How To Get Barreled – A Surfing Tutorial

November 11, 2015


Getting barreled is THE most awesome experience on planet Earth.

Encapsulated by a wave, as it spins and pitches, finding safety amidst a wave big enough, and dredging enough, to break upon itself with might.  A wave that will definitely wipe you out should you make one false move.  And the view!  The most amazing blues and greens, and sandy browns, everything moving at once yet everything standing still.  Mesmerized by the light at the end of the tunnel, the sound, the feeling.  Time stands still in this transcendental state.

I don’t want to get all spiritual on you, but getting barreled is completely awe inspiring!  Only a surfer knows the feeling.  And since you’re reading this far, it’s because either #1 you know what I’m talking about from first-hand experience or #2 you’re ready to start getting shacked.  

Read on!  This article was written to educate you with everything you need to know so you  can start pulling into barrels and join this exclusive club.


Choose the Right Surfboard for Getting Tubed

Here’s a little secret for all of the longboarders out there: it’s much easier to get barreled on a shortboard.

While you can get barreled on a longboard, finding barrels on a longboard is generally more challenging, and riding a longboard in the tube is often difficult to control.  A shortboard requires less physical space and fits easier within the small confines of a barrel.  It is easier to adjust direction and speed on a shortboard.  These responsive characteristics are very important when negotiating a barreling wave.

You don’t need to ride a standard shortboard thruster to get barreled.  Fish tails or similar style boards with  wider templates are not as ideal, but these boards are responsive enough to handle head-high to overhead barreling conditions.  The bigger the surfboard, the harder it is to make adjustments while traveling in the barrel, and a bigger surfboard can  be more hazardous causing injury when wiping out inside the tube.

Surfboards with 3 or 4 fins are generally the best fin setups for getting barreled.  Single fin surfboards are the least desirable for getting shacked, while twin fin setups may or may not work depending on fin location.  For any surfboard, the closer the fins are located to the rails of the surfboard, the better this surfboard will perform in steep, barreling waves.


Find That Perfect Line

The hardest part about learning how to get barreled is learning how to judge a breaking wave.  Wave judgement takes time.  The more you surf, the better you will get at judging how waves break, and the easier it will become to position yourself accordingly.

Having said that, for head-high to overhead waves, the most critical component to mastering the tube ride is finding the appropriate line to take on a barreling wave.  If you are too high up on the face of the wave you will lose speed and control and likely get pitched over the falls.  If you’re too low on the face of the wave, the lip will crash on your head.  Neither scenario gets you shacked.  Your goal is to find that perfect line in the middle, choosing a path that places you close enough to the wave to duck under the lip while still maintaining your speed and control.


Learn How To Stall Your Surfboard

By stalling your board, you are allowing for the barreling section of the wave to catch up to you.  The easiest way to stall your board is to apply extra pressure to your rear foot, which pushes down on the tail of your surfboard and diminishes your speed.  Another option is to drag your hand (or both!) in the face of the wave to slow you down.  When pulling into a backside barrel, holding your outside rail will slow you down and keep your board from sliding down the face of the wave.  A more difficult approach would be to do a big bottom turn and then a slight snap under the lip, downshifting yourself into position.

Regardless of how you stall your board, it should be mentioned that it’s harder to pump for speed once you have stalled and are inside of the barrel.  An alternative to stalling your board is to practice taking off behind the peak.  Also called “backdooring a wave”, taking off behind the peak is more challenging because the wave is steeper, but doing this allows you to drop immediately into the barreling section of the wave, so you can focus on maintaining your speed and finding that perfect line.


Bend At the Knees, Not At the Hips

Constantly focus on bending your knees when you surf.  Not your hips.  Bending your knees in the tube allows you to remain upright and in control.  Bending at the hips looks dorky, feels dorky, and does not help your surfing.  Once your knees are bent, it is important to square your shoulders to face the exit of the barrel, as opposed to facing in towards the shore or out towards the ocean.


Keep Your Eyes Open and Be Confident

You are a surfing machine and you’re about to get fully pitted, so don’t blow it by closing your eyes!  This is a common novice mistake. Closing your eyes isn’t going to make it hurt any less when you fall and doing this will remove any chance of actually making it out of the barrel.  Most importantly, you’ll miss the most amazing view ever!  

You should be confident in your basic surfing abilities and comfortable falling away from your surfboard.  You are going to get worked many times before you start making it out of your barrels.  Frontside barrels are generally safer as your surfboard continues to follow your path after you fall inside the tube.  Backside barrels are trickier and more dangerous, as when you fall, the surfboard can get sucked up over the falls behind/above you and hit your head or body.  Be confident yet cautious when pulling into any barrel, especially when surfing backside. When falling, especially in a backside tube, it is always a good idea to cover your head to prevent getting hit by your board.



Commit To Getting Barreled Until the Very End

So you’ve figured out how to drop in on a steep wave, find that perfect line, bend at the knees, and you’re doing all of this while keeping your eyes open.  Don’t give up until it’s over!  When you pull into a barrel, do so with the plan that you’re going to make it out.  Relax and commit to that barrel until you get whacked, or if you’re lucky, until you make it out.  Don’t eject prematurely!  What might look like the end could open up and turn into the deepest tube of your life.


Surf As Many Barreling Waves As Possible

Getting barreled is the Holy Grail of surfing, yet barrels can be found frequently if you know where to look.  Pulling into closeout waves is a great way to practice getting barreled.  River Mouths, reef breaks, or other surf spots where the ocean depth changes dramatically from deep to shallow can produce quality barrels.  Surfing during offshore wind conditions can also increase your barrel count.  Taking the time to study the waves where you surf will give you the most insight as to why they are barreling and will allow you to prepare to get the most tubes.

Going on a surf trip is another great way to get more barrels.  The northwest province of Guanacaste, Costa Rica is an ideal barrel destination because there are multiple river mouths, beachbreaks and reef breaks that provide consistent barreling waves for intermediate to advanced surfers.  Northwest Costa Rica also receives consistent offshore winds over half of the year, another optimum condition for getting shacked!



While there will always be exceptions to these rules, if you stick with this basic formula you might just become the next barrel guru.

  1. Choose the right surfboard for getting tubed.
  2. Find that perfect line.
  3. Learn how to stall your surfboard.
  4. Bend at the knees, not at the hips.
  5. Keep your eyes open and be confident.
  6. Commit to getting barreled until the very end.
  7. Surf as many barreling waves as possible.

I’d love to hear your feedback.  Have these techniques worked for you?  Do you have any other suggestions?  Let me know by commenting below or on Facebook.  And if you found this article helpful, please share it!

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