Why do I keep missing waves?

Warning: I’ve been watching a lot of Big Bang Theory lately and so this is a bit of a geeky post, there is an equation involved but I promise it’s not complicated and you don’t need to do any sums or anything!

This is a question I get asked a lot. Believe me, I know how frustrating it is. I know all about that vicious cycle you end up in, because the more waves you miss the more you lose your confidence and the more disheartened you get.

And because there are usually several factors affecting your ability to catch waves, there’s not always a simple answer and it can be tough to work out why it’s happening.

So here at mellow waves HQ we’ve come up with a nifty little equation to help you work out how to catch more waves…

Chances of catching the wave =

% of being in the right place


speed (determination  +  surf board  +  paddle strength)

Stay with me, and I’ll explain…

Being in the right place

This is a good place to start, because if you’re too early for a wave/too far away from the peak there won’t be enough energy in the wave for it to pick you up, no matter how fast you’re going or what board you’re riding.

So if you’re not in the right position, i.e. 0%, then you’re not going to catch anything. And if you’re in exactly the right position, say 100% then you’re pretty much guaranteed to catch it.

A note on confidence:
I have a tendency to sit either too far out or too far away from the peak and it’s usually when I’m not feeling particularly confident. I don’t want to get in the way of other surfers, I don’t want to take off too close to the peak in case it throws me off, and I don’t want to take a big set on the head. But it doesn’t always help with being in the right place for waves and means I have to work doubly hard to catch anything. If you worry about getting caught in one of the bigger sets, working on your turtle rolling or duckdiving can help you feel more confident.


In order for you to catch a wave you need to be moving at roughly the same speed as the wave is going. Bigger waves travel faster, so if you can catch smaller waves but are struggling as you go into bigger surf this could explain why.

Small waves travel at around 10mph, double overhead Fiji style barrels around 20mph and those terrifying things like Jaws and Mavericks at about 35mph.

There are several factors that can affect how fast you can get your surfboard going.


You know you see some people who really don’t look like they want to catch the wave. A few half-hearted paddles and then they give up, and you can see that they’re just going through the motions. Do you do it sometimes? More often than you should? It’s ok, we won’t tell anyone, but know that unless you start paddling harder, catching waves won’t get any easier. You should be paddling like your life depends on it.

Surf board

More volume means more speed. Trust me, a bigger board can make the world of difference. We’ve all seen those longboarders who sit way out back and then paddle for waves you think they’ll never catch, right before they’re gliding past you with a massive grin on their face. That massive board is also a massive factor in why they’re catching so many waves.

If you’re doing everything else right and still not seeing any difference, try a bigger board and see how you get on.

Get fitter

When you see really good surfers zooming around out back on tiny toothpick boards, and catching waves without even looking like they’re trying, that’s largely down to their strength and fitness.

If getting a bigger board isn’t an option, or you want to progress to riding a shortboard, then getting stronger and fitter will definitely help. Stronger arms, shoulders and lower back means more efficient paddling, so you go faster (and pop up better, which is always a bonus :).


So if you’re struggling to catch waves, ask yourself…

  • Are you in the right place?
  • Are you paddling as hard as you can?
  • Are you riding the right board?
  • Could you get stronger and fitter?

If you think improving your strength and fitness will help, you’re in luck… We’re launching a surf fitness plan this coming Tuesday (July 1st) aimed squarely at people who don’t get to surf very often and don’t really have a fitness habit to speak of at the moment. We’ve had some amazing feedback from our team riders who have been testing it out for us, so if you’re keen to find out more, pop your email in the box at the top of the page and you’ll be the first to know when it’s live.


What’s helped you catch more waves? If any of these make a big difference, we’d love to know… tell us in the comments below.

Author: Amy Lambert

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  1. Awsome information!! I needed this on a Spiritual Level

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  2. Needed that!
    Also, some smaller waves <2.5’ just don’t have the push required to get a 20-lb. board + 200-lb dude with 15-lb wet wetsuit even in rising tide. Like you say, you have to fix your weakest link – Speed, ocean location (3-seconds behind wave), board, strength, fitness, confidence, energy level, shoulder hopper

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