Catching waves in a crowd – sitting on the main peak

Is sitting on the main peak the best way to catch a lot of waves in a crowd?

It depends. on how good and how popular you are.

catching lots of waves in a crowd diagram

This page is for Zone 1 – Catching waves right off the main peak.

To see my complete guide to catching lots of waves in crowded surf and these other zones, click here.

Zone 1 – Catching waves from the main peak

Unless you are a surfer with outlying surfing skills, sitting smack dab in the middle of the crowd is usually not the best strategy for catching a lot of waves. Other factors include how many people you know in the line up – or at least “sort of” know.

It’s pretty safe to say that unless God gave you a little extra when he was handing out surfing skills – you will probably catch more waves if you sit in alternative zones in a crowded line up.

Catching waves on a crowded main peak requires “visible” high levels of surfing skills

Poor and average surfers have a few things in common. If you are one of them and you make a failed attempt to command the best set waves, you will be pegged as a kook right away.

Am I saying those that have less than superior surf skills are kooks?

Of course not.

I’m not a dick like that.

But many good surfers will. It’s just how people think.

What do I mean by failed attempts?

  1. Falling.
  2. Riding straight once you catch a wave.
  3. Claiming waves and then missing them.
  4. Paddling the wrong way when chasing down a wave.
  5. Jumping off the wave instead of grabbing an epic barrel (barrel dodging, lol).
  6. Etc.

I’m not judging you – I often do many of these things as I don’t rip.

Shoot, there are ways that you will be marked before you even paddle for a wave.

Do you wear reef booties in warm water?

Do you surf n obviously high volume board?

Do you surf an average of less than 4 days a week?

Do you vigorously protect yourself from the sun?

You WILL be pegged right away – and I mean quickly – way before you have the chance to score.

A frustrated and frothing crowded mob of skilled surfers will not give you much of a chance and they will make up their mind super fast. Set waves are a valuable commodity and the market efficiency of any highly-skilled surf crowd will gallop you right out of the picture, Barney.

See what I did there?

Catching Waves on the main peak of a crowded surf spot requires that you know the regulars

Paddle out with me at my “home break” in Honolulu and I can name 35 out of the 40 surfers sitting in the line up at the main peak. I know about 100 surfers at this spot by name. All this and I still seldom choose to sit on the main peak – because:

  1. I’m not all that skilled
  2. I like to catch a lot of waves when I surf.

Do you have this kind of familiarity at any of the break you surf regularly? If not, and if you want to line up in the main peak area – make it a point to get to know everyone. Here’s how:

  1. Surf the same spot all of the time
  2. Surf at the same time and on the same days of the week as a routine
  3. Smile at and shaka other surfers once in a while – it’s not a sign of weakness
  4. Ask others what they think about the waves today – and listen to what they say
  5. Be positive, and say things to other surfers like “at least we are getting wet today – beats going to the gym”

If I’m on a surf trip, I make it a point to get to know people surfing in the area with similar small talk. If I see surfers outside of the water – like at a taco stand or whatever, I’ll engage with them.

Even if you never see these people again, it pays off in wave count to be friendly. There is a basic human empathy reflex (that most of us have) where we put ourselves in others’ situations and can feel bad for them, even if we don’t know them. When you develop a connection with someone, it’s only natural that you end up cooperating instead of competing. This will not be true all of the time and with everyone, of course. Much of it has to do with individualism (there are lots of selfish assholes on the planet) and with moods (we all get hangry sometimes).

You might be thinking at this point, “dude, I came here because I wanted to catch a lot more waves in a crowded line up – and all you are doing is telling me to talk to people and that I’m probably not good enough to catch waves off of the main peak”.

OK, OK, if you want to catch waves in this crowded zone, read on. If you want to catch a lot of waves but you don’t know everyone and you are not an above average surfer, then click here to go back to the directory of surfing in different zones in the line up and find one this is more appropriate for you. There are other places to sit besides the main peak, you know.

But lets now discuss the basics of catching lots of waves in the crowded main peak (zone 1 in the illustration below).

catching lots of waves in a crowd diagram

Catching lots of waves on the main peak

If you want to sit right in the middle of the peak, the competition will be relentless and unless you have a giant skill advantage (or size advantage), it’s not likely you will catch too many waves here.

Let’s think this through. A set comes in at a right handed point break. There will be surfers converging from both sides of you, and inside and outside of you, to catch each wave. The surfers outside of you will take advantage of this position and squeeze you deeper until you are (hopefully, in their minds) too deep/inside (the drop will be too late to make and then recover to get down the line). You will need to block them from doing this and at the same time do this to those that are inside of you and deeper on the peak.

Meanwhile, the guy to the left of you will be holding his ground, and the guy to the right of you will be squeezing you deeper.

When the waves starts to break, there will be one or more surfers deeper than you either going or threatening to go. You will have to go anyway and cover them if you want waves from this spot. There will be surfers to the right of you covering you as well – and perhaps not even kicking out if you make it – depending on your skill, how tough you look, and how popular you are. Surfers inside of you will be blocking you as you take off, and surfers outside of you will be running you over.

Not good.

So what’s the best thing to do here?

One strategy is to ignore trying for the first wave and paddle “deep and outside” instead. The idea here is to get a running start on position for the next wave. If the next wave is (hopefully) bigger and breaks further out, it’s possible that you will be in a spot where only a few other surfers that have a chance to make this wave.

Now you’ve got a decent chance of getting a good one.

The bulk of the crowd will be too far inside, and the turbulence from the first wave will make catching it much more difficult for those on the inside shoulder. Your job now is to paddle aggressively for the best spot, ignoring the other surfers in a way that claims the wave.

So there’s your angle. Ignore the first wave or two and position yourself deep and outside for what might hopefully be a macking 2nd, 3rd, or 4th wave. Some swells are just total magic – with several waves in each set stacking out further and further.

With this strategy, when it’s mack-a-roni, you’ll be ready.

Of course this strategy doesn’t always work for several obvious reasons, especially on slow and inconsistent days. A variation to this strategy is to paddle deep and to the inside, hoping for a weaker 2nd and 3rd waves. This will take strong legs as you will often be taking off in the foam.

I don’t know what else you can do for waves from the peak at crowded spots – other than tattoo prison tags all over your neck and face.

There’s about 4 sub-zones here to discuss (see the green stars in the image).

Catching waves from the main peak – but wide

This is perhaps the safest place to sit and this spot also perhaps gives you the best odds of catching waves off of an overly crowded main peak.

First of all, when giant clean-up sets come in, you’ve got a pretty good chance of shoulder hopping a vacant wave. The “old guys” (I’m one of them – though I seldom surf out there), are not always committed, especially on bigger days. Surfers who sit on the very outside are not often the quickest to react, the most athletic, or the most limber.

Before I go further on this subject, let’s be respectful here. Many of these surfers have been surfing this spot 5 days a week for the last 50 years. Their surfing days are becoming numbered. In Hawaii, it’s especially rude to “cover uncle” – that is – to even make like you are going to go on a senior surfer who waits patiently every day for years and years.

I personally was humiliated and run off one day at a notoriously localized break on Oahu’s West Side just for corking my short board just in case “uncle” didn’t make the first section. I didn’t even go and I was practically crucified. In California it might be more accepted for a short-boarder to even totally drop in and then immediately kick out – but not everywhere – especially in Hawaii where the waves tend to be shorter and more explosive.

But with that said, there are plenty of waves where “uncle” is not going to go or not going to make it. Be polite, but be ready. This is a scenario where you can score some pretty epic waves.

Another nice thing about surfing wide is that it’s generally easier and a LOT safer. Plus, depending on the spot, some sets will swing wide and close out on the center of the peak. This will pinch off the main crowd and not present an opportunity for the outside group.

The better you are, and the more people you know the more towards the middle you can surf. But if these factors do not align, you really should perhaps move out of the middle and far into zone 5.

Catching waves on the main peak – but deep

If you don’t know people, sitting a bit deep on the main peak can be very stressful.

There will be surfers taking off in front of you and surfers on the inside in the way. The wave might be critical and you will be “late” to make the drop and the first section of the wave. It really takes a lot of confidence and competence to be successful in catching waves from this spot. Be ready to call other surfers off of your wave and be ready for lots of conflicts with other surfers.

One weekend day, at my home break on the south shore of Oahu, there was a bombing south swell with overhead to double overhead sets. There was a Caucasian surfer riding a longboard who was obviously on vacation, and he was a VERY good surfer. He was sitting deep.

With every wave, he had locals in front of him. It’s not that they were intentionally being mean to him, it was just a crowded and epic day, they didn’t know him, so they didn’t “trust” that he would make the super deep and critical waves for which he was lining up. It’s not like it’s easy for a local to catch a great wave off of the peak in Honolulu either, so they were not going to risk being polite and missing a “wave of the year” type situation.

The locals at this spot surf 5-7 days a week and they have BBQs, Christmas parties, several websites, and even an annual golf tournament (for charity). It’s a tight group.

The “mayor” of the group took note that this guy was a really good surfer, so he mentioned to him politely, “since no one knows you, you might have to claim a wave verbally to assure them that you will go”. He said it so many others could hear him, but unfortunately not everyone heard him.

A bombing set came in and this ripping longboard guy from the mainland takes off, verbally claiming the wave and calling off one of the older fixtures at the spot. A young local guy saw this and he REALLY laid into him, threatening him with violence, etc. “you don’t call off uncle, you donkey”, he said, among other things. The ripping visitor ended up having to paddle away to a different spot.

I wanted to tell the young local guy that “the mayor” just told him to claim a wave or two, but also being Caucasian, and not knowing the weekender local guy (I mostly surf on weekdays), I regretfully didn’t want to make it look like a racial thing. It just wouldn’t have worked out if I had tried to help.

“Cool story bro”, I know, but my point is that you need to be awesome and you need to know people if you expect to catch a lot of waves while sitting deep on the main peak. That and you can expect a lot of conflict with other surfers when you choose to line up here. There’s no real edge here that I can see to exploit.

Catching waves off the main peak, but outside or inside

Speaking of no edge, how is surfing here going to work if you want to catch a lot of waves in crowded surf? If you are sitting on the main peak, but just a bit deep, you will be in the right spot for medium-large set waves. The same waves that nearly everyone on the peak will be after, including some of those those sitting on the outside. Those guys and girls out there tend to surf extra volume as they get older. While I don’t blame them, it still creates an advantage. Believe me, old people can paddle! And they will paddle, despite paying for it later that day with shoulder and back pains.

Surfing slightly on the inside could work, but you want to leave enough room to have time to get away from dangerous boards flying at you. The problem is never usually just one surfer – it’s when 3 or 4 surfers are interacting as they all are going for it. Not a good spot to hang out. If you were going to surf on the inside as an edge to catch a lot of waves in a crowd, I would suggest going way inside instead of slightly inside.

I would want to be 10 or even 20 yards inside, well into zone 2 instead.

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