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Things You Need To Know Before Paddling Out

We might not be about to paddle out at Pipeline like in the iconic scene from Blue Crush, but we're still all about sizing up those waves, whether they're ankle-biters or big bombas. 

surfer girls checking the surf, Blue Crush (2002)

Blue Crush (2002) - Lena, Eden & Anne Marie checking out Pipeline

We do this to collect information. It helps us to figure out where to sit in the line up, where to paddle out and gives us an insight into what our session might be like. 

It can help reduce anxiety and fear by processing what we see.

However, I always say: 'Don't let your ego write cheques that your body can't pay for' - In other words, if you feel doubt, don't paddle out. 

If it looks fun, go for it, if not, try another location or save it for another day, it's all okay! :)

Here's what you should look for (in no particular order)


Wave Size 

Watch people on the smaller waves and the set waves and see where the wave comes up to 

on their body and take an average of the wave size, the scale usually goes like this: 

- Ankle high

- Waist high

- Chest high

- Shoulder high 

- Head high

- Overhead 

- Double overhead

- Triple overhead 

(Then it goes into big wave scale)

Are the waves a good size for you, do you have the right board for the conditions?

women surfing longboards and shortboards

How big do you think these waves are?

Wave Power & Shape 

Do the waves look soft and fluffy or plunging, dragging sand up with the water as they break? 

This tells us how much energy is in the water and how easy it might be to catch them and paddle through them. 

It's also good to look at the shape, are they staying open for a long time or breaking quickly, peeling left, right or both?

Ideally we want the waves to stay open so we have more ride time, do you need to wait for the tide to change?

Paddling Out 

Watch a couple of people paddling out, time how long it takes them to make it.

Did they make it with dry hair? Or did that look like hard work? It gives you an idea of how hard the paddle out will be, how strong / big the waves are.

You can also look for rip current's to use for an easier passage through the waves if you are a confident paddler. Aim to avoid these if you are new to surfing.

surf girls in the UK checking the surf

Allannah & Sophie scoping it out / PC Bella Bunce - Surfline


Generally a group of surfers sitting together tells me that that's probably where the best waves are.

Are you happy to wait a while for a wave or hustle for position? If not, scan the beach for a less crowded area.

Personally, I'd prefer to surf a less consistent peak with less people than compete for waves, but hey that's just me! 

longboard surf coaching in newquay cornwall

All to ourselves on our stall & step course / PC Bell Bunce

Tides & Hazards 

Is the tide coming in or out? How will this affect the way the waves break? Will the moving water expose any hazards like rocks or cause rips? 

Grab a tide book (old school, but we love it), check Surfline or ask other surfers.


The wind has a big part to play in how the waves break and form.

What direction is the wind? How is this affecting the surf, is it clean or choppy?

This lets you anticipate how much you may need to paddle to stay in position once you get to the backline.

A strong cross-shore wind will have you paddling up the beach, whereas a strong offshore wind will have you paddling towards the beach so you don't go too far out to catch waves and an offshore wind may push closer in.  


Hope that helps and never be afraid to ask other surfers / lifeguards for advice when surfing a new spot, we do it all the time!

See ya out there!



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