Every surfer wants more speed. It’s like a surfing currency; the more speed you have, the bigger and better maneuvers you can buy.
There are many different ways to gain speed on a surfboard, here we want to focus on a simple method that is under-used by the majority of surfers, the art of compression and extension.
So how does it work….
Water has the second highest surface tension of all common liquids, which means that you can compress against it and use it as a platform to propel yourself like a spring as you extend away from it. Much like you can on a trampoline.
Compressing down (bending at the ankles/knees and partially the waist) as you enter your turn stores POTENTIAL ENERGY through your legs and lower body. Then, by extending out (straightening the whole body) as you go through the apex of your turn (often, but not always the geometric center of the turn) you change that stored potential energy into KINETIC ENERGY, again like a spring. This accelerates you out of the turn with more speed and power. The harder you extend out of the compression, the harder you are stepping on the gas pedal and the more propulsion you will gain.
During the Quiksilver Pro Snapper Rocks 2011, the contest directors put GPS devices into the rashguards of some of the competing surfers. As well as measuring things like distance traveled while paddling and surfing, they also recorded the surfers speeds.
In the clip below, we can see Kelly Slater start his bottom turn crouched down low at 22kph, before extending his body as he goes up the wave face and through the apex of his turn to a maximum speed of 32kph. Remember, he is moving UP the wave face on the brake (tail) of his board, but is still accelerating due to this efficient use of his body mechanics.
View example of Kelly Slater’s extension/compression video here.
It is very important that you are in a stance on your surfboard that allows you to do this effectively, if your knees are apart when you go into your compression you will find yourself leaning over with your upper-body and pushing your butt out and not gaining anything. However, if your knees are in the correct position with your back-knee dropping in towards your front, you will compress with your lower-body, leaving your core and shoulders aligned over your board and find yourself gaining more speed whilst still being balanced.
Compression, extension, compression , extension, is the key to putting more power into your turns and getting more speed out.