Catching the Most Waves: CROWDED Break

Written by on 14 September, 2018

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Catching the Most Waves: CROWDED Break

You’ve got your board, waxed up your board, placed on your leash, and you are able to paddle out. Only problem? It’s an epic day and the beach break is FULL of people… Not a surfers best-case scenario.

Hello from Plexus ! I am from Sydney, Australia, and although I’m no pro surfer, I am certainly above average skill level and fitness (I am/was a pro tennis player).

Before I get into the tips to get the most waves, there are some considerations to note with respect to surf etiquette:

  1. I grew up in Sydney. This is a well-known city worldwide for its surfing. Many breaks are crowded year-round and full of tourists/beginners. The most famous beach break being Bondi Beach… If this type of beach is your local, then this guide is for you – Think Huntington, Malibu, Snapper, Pipeline crowds… only Bondi has waves nowhere near the same quality as the aforementioned spots, yet sometimes bigger crowds.


  1. One main concern from surfers is if there are other OPTIONS for waves nearby. If you pull up to your beach/area and there are people on every wave –note number of sets of waves and how many go unridden, that will tell you if there is space for you/your crew — DON’T PADDLE OUT. Go to another local spot down the road and surf the break there.

If you’re like the younger me, and went to the beach with your parents, analysing the swell/wind/tide changes and expectations, you might have been inclined to push to go to the “better” surf option. That said, mum wants her coffee, so we’re going to the usual crowded spot and that’s that. Fine. Paddle out into the crowd, but be respectful to others and don’t go for every wave.

Be curious, if you can still surf good waves at a less crowded beach, do it and save the hassle of those in the water to have to deal with another person in their way.


Okay, with that necessary disclaimer of courtesy, let’s get into this:

How to get the most waves when it’s crowded:


Step 1: Observation

There are a few factors at play you must first consider before understanding how best to catch waves. As always, you should WATCH the ocean for 15-20 minutes before entering to know where the rips are, where the peaks of the waves are (for a good takeoff point) and where the best waves are caught… usually by the most experienced surfers who do not necessarily have great fitness, although this is usually the case, but understand the ocean’s mechanics.

*Note: Don’t go out if you think the conditions are too challenging for your ability. Watch for rocks, rips, currents, wave height or rouge sets.*


Step 2: Understanding

You want to visualise yourself doing what the best surfers are doing on a given day. This means having reference points from the ocean so you know if you’re too far out or out of position on the reef/bank. Usually this is a house/tree/sign whatever… just something you can use to line up where you sit to ensure you will be in the best spot to catch waves.

This may seem obvious to an advanced surfer, however many surfers just paddle out and sit next to whoever. This might work on occasion to get a good wave if the banks are messy (not lining up in the same spot consistently) but not on the really good days – And I know those are the ones you surf for.

Step 3: Fitness?

This is where you need to make a realistic judgment about your physical ability, experience, the board your surfing, hazards or difficulty at the takeoff, and the ability of others in the lineup.

Ask yourself, “How far out could I sit and still have enough speed to still catch the waves I want?” The answer will vary based factors like your physical ability, board type etc as I mentioned but basically you want to sit “deeper” or “further out” than others to have priority on riding the wave (I’ll explore this concept momentarily).

Being on the wave earlier means getting to your feet earlier, and getting to your feet earlier means controlling your positioning better/faster on the wave.

A common example is the longboarder vs shortboarder. The 9ft longboard paddles easier, thus generating more speed with less effort and catches waves “earlier” or sooner than a shorter board with less volume and buoyancy. Therefore, the longboarder sits out further allowing him to pick his waves better.

An idea on a REALLY good day might be to ride a thicker/longer board depending on the conditions as there will likely be many good surfers out taking advantage of the great waves… this foresight for a bigger board allows you (maybe the weaker or less experienced surfer) to still have FUN and catch a few waves which is what this sport is all about.


Step 4: Priority – Surfing’s Unwritten Golden Rule

As I touched on earlier, the idea is to have “priority” or “be best positioned” to catch the wave so it becomes “yours.”

Within you and your board’s ability, you need to sit out further than the other surfers and/or “deeper” or “closer” to the point of the break. This just means, if you’re surfing a wave that breaks to the right (from the direction you’re paddling) you want to be on the other surfers left who are also looking to catch that wave.

For beach break or A-frame waves that break in an “A” shape (both ways, left and right) there will usually be two people going for the wave with best priority… only difference is the guy on the right (with priority to all surfers on his right) goes right, and vice versa.

Get priority by paddling early and deeper than others. Many people when they see someone paddling early with purpose will generally back off if they are intermediate or below in skill.


Step 5: Commit – Go For It!

Finally, in a crowded break, everyone is going to paddle. It’s just a standard fact. My tip would be wait for at least the 2nd or 3rd wave in the set to have a clearer line to paddle in when half the lineup miss the first wave.

You can also just let the others fight for the average waves and gain some goodwill about “giving” others some waves. This way, when you turn and paddle for the really good wave that you want, you will have people letting you have your turn to surf more freely than otherwise.

Make some noise. It’s a fact that the alpha of any group is bigger and louder than the others in the animal kingdom so use this psychology to your advantage. People will know you mean business as you’ve made claim to the wave. Although this technique is only really valid among more experienced surfers due to the now-increased need to actually make the waves you call for, or you will lose credibility among the lineup and cause waves to go unridden… which nobody out there wants.

*Note: Only call for a wave if you are in the best position, and are with priority. In localised places like Oahu, Hawaii, you could be punched if you do this incorrectly. I would also only recommend this idea on a session of epic quality… you are often deemed a douche if you try too hard on a bad day of surf. Just cruise, you’ll get your waves even if you don’t have much time.*

That’s it! Follow these tips and you are sure to get more waves and have more fun. Some spots are obviously harder to get more waves due to ability needed to surf them, size of the takeoff zone, wave quality and popularity etc, however apply these ideas to your local crowded break and you’re sure to get more respect and waves at the same time. Win win.

There are many surf-fit videos on YouTube, just search “surf fitness” and you should be fine if you wanted to improve your surfing strength, endurance, balance, and overall ability. See you soon in Plexus!



Elio G.

Plexus Awesome 80s

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