How to Develop Your Barrel-Riding Game (and the Waves That Will Take You There)

Matt Rode

by on

Updated 43d ago

So, you want to take your surfing to the next level and start riding the barrel, but don’t know where to start? Or maybe you are intimidated by the thought of pulling in? Either way, this is completely normal.

After all, pulling into the heaviest, most dangerous part of a barreling wave (which is by definition heavier and more dangerous than most other waves) and knowing that you are most likely going to get drilled is completely contrary to our normal survival instinct, but there’s nothing else in the world like riding the tube.

Once you are ready to start pulling in, here are a few tips to get you started; from getting pounded in the shorey, all the way to charging Chopes.

FIND A SHOREBREAK

Not only is body whomping in a shorey a hell of a lot of fun, it's also educational on your journey to mastering the barrel ride!

Not only is body whomping in a shorey a hell of a lot of fun, it's also educational on your journey to mastering the barrel ride!

© 2022 - Ryder Greyshock

The best way to become comfortable in the tube (and learn how to get blasted without getting injured) is by bodysurfing. You might not be standing tall in the tube (or coming out, for that matter), but a few months of whomping will teach you more than years of hunting barrels on a surfboard.

Ultimately you might want to test yourself against notorious shorebreaks like Sandy’s, the Wedge, Ke Iki, and Waimea, but for now just find the hollowest beach break/shorey near to where you live, strap on a pair of fins, and get acquainted with the tube.

GET A SOFT-TOP SHORTBOARD AND START PACKING CLOSEOUTS

Sometimes, you gotta pay to play.

Sometimes, you gotta pay to play.

© 2022 - Jeremiah Klein

The more barrels you can pull into at the beginning, the faster you will learn how to set your rail and travel through the tube. Find a closed-out stretch of sand that no one else bothers with and pack tubes on an unbreakable board until you feel comfortable making late drops and scooping into the pit. It might seem silly, but this will help you not waste waves when you finally start chasing makeable barrels.

TRAVEL TO A REEF PASS

Behind the barrel. Just as photogenic as being inside it.

Behind the barrel. Just as photogenic as being inside it.

© 2022 - Jeremiah Klein

While it might seem counterintuitive to learn how to ride the barrel over reef (as opposed to much more forgiving sand), the reality is that beach breaks are tricky and unpredictable, whereas a good reef pass breaks the same every wave. A reliable, predictable barrel will give you the most opportunity to learn, so seek out a reef break that barrels but that also has a roll-in, or at the very least a manageable entry.

Spots like Nias and HTs might break over shallow reef, but they are also perfect and relatively easy to get into. For the goofyfoots, try Macaronis or even small Teahupoo (in the overhead+ range, before it levels up into a backless double overhead beast). A machine-like reef pass barrel with a relatively doable entry in a manageable size is the fastest way to refine your barrel skills.

EXPLORE YOUR BACKHAND

Remi Arauzo at home in Hossegor.

Remi Arauzo at home in Hossegor.

© 2022 - Damian Davila

Once your forehand barrel riding is starting to see some improvement, go find another perfect reef pass that breaks the other way. Spend some time refining your pig dog, and then you are ready to go hunting.

LEARN TO READ THE WORLD-CLASS BEACHBREAKS

Puerto Escondido at a slightly more manageable size.

Puerto Escondido at a slightly more manageable size.

© 2022 - Damian Davila

Barrels that break over sand are fickler and more difficult to make, but when you do score a good one, it is worth a lot more than your dime-a-dozen reef pass tube. Once you have your barrel game refined, start putting your time in at world-class beach breaks like Hossegor, Playa Colorado (Nicaragua), and even small Puerto Escondido. As you become more comfortable in shifting beach breaks, not only will your barrel game improve, but your ability to read waves in general will develop.

FOCUS ON THE LONG GAME

Mundaka's wave dispenser.

Mundaka's wave dispenser.

© 2022 - Michal Pelka

Now that you are a proficient barrel rider, it’s time to start seeking out longer tubes—like in the 5 to 15 second range. These often come at a price—they are far from home, hard to surf, and often pretty heavy and dangerous. But the cost is more than worth it. Desert Point, Restaurants, Mundaka, Rags Right, and of course Skeleton Bay can all deliver barrels over 10 seconds—and going double digits is pretty much the holy grail of tube riding.

BIGGER IS BETTER

When you've mastered all of the above, how about a crack at XXL Jaws? Then again, maybe leave that to Kai Lenny, here.

When you've mastered all of the above, how about a crack at XXL Jaws? Then again, maybe leave that to Kai Lenny, here.

© 2022 - David Ingalls

Finally, when your skills are fully developed—and if you actually have the desire—it’s time to start seeking out bigger, heavier tubes. The consequences increase exponentially as tubes get bigger, but so does the trill. Pipe, big Teahupoo, big Nias, huge Puerto, XL Cloudbreak and XXL Jaws are all considered the upper limit of big wave barrel riding. If you are ready and willing, the biggest barrel of your life is out there waiting for you.