The Inertia

Stuck in the Middle: How to Overcome Challenges Faced by Every Intermediate Surfer

Get used to failure. It’s not a bad thing. Photo: Trevor Moran

The Inertia

The void experienced when evolving from ‘beginner’ to ‘experienced’ provides every surfer with a seemingly endless array of challenges. There are a lot of influential variables for the intermediate surfer and unfortunately we see many people struggle with these, costing them time money and most of all, enjoyment. In this article I hope to provide people with a few useful tips to make this void a little more manageable.

Board selection is right at the forefront of the struggle and is one where we see the majority of intermediate surfers making the same mistake over and over again. Going too small, too soon. I know I made this mistake with my first board purchase and found myself gradually upsizing before I finally got my feet on a suitable board.

When progressing from your first minimal, you’re desperate to strut the breaks with a ripper shortboard under your arm and finally be able to duck dive some waves. As cool as you may feel on land though, you can be sure you’ll look like fresh bait when you’re struggling to paddle into waves and unable to maintain board control on the drop-in.

At this stage of your surf life, getting the maximum amount of waves is the most important thing. Build your wave riding skills, develop paddle technique and learn how to read and feel the wave while you ride it. In order to do this, you need a board with stability and volume. A wide nose and few extra inches in length might not be what the pros are riding, but it’s what you need to step up your game.

Forecasting knowledge is another hurdle in the early days. Unfortunately it’s a crucial part of developing as a surfer. If you’re unable to put yourself in the right spot and the right time, catching quality waves can be impossible. Fortunately these days we have online tools to do the majority of the hard work for us. Sites like Magicseaweed and Surfline are invaluable, but also require a bit of extra reading and research in order to maximize their effectiveness. It’s well worth browsing the forums or checking the archived articles in order to learn their limitations and understand how best to utilize the information available online.

Taking falls is the last thing you want to do. When you get a good wave coming through, you find yourself desperate to just do everything possible to just stay with the wave and enjoy it. If you’re keen to progress your skills though, at some stage you’ll need to risk sacrificing some nice waves in order to practice basic maneuvers. Whether it be simple trimming, cut-backs or making airs, when you start trying new things, you’re bound to fall every now and then.

You need to accept that falling on a wave isn’t always a bad thing. If anything, it means you’re trying, which is a good thing. I always think it’s a nice mix to have 60 percent of your waves for pure enjoyment, just keeping it chilled and having some fun doing what you know. 35 percent of your waves can be devoted to pushing new skills and actively “training,” with the final 5 percent scaring yourself by pushing your limits and expanding your vision of what’s possible.

Holiday selection is easy as a beginner because a traditional surf camp provides the ideal set-up to learn the basics. Knowing what to do next can be tricky though. As an intermediate, you want uncrowded surf and the chance to maximize time in the water. Unless you have a group of surf friends to share an apartment and car with, and enough knowledge of the breaks around your destination you can find yourself stuck in the middle without suitable options. A traveling surf trip, which focuses on quality surf and skill development should be the target. I provide this exact sort of service in Portugal and Morocco through my passion project and business, Wagon Surf Adventures; taking guests on a tour of the coast, chasing the best waves and offering an array of useful services such as forecasting tuition, video analysis and night surfing.

Of course, there are other problems faced when caught in this void, but these are three of the most common and influential. So, if you’re in the early days of your surf life and keen to max out on waves surfed, skills developed and most importantly, fun had, it might be worth considering how you’ll overcome these challenges. Hopefully these pointers will be useful and help you on your way.

Editor’s Note: To learn more about the author of this article and about how he’s developed a unique concept of surf vacation, check out

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