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15 exceptional ways to improve your surfing

From Stab issue 60: 15 exceptional ways to improve your surfing, with Julian Wilson, 23, Coolum Beach, Queensland.

By Elliot Struck
Photo by Ryan Miller

1. Be a skater
Getting a skating mindset and practising certain moves over and over again is a good way to learn airs. For turns, it’s still repetition, but it’s more about going out and learning how to read waves and adapt to them.

2. Feel the turn
Don’t analyse manoeuvres too closely. There’s so many things in surfing that can’t be taught. It’s all just feeling. It’s riding every different kind of wave and surfing every day.

3. Find a pusher
Surf with people better than you. This relates to anything. It’ll always help you progress. But, don’t let it defeat you and make you bummed out.

4. Humiliate yourself
As confronting as it can be, watch footage of yourself at least once a month. I feel that this has to be the best way to learn. You can compare it to your favourite surfers, see what they have that you’re lacking, see where you can improve. Even for me, now, I’ll go and have a surf and feel like I was ripping, then I’m bummed out on the footage. Or I’ll think I’m having a shocker and the footage makes it look good. Think about what looked good, how it felt and how to do that again.

5. Join a club
This doesn’t work for everyone. If you’re naturally competitive and like the pressure, it helps your surfing a lot because you’ll try crazier stuff and put yourself in positions that you wouldn’t put yourself in when freesurfing. There’s also people who don’t like competing and crack under pressure. But, if you like the pressure, you’re guaranteed to push your surfing to another level.

6. Be a groupie
Freesurf near WT or prime events whenever you can so you can watch pros in the water. Growing up, I loved any chance I had to be around those guys or to watch a contest. Back then, I wasn’t thinking so much about learning, it was more about the experience of seeing those guys. But, looking back now, there’s guys who you’d watch in movies then see in real life and you realise there’s a difference because all the bad stuff gets chopped out in a movie. It definitely helps your confidence, knowing that. I remember when I was a grom I watched Kelly Slater in Black and White relentlessly with my brothers and I was convinced that Kelly didn’t fall off.

7. Don’t be proud
It ain’t easy but it helps if you ask better surfers how they nail their tricks and what techniques they use. That is, if you have the right relationship with that person. If I surf with someone and get along with them I’ll happily ask how to do things. Sometimes, I get asked myself and I’m more than happy to share what I know.

8. No crazy eyes
Don’t try and get in the zone in the water. I feel that it never helps when you free surf. When you go freesurfing you need to take it as a new experience and not put pressure on it. The coolest stuff happens when you’re having fun. Go out with an open attitude. If you’re having a good time and not worrying about falling off, it reflects in the way your session goes. If you paddle out going, “I’ve gotta do the sickest air,” you tend to get pissed off and never achieve it.

9. Bubba steps
Know that sometimes less is more. The hardest thing for someone learning is the fact that they wanna do things the way they see them straight away, instead of taking the baby steps that the guy who can do it has taken over the years. When you see the best guys in movies do something, you forget they’ve chopped out the 800 that weren’t made or didn’t look as cool. You can’t worry about how it looks, you need to realise there’s steps to take before you get to that point. When you’re learning finners, you won’t do one like Reynolds where you hit the lip vertically and go inverted. You’ve gotta start doing little horizontal slides. You’ve gotta start basic.

10. Know your surfboards
Learn to pick boards that suit conditions. Progressing has a lot to do with having fun. It’s silly to ride a high-performance shortboard when it’s two-foot and weak, when you could be on a fish and getting all sorts of speed to do airs. You can’t force a situation. There’s a board for every condition. There’s so many options with shapes, rockers, fins, fin systems. It’s endless. If you’re bored with something, try something different.

11. Know your mood
Your surf can be dictated by your mood. If you’re super amped-up on coffee and wanna go out and do a million of the sickest turns or biggest airs, you’re gonna go and try it. Not to say you’re gonna do it, but you’ll at least have the energy to try. There’s also times when you just wanna cruise and trim. The mood’s set before you paddle out.

12. You can do anything
View a trick as achievable. Everything takes a certain type of wave. There’ll be things that you think are unachievable until one day you surf a wave that’s perfect for that trick. Then you try it and go, wow, it is achievable. You get that little bit of inspiration and then you know what to go for when those conditions are right. Say a rodeo is something you’d love to do. If you always surf fat waves, you’re never going to get the opportunity to try it, and you’re going to think it’s unachievable. It’s about knowing waves and knowing what to try in what conditions.

13. Waves are teachers
There’s something to learn from every wave. If you grow up on a beachbreak you’re gonna surf different conditions 365 days a year. But if you grow up somewhere like the Gold Coast with long point breaks, you definitely have an advantage of being a local and knowing the wave inside out. Beachbreaks are always a tough one, but they’re also a good thing because you learn to adapt to every different condition. There’s a positive to everything.

14. Get a crazy pal
Find a friend who you can push you in big waves. You definitely need someone to push you and if they’re around the same age, even better. It’s a huge motivation. This applies to all waves, really. If you’ve got someone that’s a similar ability and age, it always brings out the best in you.

15. Get competitive
Recognise your competitiveness and play to your strength. Competitiveness isn’t something you can force. Everyone’s competitive to an extent, but it’s the people who aren’t afraid of losing or looking silly who learn the most. There’s always people who are too worried about how they’d look if they lost. Guys like Craig Anderson aren’t competitive in a contest sense, but they’re competitive in the sense that they wanna do a bigger air or get more barrels, and bring out the best movie part. You’ve gotta push your surfing when you’re filming those movie sections. Competitiveness is always there, just in different forms.

You can now buy the latest digital issue of Stab, here. 

  • hank mardukas

    and most importantly, always CLAIM every wave

    • Hugo

      how original…

      • I was surfing

        how fast you mean. someone was gonna be the first anyway. probably hank doesn´t surf and was online when they posted this

    • hank the hater

      you must shred really hard Hank…hahah not!!!

    • gustavo freire

      i laughed all the way to brazil

  • Tiago

    u want to feel good about your surf?
    u want to think that u rip!
    u want to think that ur performances are incredible?

    just don’t watch Dane surfing! and u will keep thinking u are the man!

    • Dane Painintheholes

      Yeah tiago, like, mmm, like, yeah you know, hum aaaa, duh, ahm well, aaahhnn, yeah well yeah, hum hum well, ah yeah you know hum aaahhnn duh, yeah so yeah well ahm aaahhnn, well yeah you know, dane could fuck my butt, but yeah well ahm like ahm yeah hum duh

  • Kelly Sk8er

    skating really helps for me no lie! get a mini carving kinda longboard and just practice and simulate all your turns and bottom turns. its really easy to translate it aswell to ur surfing. best tip is : HAVE FUN! honestly..

  • NSB

    hank cant even check turn. Guarenteed!!!!!!! Julian deservesto win lots of contest. That being said, he didnt win that last one . Thats forsure!Watch the kid has to much talent, to not come back way better. The judges robbed him of that contest at trestles though. Maybe thats just there way of paying him back. Free surfs @ north shore is what its all about anyway. Johns got this.

  • Frothdog

    Remember STAB kids, if you don’t have something negative to say, don’t say it at all.

  • Hank Mardukas

    This is horse shit! I am Hank Mardukas! I hereby retire from the name since little nancy sissy boys are trying to give me a bad rap.

    Hank Mardukas, signing off.

  • kas

    critique yourself – dont judge yourself.
    self judgement is the handbrake of self-growth.

  • in dying need of some few pointers

    do any of you guys know got tips for doing finners or backside and frontside airs? i pretty much got my rail game on i just cant do much progressive tricks. few pointers would help me out! thanks. ( my main problem is just flat out trying to do them without going into them enough speed to lift off. but once i lift off i always seem to never have control over my board.)

  • Positive Vibes

    These are actually some really great tips. Look forward to using them. Good on ya Julian

  • The sandman

    Yep fkn sick of hearing about old news,good call Hugo.

    • gabi

      fuck you sandman

  • YoBags

    16. get some webbed gloves, catch heaps more waves.

  • Flojo

    Work extra hard on your spoilt little brat pout & accompanying chip on Jules to where he is today

    • Conan

      Hiding behind a keyboard shooting you mouth off wasn’t on the list “Flojo” but I can tell that you would still rip anyway, ya tosser.

  • Flojo

    Yep, I go ok, not pro material of course, don’t claim to be. Just think it’s fascinating the current batch of young pros in an already pro saturated market who do nothing to endear themselves to the fans & surf public with their consistently arrogant, spoilt brat, ‘the-world-owes-me-something’ attitudes; Jules, Flores, de Souza, medina, andino (for belting his board like a tool in Fiji) 

  • Flojo

    Yep, I go ok, not pro material of course, don’t claim to be. Just think it’s fascinating the current batch of young pros in an already pro saturated market who do nothing to endear themselves to the fans & surf public with their consistently arrogant, spoilt brat, ‘the-world-owes-me-something’ attitudes; Jules, Flores, de Souza, medina, andino (for belting his board like a tool in Fiji) 

  • westie

    #16. Claim shitty waves

  • boardmaster

    Snowboarding helps, too… You can do lay down carves a lot easier in the powder and you can definitely snowboard like you’re surfing… fun as hell!

  • Jdubz

    watching Medina cry was just sooooo good. Seeing him standing there, forlorn, in the silly little hat, holding the silly little trophy.. crying..

    I’ve watched that final a few times and JW’s waves were bigger set waves, much like MF at Bells.. I think he deserved it. So did he..

    • kelly slater

      you are wright jdubz, just like bells…

  • tireiron

    1. Focus on style, keeping arms controlled 2. Shift feet according to wave(foot directly on tail for most control) 3. Stop caring so much 4. Watch a lot of surf videos

  • no balls

    is it weird that I don’t even look at the feature and just read the comments?…………..

  • Mitt Gromney

    17. make sure to choke your chicken before you paddle out … if not its like goin out pissed off with a loaded gun!

  • Jimmy Snooka

    Poo stance for lower centre of gravity when stomping claims. Bright custom wettie to distract judges

  • James B


  • Rudy


  • mick

    Just Rip It Up And Stop Bitching You Fags!!!

  • mick

    Oh and Hank Boogieboarding doesn’t actually count…….You Prawn!!!

  • proteusadvisors

    XfcMNKag payday loans

  • ariel

    this is about surfing not insulting! thanks for this article it helped!

  • Bronson

    Solid advice which I definitely plan on putting into practice when I hit Costa Rica in March – my friends there are great surfers and I’m hoping some of that skill rubs off.

    • bigdawg


      • Bronson

        Thanks for the insightful contribution to the discussion.

  • caitlyn_surfer-chick

    great advice

  • toddled

    I’m pretty sure I’d surf better without so many competitive wannabe pro surfer kooks in the water. This advice legitimises everything those kooks do and destroys surfing for the rest of us competent surfers who just want to get out there and enjoy themselves.

    • Jtrot

      man you’re the type of person whose destroying surfing. You obviously read this making you the hypocritical wanker in the water claiming to be all about having a good time yet you’re arguing the fact that kooks should remain kooks, not take any advice or try and improve and that solely anyone under your level of competency should stay out of the water. Are you Dean Morrison because its sure sounding that way you self-righteous cunt

      • toddled

        Nice attitude keyboard warrior. ‘Kooks’ in my above comment isn’t meant to mean incompetent surfers, but the aggressive fight-for-every-wave turbo charged look-at-me bastards. I’m not saying kooks should remain kooks. I’m saying the average surfer shouldn’t be snarling down the throat of the next average surfer. How many people have you seen in the lineup lately who have that rank Craig Anderson hair and paddle around like they own surfing coz they have an ando head? Why do you have to model yourself on a pro and take yourself so seriously?

        • kevin

          This article doesn’t tell you to be a twat, it suggests being competitive, I for one am a very competitive person, not always a great trait but I use it to my advantage when surfing, if I see someone surf an incredible wave my competitive side will naturally try equal that when I get a wave. it doesn’t mean I have to be a cunt in the water I still wait my turn and have a laugh and if I make a cock of the wave I’m not gonna throw my board on rocks in anger. There’s a big difference between being competitive and being a twat or a “kook”.

  • Toobs

    And that applies to about 10% of surfers………..

  • wonkah

    We all know the only way to become a shredder is to start surfing when you’re a niño

    • Ham Sandwhich

      El Nino or just a nino?

  • Sneaky bandit

    Julian is a little cry baby gronk

  • Lil pro Johnny

    Competitive faggots out in the surf. Take that shit to your faggot competition at your gay club, not out in the freesurf with us who just wanna enjoy ourselves, not everyone likes your gay competition surfing.


    16. Pound the vag of a smoking hot New York model.

  • Bernard

    What’s with all the haters on social media? Great article Stab. Keep up the good work

  • Chupesesta

    dont read an article about a PRO TOUR SURFER talking about PRO TOUR MENTALITY if you dont like COMPETITION SURF. IDIOTS. go read about yoga or sumn. enjoyyourselves

  • surfhealthandfitness

    Good tips!

  • SmoothStarSurf

    Get a SmoothStar! Best land Surf Simulator in the World! :-)

  • andoman121 .

    good advice.
    Ive broken mine down to:
    1 surf as much as possible
    2 surf open faces instead of closeouts
    3 bring good vibes
    4 try new maneuvers
    5 stay humble

  • The Dude

    This is pretty shitty advice. Something a bit more detailed or practical in relation to training would have been better, but in a nutshelll this article details:

    1) find a friend whos good
    2) don’t be a fucking try hard, but be a try hard… to an extent.

    Problem is heaps of dudes who do comps are fucking try hards and they start in their early teens putting real motherfuckers off surfing period.

    Then those try hard motherfuckers never make it and you end up seeing these burnouts round the clock at your local club telling their miserable girlfriend how good they used to be or who they know.

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