Point breaks are at the top of most surfer’s favourite waves list, they’re long, they’re fun and if you’re lucky you can paddle out with dry hair, what’s not to love?
But mastering the point break requires years of practice, honing your speed management, timing and manoeuvres. Master it and you can let go of endless carves and snaps, neglect your training and you’ll be left scratching your head as perfect waves peel away in front of you and you’re left in the white water.
If you want to learn how to surf point breaks like the best then carry on reading for the ultimate guide on how to surf point break waves.
The anatomy of point break waves
A point break will peel along a headland, beach or point running along the coast rather than breaking directly onto the beach. This means you can often ride point breaks for hundreds of metres and connect several turns.
Whether it’s your first time heading out to surf a point break or as an experienced shredder, knowing how a point break works is key to getting better at surfing them.
Point breaks can be separated into three categories based on the sea floor:
- Sand bottom
- Rock bottom
- Coral bottom
Rock and coral bottom points will generally be mechanical in nature, always producing the same reliable wave as long as the swell and winds play ball.
Sand-bottomed point breaks can shift and move as swells reform the ocean floor making for an ever-changing line-up that you can never truly predict.
Point breaks all have their own unique characteristics that make them special, get them dialled and you’ll be scoring peeling waves breaking for as far as the eye can see.
Snapper Rocks is easily one of the best-known point break waves in the world and the video below gives you a good idea of why:
The first key lesson here is understanding the difference between how a point break works in contrast to a traditional beach break.
While beach breaks are all about one or two moments of high-performance surfing, point break waves require you to connect several turns together into one flowing ride while matching the pace of the breaking wave.
While this sounds easy in practice the oceanography of the sea floor means that waves regularly change as they peel down a point break meaning you’ll need to master your wave knowledge and your ability to predict what an oncoming section will do well in advance.
Great surfing happens in the pocket of the wave, whether you’re surfing forehand or backhand staying in and around the pocket of a wave requires careful speed management, especially on point break waves.
If it’s your first time heading out at a point break I strongly recommend trying to surf the wave from the top of the point all the way to the bottom without performing any manoeuvres. You’ll develop a better understanding of how the wave breaks as it peels down the point and you’ll know exactly what to expect when you want to start engaging your rail for some carves.
Try to take note of any sections where the wave slows down (this is typically a great location for a turn or even a cutback if required) or speeds up (you’ll probably need to race these sections to ensure you don’t get caught behind the white water or perform a floater over a breaking section).
If you’re new to surfing and you’re unfamiliar with some of the terminology being used I strongly recommend heading over to our definitive guide to surf tricks and manoeuvres for a breakdown of how surfers talk about different turns on the wave.
Manoeuvre selection and timing
Great point breaks surfers like Mick Fanning and Stephanie Gilmore are as good as they are not just because they can predict what the waves going to do next, but because they can time their manoeuvres perfectly.
Understanding which turns to draw for at each section comes with time in the water and practice but you can get a head start by learning what the options are beforehand.
A section breaking in front of you
If you’re racing down the line and you can see a lip start to break ahead of you there are a few potential options to navigate around the white water and reach the open face.
- Highline to bottom turn – This should be your go-to if you can’t perform manoeuvres on the wave yet. As you see the white water approaching bring your board up to the top third of the wave face, just before your reach the breaking section push down on your front foot and angle your board down the wave. Use the acceleration you create to surf around the white water and back onto the unbroken face of the wave.
- Floater – If you’re confident in your ability to ‘float the boat’ then you can approach the section with a slight bottom turn and unweight yourself to slide across the lip of the wave, much like a skateboarder does a rail.
- Tail slide – If the breaking section ahead isn’t too wide you can approach it just like a forehand or backhand snap but rather than engaging your fins right away the aim is to keep your back foot unweighted and slide across the section before re-engaging as you reach the open face.
- Aerial (only for experienced surfers) – If you’ve got the skills and the bravery for it an aerial is a viable option to clear oncoming sections at a point break. If you need some inspiration look no further than the recent World Tour Event in Mexico below.
A section bending towards you
A section on a wave bending towards you is the dream for most surfers. You can push hard on your fins and really engage your rails to do your best surfing. Find a point break where you can do it on consecutive turns and you’ll be on cloud nine!
When you’re met with a chunky wall ahead of you and a perfect opportunity to do your best surfing what are you going to draw for?
- Down carve – You can increase the power and ferocity of your carves as your surfing progresses but the principle remains the same. Start with a deep bottom turn then aim for as close to the lip as you feel comfortable before rotating your hips back down toward the trough of the wave, all while keeping your rail engaged in one smooth motion.
- Snap – If the oncoming section is steep enough you can approach with a deep bottom turn before placing your board as close to 12 o’clock in the lip of the wave before redirecting your board back down to the bottom of the wave. Snaps look great on point break waves but maintaining your speed through snaps is a real art.
- Lay-back snap – The standard snaps gnarly older brother, much like the snap but this version requires you to lay back into the white water mid-snap before engaging your core to bring the board back under your feet and right yourself.
A section bending away from you
Sections that bend away from you normally mean the wave is slowing down which can offer some respite but they’re much harder to really engage your rails on.
If you’re met with a mellow section mid-wave you can opt for any of the following:
- Cutback – If you’re surfing at a point break you’ll likely need to perform a cutback at some point on the wave. This simply involves turning back to the power source of the wave to maintain your speed and flow as you surf down the line.
- Roundhouse cutback – The roundhouse cutback is a combination of a carve but rather than simply down carving, you continue through the whole arc of the carve before rebounding off the white water. Much harder than a traditional cutback but looks epic when you nail a good one.
Positioning and paddling
Now we’ve covered what to do on the face of the wave let’s take a quick look at how to navigate the lineup and some standard etiquette for surfing point break waves.
- Don’t paddle around people, if you’re waiting in line for the next wave, don’t paddle around people unless they’re clearly not continuing to the top of the point.
- Wait your turn, it’s polite and simple manners, if you’ve just caught a wave but find yourself in position simply look to the next surfer in line and give them a quick nod. You’ll be amazed how many surfers will repay the gesture.
- Don’t paddle out in the path of incoming surfers, if you’ve just caught a wave your main priority should be not interfering with anyone else’s ride even if it means a much longer paddle round.
- Be friendly, point breaks can get competitive so keep calm and always smile.
Paddle or walk?
Depending on how big the point break is it might be easier to catch a few waves and then walk back to the top of the point.
Chicama in Peru is a whopping two and a half miles of peeling left-hander, prompting many surfers to catch a few waves followed by a quick taxi drive to maximise their wave count in a single session.
Is surfing point breaks dangerous?
Yes, point breaks with a coral or rock bottom can be hazardous when entering and exiting the water and if you bail mid-wave. Coral cuts in particular can cause nasty infections if not treated correctly.
What is the difference between a point break and a beach break?
A point break wave will peel alongside a point, headland, or bay, sometimes for hundreds of meters as opposed to a beach break where swell arrives head-on before breaking and eventually dissipating on the shore.
Why do surfers like point breaks so much?
Point breaks offer the perfect opportunity to perform several manoeuvres on a long-running wave, the epitome of surfing.
What makes a good point break?
Great point breaks run for long distances and offer consistent sections to perform a variety of tricks and manoeuvres.