3 Tips for Catching More Waves at a Crowded Surf Spot

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During retreats we focus on avoiding crowds altogether as much as possible, but we know that most people don’t have the luxury of living in a spot or having a schedule where it’s possible to avoid other surfers. For all of you living a city surf lifestyle, here are some tips you can use to catch more waves even at a crowded spot.

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Holly with a lonely pre-sunrise bottom turn at a normally very crowded spot.

1. Surf during “off” hours.

Continue reading “3 Tips for Catching More Waves at a Crowded Surf Spot”

Surf Completely – Coco Chanel Paddle

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How to Catch more waves with the Coco Chanel Paddle

Everyone knows the Coco Chanel logo right? The two interlocking Cs are not just a sign of luxury, but also a great way to paddle. If you want to have the most efficient paddle technique you need to increase the length of your stroke. Paddling in the shape of a C achieves that. If you use the Coco Chanel Paddle you’ll be covering more distance faster. That means more waves and fewer turtle rolls! This video will take you through some things to do and others to avoid to improve your paddle skills and have you catching more waves!

Why it’s best to learn to surf from women

At Surf With Amigas, we take a humorous approach to teaching surf skills. You’ll learn to turn with your boobs and to avoid paddling like a T-Rex. You’ll also hear that you should paddle like the Coco Chanel logo. Come learn and laugh with us! That’s the difference of a surf camp run by women!

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For more instructional videos, check out our Surf Completely page!

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NEW Advanced Surfing Clinic for Short and Longboarders in Costa Rica

We just added an advanced surfing clinic for short and long boarders in Costa Rica this spring!

Dates: May 5-12, 2018

Skills we’ll focus on:

Since the retreat is open to all types of surfboards, some days we may be breaking up the group by board length, other days we’ll all surf together.

Short boarders will work on cutbacks, bottom turns, top turns, how to generate their own speed and possibly tube riding. We expect that attendees will already know how to duck dive, but we can work on tips to improve duck dive technique.

Long boarders will work on turns, generating speed, cross-stepping, cutbacks, looking stylish, and possibly nose riding. Long boarders are also welcome to try out shorter boards.

The Surf:

We’ll stay at a brand new little eco resort with multiple waves within walking distance. There are a couple faster (better for shorter boards) waves out front, and a few gentler waves a little ways down the beach (better for longboards). If the swell is bigger we’ll be on a mission by boat or car to surf some of the longest waves in the world. We strategically planned this retreat in May, when we’re likely to get a bit of swell and surf the points. There are a couple of world class waves where you could get the wave of your life, and a few other nooks and crannies that are also super fun and lesser known. We’ll be on surf safari to get you into the very best waves for you, breaking up the group by ability and board size so that everyone gets what they’re looking for, and we don’t show up anywhere with a big group! 

The place where we stay is nestled in between jungle and ocean along a gorgeous stretch of mostly empty pristine beach. This region in Costa Rica is regarded as one of the most biologically diverse places in the world. Expect to see monkeys, sloths, toucans, scarlet macaws and a variety of other local creatures!


The resort is nestled at the bottom of an 800 acre private biological reserve and looks directly out at the ocean. The lodging is eco-friendly and rustic but comfortable, with large screened windows, fans to keep cool, and ensuite bathrooms. Each room is equipped with 3 or 4 beds and will sleep 2-4 Amigas. There’s a covered restaurant area for meals and where we’ll do our video coaching and “classroom” sessions.

   marea alta panorama 

There will be yoga too of course! The resort features a gorgeous jungle-surrounded open air platform!


Since we will be staying near the end of a dirt road, essentially in the jungle, we’ll enjoy the chance to disconnect from the “real” world. There is no cell service or wifi at the resort. However there are several internet cafes in the area, two a short bike ride away. There are bikes provided for guest use. Our instructors also like to check in once in a while, so there will undoubtedly be some “internet missions” happening. There will be cell service at some of the spots we’ll surf as well as where we’ll go for our ladies night out dinner, so if you activate international data roaming on your phone you will have an opportunity to check in that way. Family members are always welcome to call the resort number as well in order to check in (that number available in the travel info document).

$1900 Package Includes –

  • 2 way airport transfer between Golfito Regional Airport and the resort (provided you arrive and depart within our recommended windows)
  • All meals
  • Coffee, tea, fresh juices and any drinks consumed in our cooler during surf missions/activities
  • Car and Boat trips to surf
  • High quality individualized coaching both in water and during video review sessions
  • Classroom sessions breaking down the mechanics of surfboards and maneuvers
  • Other activities if the surf isn’t firing.
  • Daily yoga sessions

Bring extra cash for

  • Massage
  • Smoothies, Sodas, and Alcoholic beverages
  • Tips for staff


Get coached by Holly and Jackie, assisted by our other instructors TBD. Check out our instructor page to read bios.



The Difference Between Epoxy and Polyurethane Surfboards

We occasionally receive a message from an Amiga asking to be able to ride a “fiberglass board” on their Surf With Amigas Retreat as opposed to an epoxy board. The question always makes us grimace.

Unless the board is made from some unusual material like carbon fiber, ALL surfboards are wrapped in fiberglass. I think what most surfers are actually wanting is to avoid riding a “pop-out” board – as in the mass-produced SurfTech or NSP variety. When choosing a surfboard the actual factor to consider is whether the board is made with polyurethane (PU) or epoxy (EPS) foam.

Let’s Start with the Basics: How are Surfboards Made?

In case you have no idea how surfboards are constructed, we’ll start with the basics. Of course there are always experimental surfboards out there, but the vast majority of boards are made of a foam core wrapped in layers of fiberglass and laminated with resin. 

In the diagram here you see a foam core which can be “EPS” or “PU” (more on that in a bit), covered in layers of different weight fiberglass (in this case 4oz on top, 6oz on bottom), then laminated with resin. You can see the wooden stringer down the center represented as blue lines.

The surfboard starts as a “blank” which is a chunk of foam already in the general size and shape of a finished surfboard. The foam core, or blank, is formed in a large, cement mold roughly the shape of the surfboard. The mold is constructed in two halves, and the inside is lined with a special paper that keeps the foam from sticking to the mold. The two halves are clamped together and the mold is heated. When the liquid polyurethane chemicals are poured into the mold, the heat triggers a chemical reaction which begins forming a dense, white foam. Surfboard builders call this process, “blowing the blank.” After 25 minutes, the mold is opened and the foam core is taken out and allowed to finish hardening. Once the core is hard, it is cut in half vertically from the nose to the tail. A thin stringer is glued between the two halves, and the core is then clamped back together to dry. Stringers provide stiffness, strength, and the right amount of spring when the board is compressed through turns.

This process creates a blank that looks like a rough surfboard. It’s thicker, longer, and rougher than the finished product, but already more or less in the final shape. Surfboard shapers choose a blank closest in size to the board they want to make as the density is not uniform throughout. There is generally a slightly more dense outer layer and a softer inner layer. The shaper will then just use a planer to cut the blank down to the desired thickness, rail shape, tail shape and add bottom contour.

Here’s a Surfboard Shaping History Lesson:

From 1961-2005, 90% of American-made and 60% of surfboards made worldwide began as polyurethane foam (PU) blanks blown by Clark Foam in southern California. In 2005, citing difficulties from environmental regulatory agencies, he abruptly shut down his factory which sent shockwaves through the industry.

Vintage Gordon “Grubby” Clark in his foam factory, along with a lineup of three iconic Clark Foam “blanks”.

The sudden closing and destruction of the Clark Foam factory was seen as a big “f*ck you” to the industry and led to mild panic in some circles. Such was the power of this man and his near complete domination of the surfboard industry. See the photo on the right of the destroyed blank molds.

After the initial panic subsided, most shapers began to view the closure of Clark Foam as a good thing for surfboard material innovation. It ended a period of monopolistic control and created a new, free, open market for blank builders to come in with new technology and ideas. It also encouraged shapers to put more energy into experimentation with the more environmentally-friendly expanded polystyrene blanks. There are some benefits to the newer technology. For one, the density is uniform throughout the blank.

These new blanks are laminated with epoxy resins. Epoxy emits 50-75% fewer VOCs (volatile organic compounds) than polyester resin. Also epoxy is lighter than polyester. Under most circumstances, resin makes up a large part of a completed board’s overall weight. Not only is epoxy resin lighter than polyester, but less is needed per coat. This ends up meaning a much lighter surfboard – a big plus for most surfers. The biggest bonus however is the durability and strength of epoxy boards, not to mention the benefits to the environment.


1. EXPANDED Polystyrene (EPS, beaded foam)

Expanded, or beaded, foam (EPS) is a relatively inexpensive and incredibly lightweight surfboard core. Manufacturers produce sheets of EPS by feeding tiny polystyrene spheres into a machine, then introducing steam coupled with a tiny amount of pentane gas to expand the beads and mold them to one another. The end result is an open cell foam, meaning that is very water absorbent. To combat this issue, shapers who use EPS foam usually add extra layers of fiberglass and epoxy resin to prevent any dings from penetrating deep enough to reach the foam. Epoxy resin is the only resin that can be used with EPS boards. The extra layers of fiberglass and resin make the boards stiffer and more solid feeling. It leads to a less flexible feel than a “traditional” board. A beginner surfer would not be able to tell the difference, but an advanced surfer who is compressing her board into high speed turns will definitely notice.

“Pop-out” boards are made using EPS foam, because the beads can be formed into specific molds. Often times these blanks are used without stringers relying on just the strength of the blank and the thicker layers of fiberglass in the glassing. The entire board is made in a mold or with vacuum bagging technology. This leads to the boards being less refined. They will be cheaper and more durable which makes them excellent for beginners who are not ready to invest in a more expensive surfboard. They are perfectly fine to learn on.

Originally, very few hand shapers use this type of EPS foam, because it is difficult to work with and nearly impossible to fine-tune with shaping tools (the beads retain their spherical shapes so well that any sanding causes whole chunks of foam to fall off, leaving the edges jagged). But recently better EPS with smaller cells has been created so that it now works for hand shaped boards as well. When Holly was a pro surfer getting boards from Rusty Surfboards, almost all of her boards were made of EPS foam and looking at the boards even up close, it would be very difficult for anyone to tell the difference of EPS vs PU in the finished board.

These days EPS foam technology has improved and high performance EPS blanks are available. Professional surfers and recreational surfers alike will choose EPS boards because of their environmentally friendly characteristics. They are also a lot lighter which makes them ideal for smaller waves or smaller surfers carrying bigger boards.

Characteristics of boards with Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) epoxy foam:

  • more water absorbent foam
  • lightweight
  • extra layers of fiberglass + epoxy resin for ding prevention
  • potentially more solid feel because of extra fiberglass + resin (less flexible for advanced surfers)
Holly Beck, rusty surfboard
Holly with an EPS and Epoxy board by Rusty Surfboards

2. EXTRUDED (XTR, closed cell)

Extruded foam (XTR) is made using expensive machinery and computers. The machines melt polystyrene crystals down, using additives and a blowing agent to essentially deflate and combine all of the ingredients together. The result is a fluid that expands as it cools, forming solid blocks of XTR foam. The foam is closed cell, so it blocks out moisture – a good thing in case you get a ding.

The process of making XTR foam is time-consuming and costly. The price of the foam itself, coupled with the fact that most XTR epoxy boards are hand-shaped, does unfortunately lead to a more expensive finished board – but one with several benefits. Not only is the foam core moisture-wicking and stronger than other types of foam, it is also extremely resistant to dings and compression-caused dents. XTR foam also has a good flex pattern, so it’s responsive on the water.

The problem with closed cell foam is two-fold. First, as mentioned above, it is expensive. You will almost always pay more for an XTR board than one made from EPS. Second, there have been reports of bubbles and delamination in the decks of some closed cell boards, caused by gas build-up between the foam, fiberglass and resin layers. However, some companies have made huge developments in XTR-constructed boards, finding ways to allow the gases to escape without compromising the integrity of the surfboard.

Holly has an XTR board that she’s been riding hard for over 15 years that is still in very good condition, something virtually impossible with other types of construction.

Characteristics of boards with Extruded Polystyrene (XTR) foam:

  • more expensive
  • moisture wicking foam core (doesn’t absorb water even when dinged)
  • stronger foam core
  • good flex for advanced surfers
  • extremely resistant to dings and pressure dents

Riding my XTR board in really fun waves about 15 years ago. It still looks good and works just as well today.


TL2 by SurfTech

SurfTech makes a Techlite core (fused cell foam, virtually waterproof) technology they call the TL2 design. The Techlite core is further improved upon with the addition of an Acrylite skin, which is glassed onto the board using epoxy resin. The Acrylite skin and the epoxy coating work with the core material to create an incredibly strong, responsive surfboard. The extra strength means that no stringer is needed, so the board is more flexible and springy in the water as well.

Hayden Shapes

Hayden Shapes is a quality surfboard manufacturer, also experimenting with different materials and designs. The Hypto Krypto is an awesome design for surfers wanting to go down in length but still keep paddle power since it has a wider nose for more planing but a narrower turn for high performance turns.

The construction combines a stringer-less, high-density custom shaped EPS core, laminated with biaxial fiberglass, epoxy resin and a parabolic carbon fiber frame. The carbon fiber frame within the laminate is the key to the performance vitality. Designed to maximize speed and drive while minimizing twist, FutureFlex essentially stores and releases energy as the surfer transitions through a turn. The FutureFlex construction creates a fast, dynamic and highly responsive surfboard that’s been design engineered for performance surfing ranging from the intermediate to advanced level.

This is Holly riding a surfboard made by a company called Aviso that no longer exists. It’s a hollow-core (no blank at all) carbon fiber board. The construction is similar to the SCore in that it is hollow, but made fully of carbon fiber so they are all black. (Tricky to keep the wax on when surfing one in the tropics as they get really hot). 

In summary – Epoxy vs Polyurethane

As described above, epoxy is lighter, stronger, and more environmentally friendly. An old EPS blank can be broken down and recycled into a new blank. The epoxy resin is less toxic to the board builder and the environment.

So what are the benefits of a lighter board? A lighter board is easier to carry, easier to paddle, and will often feel faster when riding them along the face of the wave. These all lead to more fun and froth, which is what it is all about. They are also very durable and maintain their integrity a lot longer than PU boards.

But, the epoxy boards can be stiffer and lighter which makes them tend to feel more “buoyant” and ride on top of the water, rather than in the wave. Since they are much more buoyant than PU boards, it is possible to ride shorter boards which can also enhance performance as the board fits better in the curve of the wave. Even pros ride EPS boards in smaller to medium-sized waves.

However, this buoyant feeling can make some people not like them. Also “pop-out” boards are made from this technology which can give the materials a bad name since they are associated with the image of cheaply produced junk.

In smaller, weaker surf, or for a beginner, the lightness is a really good thing. You will get the best weight to strength ratio with EPS/Epoxy construction; hand-built, composite, molded or otherwise. You’ll be able to lift a large board and carry it more easily to the water. For a surfer that is doing fast turns, the lightness of an EPS core combined with the strength of epoxy resin, will make for a more responsive, lively board.

It’s important to note that in bigger surf or choppy conditions, experienced surfers may actually prefer a slightly heavier board. Some older surfers who’ve gotten used to their PU boards will tell you that the feel and flex of a PU board is a feeling that will stick with you. Epoxy boards can have a “corky” feeling to them that can take some getting used to. Also, chop and windy conditions can make a lighter board feel like it’s bouncing more rather than plowing through the chop. Bigger waves are nice on heavier boards, especially if it’s also windy. In that case a PU blank with Polyester resin may be better.

A middle ground option is using a PU blank with Epoxy resin. Polyester resin will eat away (think: more nasty chemicals) EPS foam, but you can use epoxy resin with PU blanks so that’s a good compromise if you’re looking for the flex and weight of a PU blank with the environmental friendliness and durability of Epoxy.

Our advice: Get the board that you have the most fun on and makes you the happiest, because in the end, it doesn’t matter what you ride, as long as you are stoked.

Any guesses which of these are EPS and which are PU? It’s impossible to tell at a distance. 

Release Your Spine – Advice from Physical Therapist Sofia Costa

10926393_10204781003818710_5984368933912640093_nSofia Costa joined Surf With Amigas on a retreat towards the end of 2014. She is a Dr. of physical therapy originally from Puerto Rico, now living and treating surfers in Santa Monica, CA.

Sofia has offered to provide some physical therapy content that Amigas can use to treat their bodies right in between surf sessions. See below for a little introduction and her first offering!

Life doesn’t hold still for us. If we don’t move with it,nlife is just going to pass us right by. Surfing teaches us to go with the flow smoothly, and live in the moment spontaneously to get the most out of the wave and out of life.” – Gerry Lopez


Surfing is an experience that allows you to co-exist with nature and with yourself!

As a Doctor of Physical Therapy, my mission is to create body awareness, mindfulness, and teach you exercises that are specific for you and for surfing. I have a great passion to give back to surfers; to aid with recovery and provide skills necessary to self-manage and prevent injury; and as a gain, you can experience the addicting “stoke” that keeps you going out for more.

Contact Sofia at [email protected] or follow her on Instagram @costasurfpt


How To Read Waves: Lesson 1 – Types of Breaks

The first thing a new surfer wants to learn (after they’ve learned the very basics of how to stand up on a wave) is how to “read” waves. We practice this in-person during surf sessions at our retreats, and while we wish there was a secret password to unlocking this mystery that we could easily share with you, it’s actually a complicated skill to learn which takes years to grasp and a lifetime to master.

When you think about it, reading waves is actually like predicting the future. You have to look at a lump of water and be able to anticipate what it’s going to look like in 5, 10, 15 seconds and then position yourself accordingly. Not an easy task! But, there are some shortcuts and tips that we can share to give you a jumpstart. This is the first lesson in our series, so read on to learn more about the different types of waves. If you want to get the full experience, join us on a retreat to have these features pointed out to you in person!

How do waves work?

Have you ever been watching surfers from beach thinking “man, they make that look so easy” or “why didn’t he go for that wave?” If you’ve never tried surfing it’s easy to think it looks like a paddle out, surf a wave cycle on repeat.  If you have surfed before, you are aware there is much more to surfing than that and 90% of your time in the ocean is spent either paddling (out, over, in, for a wave, to avoid a wave you don’t want) or sitting on your board studying the horizon looking for a wave to ride.

how waves break

To start with the very basics, here’s a graphic showing how waves work. Wind blows over the ocean surface pushing surface water up into waves. The wind-blown waves will travel on indefinitely until they encounter a shallow bottom surface, which slows down the bottom part of the wave, causing the top part of the wave to topple over and form a breaking wave.

The abruptness of the change in bottom contour affects the power of the breaking wave. Imagine yourself jogging. You trip over a speed bump and slightly topple over but are able to keep running. This is a wave encountering a gradually sloping bottom or very small sandbar or with a high tide. Now imagine you trip over a curb. Your fall will be more complete and harder. This is what happens at a medium tide. Finally, imagine tripping over a waist high wall – you would double over with force. This is what happens at low tide or when a wave hits a shallow reef sitting in deep water.

How fast you’re running will make a difference as well. So imagine the speed of your run to equal the strength of the swell, and the thing you trip over to be the ocean bottom contour, whether it’s rock, reef, or sand.

Being able to read waves is one of the most difficult skills to master in surfing. The way you approach waves changes from wave to wave, day to day, and surf break to surf break. Only time and experience can get you to know when you should paddle for a wave or skip it. There are many aspects to reading waves but starting with the very basics : knowing what kind of break you are surfing is step one to gaining the knowledge of wave reading. Ok, onto the different types of bottom contours…

three main types of breaks

boom peaks

1. Beach Breaks:

Beach breaks are waves breaking over a sandy bottom. They are usually the most consistent types of breaks – meaning there would be surf-able waves on most days – since little swell is needed for waves to break over the sandy bottom.

Here's a diagram of how a sandbar forms. Wave action pulls sand off the beach to form a bar.
Here’s a diagram of how a sandbar forms. Wave action pulls sand off the beach to form a bar.

Waves break on sandbars that form on the ocean floor due to currents and wave action. The sand bars can shift with different storm and swell patterns which means that waves don’t break in the same spot every time.

With all the water coming towards shore via waves, that water needs a way to get back out to sea. This is how riptides form.

sandbar with rip photo

In the photo above you can see a low tide beach scene. The sand bar is visible along with a break in the bar caused by the water heading back out to sea that pulls sand with it. Since the water is deeper over the break in the bar, waves will be less likely to break there.

A rip current is a great place to choose to paddle out. Not only is the current going to take you out to sea, you will also likely have fewer waves coming at you to have to duck-dive or turtle-roll. When sitting in the lineup looking for a wave to catch, you want to avoid sitting in a rip tide for the same reason : waves will be less likely to break there and those that do will usually be choppy from all the outrushing water. 

If it has been a long time since a swell or storm has broken up the sand bottom then the sand can settle and flatten which means that breaking waves will be more likely to close out – meaning to break all at once without any opportunity for a long ride.

Other factors such as piers, jetties, and storm drains may dictate what may happen to a sand bar and also where the rip tides form. Those factors can create a more consistent sand bar which is why you often see surfers crowding these areas.   

Beach breaks are great for learning because there is little to worry about in the way of obstacles such as rocks and reefs. Waves will be breaking in multiple places which helps spread out the crowd. Also the waves are usually consistent, giving beginners plenty of tries to get the hang of surfing and more advanced surfers plenty of waves to practice on.

Our Northern Nicaragua Retreats and Northern Costa Rica Retreats are all primarily held at beach breaks.

reef craziness2. Reef Breaks:

A reef break is a surf spot that has anything from smooth rock to razor sharp reef beneath the breaking waves. Since the reef doesn’t move around, these waves will break in generally the same spot and will be more predictable than a beach break.

Often times waves breaking over a reef have more power because when the swell energy approaches the reef, the abrupt change in bottom (material or depth) creates a more hollow wave. At lower tides reef breaks can be dangerous if the reef is shallow (note photo in the beginning of this section of dry rock visible very close to the surfer!).reef break

Reef breaks are more predictable than beach breaks. The takeoff spot rarely varies very much so you can study where the waves are breaking, look towards the beach, choose a lineup marker (palm tree, hotel, lifeguard tower etc.), and then paddle directly to “the spot” each time, knowing that when the waves come, you’ll be in a good spot to catch one. Reef breaks typically have a consistent channel allowing you to paddle out easily. Since the takeoff spot is so predictable, crowds can often be more of an issue at a reef break than they would be at a shifty beach break.

While the potentially sharp and hard bottom of a reef break makes these spots more suited to more advanced surfers, there are some user-friendly waves that do break over reef. If you are a beginner planning to tackle a reef break, it’s a good idea to have a friend or someone like Surf With Amigas point you in the right direction to help you find the channel and avoid getting stuck inside on the reef.

If you are used to surfing beach breaks reef breaks are a great way to switch it up. They will force you to be more aware of your surroundings (shallow bottoms, line ups on the beach) and often offer better wave shape with the potential for a longer ride so you can practice new maneuvers in your surfing and have more time to think about what you’re doing.

On our Rote Island, Indonesia Retreats you would have an opportunity to surf a variety of reef breaks. If you join us on a Northern Nicaragua Retreat and we have some swell, we’ll get a chance to surf a fun reef break as well.

3. Point Breaks:

Point breaks are the quintessential wave you see in a surfer’s notebook doodles. The longest waves in the world are point breaks. The most well formed points come off of peninsulas that jut out into the ocean or some other feature underwater causing sand to build up to form very very long waves. They can have rock, reef, sand bottoms or a combination of rock or reef and sand (the rock or reef would act to hold the sand in place). Swell energy bends and peels along the peninsulas forming long, sometimes “perfect” waves.

wave drawing

 The waves forming off these points break in the same direction, so they are either all breaking left or all breaking right. Like a reef break, the waves will typically begin breaking in the same spot and are therefore relatively easy to predict.

Point breaks are often times crowded due to their tight takeoff point and very long high quality rides. On a good day, riding a wave from the peak may turn into a slalom course with the surfer on the wave having to maneuver around surfers waiting for their own waves, paddling out, or trying to drop in. Unfortunately, point breaks are usually tucked alongside headlands that can block swell energy making them more fickle and require a larger swell than either reef breaks or beach breaks to make them work.

Pavones is the second longest left point break in the world and if you join us at one of our Southern Costa Rica Retreats you will have a chance to surf the zone! Our retreats in southern Morocco are at an incredibly long right point break- great for longboarding.

Surf Completely – A Yoga Sequence for Duck diving

If you want to work on your duck dive on dry land, here’s a short vinyasa sequence to activate the core and mimic the duck dive postures in order to strengthen the muscles and get the movements into muscle memory so that once you’re in the water it all feels natural.
Ieva Aldins, one of the yoga instructor at Surf With Amigas, describes and demonstrates a short flow to help improve your duck dive.