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Tube Riding: the Definitive Guide to the Holy Grail of Surfing

by Octavia Drughi

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Getting barreled is the Holy Grail of surfing, that perfect moment when you are riding under the curling lip of the wave. Being inside the whimsical tunneling area created by a wave about to break, also referred to as tube riding or getting shacked, is on top of any surfer’s bucket list.

The feeling of getting barreled can hardly be explained in words. However, all surfers will agree when I say that being inside the curl of a wave is the best place in the world to be. This is partly because it is such an elusive surfing maneuver, which depends on a great deal of variables.

Tube riding is hard – you must be in the right place at the right time, and it takes experience to learn to tell which wave to catch and the position you should be in. It all pays off eventually, when you finally see the lip of the wave folding over your head, getting fully covered and then spit out. It is an endless search – you either find your barrel or you continue to look for it. And once you do get barreled, you will definitely want more.

To help you set out on your journey for the perfect barrel, here are the ins and outs of tube riding:


Build confidence



Getting barreled - Photo credit SurferToday.com

More than anything else, you need to find the mental strength to take off on a critical wave. There are surfers out there whose talent and experience are not impressive, but who truly shine when chasing barrels. That’s because they’re confident.

The mindset is just as important as the ride itself. You must believe you can make it out the tube. Otherwise, you are sabotaging yourself. Also, keep your eyes open. Many novices tend to close their eyes when inside the barrel. This does absolutely nothing to help – it does not save you from a wipeout – and makes you look silly too. After all, tube riding is all about the view – those amazing shades of blue and emerald-green surrounding you, the light at the end of the tunnel, the eye candy. Why would you ever want to miss that?


Pick the right board



Photo by Roland Pernter

The bigger the surfboard, the harder it will be to make adjustments while riding the barrel. It’s much easier to get barreled on a shortboard. Three to four fins are the best fin setup. The closer the fins are to the rails, the better the board will perform in steep, barreling waves. Also, a rounded tail helps get a bit more drive. For the average surfer, a regular shortboard with a rounded tail should do the job, like the custom surfboards by McCloud Surfboards.


Be patient



Photo by Trevor Moran

To become a better tube rider, you must learn to wait. Rhythm and timing are key. Being able to recognize the right takeoff point and position on the wave is something that comes with experience and practice studying various waves. With time, you will be able to read the wave and anticipate what it is going to do.


Find your line



Tube riding - Photo by Ben Thouard

Finding the right line is the most critical aspect of riding a barrel. It’s also the trickiest. Staying too high on the face of the wave will make you lose speed and control. Being too low will probably have the lip crashing on your head. Therefore, you have to find the perfect line somewhere in the middle, where you are able to duck just as the lip of the wave is ready to touch your head.





Stephanie Gilmore getting barreled - Photo by Morgan Maassen

Patience is a virtue, especially when getting barreled. Learning to stall on your board allows the wave to catch up with you. You don’t want to be too slow, but not too fast either. Apply pressure on your rear foot, which will push down the tail of your surfboard, slowing you down. You can also drag your hand in the face of the wave to slow down.

But wait, there’s more to it! Once you’re in, you will want to take full advantage of the barrel. This means you must keep on reading the wave. You will probably need to adjust your line or pump to gain speed, just like you would on an open face. The only difference is that you have to pump only with your legs, keeping the upper part of your body still in order to avoid being clipped by the wave. Keep your stance solid and strong at all times.



Photo by Duncan Rawlinson

Some people get out too soon, but you should try to hold your position for as long as possible. Commit to the barrel and, when you feel it might be closing in, wait a little longer – the wave might open up again. Even if the foam ball is on your tail, you might still be able to navigate the tube. Making it out of a barrel you thought was going to close out on you is a feeling like no other and guarantees some clapping hands and cheering from the shore.



Getting out



Kelly Slater getting barreled

Getting in is easier than getting out. And it would be such a shame to ride a long, perfect tube only to get wipeout at the end. Coming out is tricky indeed, so keep your eyes on the exit and be prepared to do a slide-slip (release the fins from the water and slide down the face of the wave) when the foam of the wave is nearing.

Frontside barrels are generally safer – the surfboard tends to follow your path after you fall. Backside barrels are a bit more dangerous – after you fall, your board might get sucked by the current and hit you on the head. When falling inside a backside barrel, it’s always a good idea to cover your head with your hands.


Choose the right place




The best waves in the world to get barreled are:

  • Skeleton Bay, Namibia – a left hand break with a sandy bottom;
  • Puerto Escondido, Mexico – an A-frame beach break that’s always hollow;
  • Macaroni’s, Lance’s, Greenbush, Telescopes, Mentawai Islands, Indonesia – A-frame reef breaks;
  • Cloudbreak, Fiji – a left hand reef break;
  • Jeffreys Bay, South Africa – a long and perfect right hand point break;
  • Bingin, Uluwatu, Padang Padang, Dreamland, Bali, Indonesia – right and left hand beach and reef breaks, fast, shallow and hollow;
  • Cloud 9, Philippines – a fast and short A-frame reef break.



Practice, practice, practice!



Getting barreled - Photot by Bryce Bradford

Tube riding is usually possible on big, fast, hollow waves. Reef breaks, rivermouths and offshore winds typically produce great barrels. But if you wish to learn how to get barreled, small closeout beach breaks are the place to start practicing.  Don’t paddle at some gnarly reef break, you’ll only get drilled and discouraged.



Of course, watching videos is always a good idea if you wish to improve your surfing. Watch the world’s best surfers riding some crazy barrels and try to replicate their movements and strategies.


Would you like to try your hand at some barrels? Then it’s high time you traveled to the world’s most famous waves. Go to BookSurfCamps.com and choose your next wave surfing destination.

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