Surfing Basics

At CHICABRAVA Surf Retreat we have developed a program that will allow you to learn to surf in a week but there are things that you could be doing prior to attending our surf camp that will make it easier for you to get up on that board.

So you want to learn how to surf and want to know where to start? We have seen through experience that people can have a better time if they prepare their bodies for the new physical challenge they will endure.

There are some things that you can do to prepare your body for surfing without even stepping foot on the sand. We outline some exercises and learn to surf videos to help you prepare for your week long surf retreat.

Pushups and yoga are a great way to get your arms set for surfing. Start with 5 to 10 pushups a day. We recommend starting out with the modified pushup (on your knees). Just doing 5 – 10 a day for a month will make a HUGE difference. It will build your upper body strength and give you a stronger paddle. It will also help make your pop-ups easier and more natural feeling.

Yoga is another great way to condition your arms and core and prepare you with the strength and flexibility that will help you surf better! Take a few yoga classes or look on youtube for Vinyasa flow video classes that work in a lot of chaturangas!

Surfing Basics

1. Pop-up

Practice your pop-up! A pop-up is how you go from lying down on the surfboard as you paddle to standing up when you catch the wave. Below we outline the steps for a successful pop-up. You can practice this anywhere or anytime and you don’t even need a surfboard. It is basically a matter of trying to train yourself to stand up in a fast and efficient manner. Since you were a child you probably stood up from a face down prone position by pushing back onto your knees first and standing up. But in the pop-up, we skip the knees, and instead hold a push-up position (shoulders directly over wrists) and bring our lower body under our upper body, which brings a challenge for some beginners. However, all you need to master the pop-up is proper technique and practice. For this reason we found it imperative to pass this information along to those committed to attending CHICABRAVA. If you practice pop-ups before you arrive, it will mean less time focusing on that skill set in Nicaragua, and more time catching waves!

How to Do a Pop-Up

Below we have divided the pop-up into three easy steps to help you organize the movements in your mind. We have also created a “Learn to Surf” video series on YouTube.

1. Pushup:

Lay down and place hands underneath your chest in a pushup position. Push yourself straight up into plank position with your shoulder directly over your wrists. Keep your legs zipped up “like a zipper” and keep your head up and eyes directly forward (“look at the beach!”) the whole time.

2. Pop-up:

While still looking up and forward and keeping your arms straight (shoulders over your wrists), in one swift movement, swing your lower body under your upper body, bringing your front foot even with your hands. Be careful not to do the reverse (pushing your upper body back over your feet). For yogis, the swinging sensation is similar to jumping lightly from downward dog to the front of your mat.

  • Modification 1 – “Take your time”: Hold plank, bring your front knee to your chest, plant your front foot in between your hands and get your back foot down.
  • Modification 2 – “Army Crawl”: Hold plank, bring your back knee forward, plant your back foot down, and swing your front foot up in between your hands

3. Slowly rise to standing:

Maintain balance by keeping your knees bent, your feet shoulder-width apart, your arms out wide, and your eyes looking straight ahead at a point directly in front of you (in the water, you’ll be looking at the beach).


Do it again and again and again. If these steps are practiced over and over you will be able to execute a fast and efficient pop-up without having to think about it! This video in our “Learn to Surf” series will help you master the pop-up.

2. Paddling

Paddling is an important foundational skill that will provide immediate results. At CHICABRAVA, you will learn proper paddling technique including how to cut resistance when paddling to make it easier and how to keep your weight centered on the middle of the board.

In the meantime, it’s helpful to prep those muscles! While there is no specific exercise that hits all of the muscles required for proper paddling, there are exercises you can do that will help strengthen your upper body and get you ready. Swimming laps (freestyle and breaststroke) will help get you prepared and increase your endurance! Get used to water going up your nose and holding your breath underwater. Following our recommendation for daily push-ups and yoga will help immensely as well.

3. Turtle Rolling and/or Duck Diving

When a wave comes barreling at you, turtle rolling (when on a longboard) and duck-diving (when on a shortboard) will allow you to pass under the breaking wave without getting ripped off your board and rolled back to the shore you just paddled away from.

To execute a proper turtle roll while on a longboard:

  • Keep your board facing perpendicular to the ocean and the nose pointed directly towards the oncoming wave
  • As the wave approaches, grab hold of the rails of the board directly under your chest, hold on tight, and flip over so you are underwater and the board is on top
  • Try to keep your body parallel to the length of the board and as close to it as possible
  • Hold on tight to your board and keep it as close to your body as possible.  Don’t let go!
  • Wait for wave’s energy to pass over you completely, then turn board back over and climb back on.

To execute a proper duck-dive while on a shortboard:

  • Keep your board facing perpendicular to the ocean and the nose pointed directly towards the oncoming wave
  • As the wave approaches, grab hold of the rails of the board directly under your shoulders. Use your weight to push down on the board, keeping your head down and tucked in towards the board. This will force the nose of the board under water. At this point, place your back foot (or knee) on the tail end and push down hard. This will allow you to get the board deeper under the water and give it the momentum to shoot up and out the other side.

4. Catching a wave

Now that you have learned how pop-up, paddle and turtle roll, you have to know what to do when you are standing up. It’s important to look where you want to go and when you are learning to surf you will pop up and go straight toward the beach. As your surfing progresses you will want to look at the face of the wave so instead of riding straight to the beach you will follow the roll of the wave. With a good stance and low center of gravity you will be well on your way to be surfing CHICABRAVA style. This video in our ‘Learn to Surf’ series will help you understand how to catch and ride a wave.

Still thinking about joining us? Click on the video below to get stoked on coming!

Wondering what the camp experience is actually like? Click on the video below for a 2 minute short doc on what you can expect at CHICABRAVA surf retreat.