most important aspect. I often coach it based on animals, try to imagine you are paddling like a gorilla and a giraffe might. The turn going down the wave is a gorilla turn, so make yourself low and heavy and drive into the turn. The movement going back up the wave is performed like a giraffe, very upright and delicate, looking for minimum resistance from the water.

In the sequence below you can see the weight being applied in the first two pictures. This is producing a lot of spray coming from around the front of the boat. In the third picture you can see that the weight has been removed and the boat has become "light", allowing the rider to re-apply the weight to drop back down again.


An exercise that will help you get a feel for weighting and un-weighting the boat is to imagine you are going to use your kayak like a hula hoop. Swing your hips in a cyclical motion and see what effect it has on the boat. You should find that the boat climbs and drops on the wave, and weights and un-weights. This will probably feel clumsy and akward initially, this is normally to do with the timing of your "hula", try performing it in slow motion and see what happens.




We talked about trim on the Fundamentals page. Trim is essentialy both our accelerator and our brake. To make the boat go fast we really want to increase its waterline length, the simplest way of doing this is to lean forwards. This technique is commonly used when the boat is simply pointing down the line on a diagonal run. Try and catch three waves, take one leaning forwards, one with your weight neutral and one leaning back, and see what a difference trim makes to your down the line speed.


Below you can see that both riders are trimmed forwards for speed, to stay ahead of the pocket.

Climb and Drop


So far we've talked about maintaining speed that you have already got from your take off. Sometimes you'll need to generate your own speed, particularly if you've slowed the boat down with a big manoeuvre. The skill of climbing up the wave face, and dropping back down it, helps you to develop your own speed.


Look back at the Fundamentals page at the section on Lines. Ideally this skill is performed in the top or the middle of the wave. Experienced surfers will always generate their speed at the top of the wave, as this allows them to go fast, and then drop down the wave to go even faster.

The sequence below shows the basic actions of the climb and drop. The core dynamics are:

  • Turn the boat up towards the top of the wave using your inside rail
  • Big sweep at the top of the wave to change directon
  • Neutralise the boat to help it drop back down the wave by releasing the inside rail
  • As you gain speed from the drop re-engage the inside rail to climb back up the wave.

All the way through the sequence the trim remains forward, maintaining the speed that's being generated, and the boat is unweighted on its rise back up the face. The timing of the strokes is very much dependant on the wave, but this can become a very fast sequence which makes the boat twitch up and down on the wave face, developing speed all the time.

An extension of the climb and drop is the bottom and top turn combination. This works on the same principle, in that you gain speed on the drop and try to maintain it on the climb therfore getting faster and faster.

The sequence below shows this in use, leading to a big slash at the end.




One of the most effective ways of establishing how you are getting on with your generation of speed, is to find a quiet peak or section of beach, and have a good old game of cat and mouse with a partner.


Both of you take off on the same wave and whilst one of you is trying to get away, the other is trying to catch up. This gives you something physical to aim for so you can see how what you do, and what your partner does, effects speed 


Make sure you've checked which way you are going to go before you take off!!!!


 When it all goes wrong!

Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you just can't get enough speed to beat the section. Glyn Brackenbury gets a North Carolinan lip on the head.

 Equally, going fast can mean some spectacular crashes. Aidan Brackenbury finds himself the victim of a high speed outside edge


Photos by

Pete Copp

Dylan Petherick



This page has been supported by donations from:

Lisa Deziel

Gerry Gaudet


Thank you very much