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How to Get Barreled

   August 13th, 2020   Posted In: How-To   Tags:

How to Get Barreled: A Guide to Getting Tubular

Have you surfed for some time now and catch yourself from time to time dreaming of the perfect barrel ride? If you surf, you’ve most likely witnessed legendary surfers like Rob Machado or Kelly Slater disappear into heavy waves before shooting out the back door at G-Land Indonesia or Bonzai Pipeline. But staying inside the barrel and beating the closeout isn’t as easy as the pros make it look. It may take years of practice to master. You will need to be in shape and have practiced your breathwork before riding barrels like a champion.

If you’ve already learned the surfing basics like paddling, duck-diving, and riding the line, but have yet to experience the full-on rush of getting barreled or “pitted” in the wave, read ahead to learn the surfing techniques on how to get barreled.

Are You Equipped?

Surfers who live in warm or cold climates know that when the waves pick up for barreling conditions, the air and water temperatures may also drop. That’s why if you wish to stay out longer practicing the perfect barrel ride, you’ll need a reliable and flexible wetsuit.

Before you paddle out on a day of perfect, misty barrel conditions, make sure you have:

1. A comfortably fitted wetsuit.

2. A surfboard that can hold your body weight/riding style.

3. A foot leash so you don’t have to risk chasing your board around the lineup.

The right gear for the water is a must, and without the essentials, it may become difficult to live out your pipe dreams.

how to get barreled

What’s the Best Place on the Wave to Set up for a Barrel?

Nothing is more exhilarating than pulling into a barrel and holding your ground while the miracle of motion passes around you. Even wiping out inside a barrel closeout is fun… As long as there’s no shallow reef bottom. Ultimately, getting in-and-out of the barrel like you’re in a bank heist is what makes for great footage and style points. But where is the best place to set up for a barrel on the wave? Well, it depends.


Longboarders have an advantage when it comes to getting barreled, as waves are easier to catch further away from the shallows. In turn, longboarders have an extended period for set up and stance adjustment when harnessing a wave.


If you’re surfing on a shortboard, taking off at the peak of the wave and dropping-in as it begins to curl is the sweet spot. Taking off on the peak gives you sufficient speed right from the start. It also allows for better positioning as the wave crests over you. This sweet spot is mostly sought after by the more experienced surfer with an aggressive style. You must have and maintain confidence when dropping in as the wave fully arches.


Novice and experienced surfers can even take off late after the barrel has already formed and is breaking. Timing for setting up is decreased and there’s no room for error if the wave break is speedy. Also, your pop-up must be sufficient and speedy. But if you’re not experienced enough and still learning, try paddling ahead of the break at a slightly paralleled angle. Get a feel for the wave’s rate of speed before standing or kneeling within the barrel.

If it’s your first time surfing pipeline conditions, consider catching a few tubes on your stomach at first. Learn to feel the wave before getting sucked up and tossed over the falls. Practicing on a bodyboard is a safer and more practical way to read a wave’s flow.

Which Way Do I Stand in a Barrel?

Whether you hold a goofy-footed or regular stance when riding the wave, it’s easier to get barreled with the front of your body against the wave’s face. It’s easier this way because you have more control and maneuverability to pump and work the wave. Plus, you have an enhanced visual of the crest breaking above you. Also, if you fall, you can dive into the wave or over it, instead of the wave pushing your back toward the white-water break… which will carry you further to shore resulting in a long paddle back out.

This isn’t to say you can’t pull-in on a barrel in a backside stance with your back against the wave. It depends on whether the waves are breaking to your left, right, or both with a solid A-frame. Whatever the conditions are the day you surf result in your wave stance. Choose whatever you’re most comfortable with, but it’s recommended to face the wave (if possible) when getting barreled.

You’re in the Barrel, Now What?

Like the human fingerprint, all waves are different. If the conditions are just right, which tends to be in the early morning hours when the ocean is glassy, you can catch a barrel and ride it until the end without the wave breaking ahead of you. This is a rare occasion and the bottom condition along with the weather must make a perfect match. Once in the barrel, all you have to do is maintain your balance and speed. You can do this by shifting your weight forward and backward while timing the break of the barrel.

Easy, right? Well, there’s more to it than shifting your weight for speed. Your stance must remain sturdy but flexible. It helps to squat slightly while dragging your hand in the wave to assist in speed control, and depending on wave height, if the waves are waist to chest-high, you can drop a knee and grab the rail of your board with the opposite hand to enhance balance to ride out the barrel.

Working Your Way Out of the Barrel

Time inside the barrel depends on a variety of factors depending on your skill level and the wave conditions. It’s best to shoot for early morning surf sessions for barrel riding because most beach breaks endure heavy afternoon winds that bring choppy conditions or flattens a wave’s shape. This isn’t always the case, however, and it all depends on the sand or reef bottom where you’re surfing.

Glassy waves make for better stability and a speedier exit, but the best way to work your way out of the barrel is to never get too deep, maintain a shoulder-width to a wide stance with slightly bended knees and lean your upper torso forward or backward to adjust speed. With minor footwork and light pumps of your front foot, you can alter your position within the barrel.

In most cases, the way the wave breaks is out of your control and closeouts will happen often. Should you fall in the barrel, it’s best to dive into the wave while separating yourself away from your board. This enables you to avoid injury as well as a long paddle if you get taken back toward shore in the white water. But when the conditions are right, and you’ve caught enough waves to read the break and flow, getting through the barrel before the closure is like seeing the light at the end of the tunnel in a near-death-experience.

There’s no feeling comparable to breaking free from a hungry wave that’s trying to swallow you whole. It’s an accomplished feat that takes time or in some cases luck. With practice, tube riding on a big day is what truly separates the novice surfer from the intermediate to professional level.

Now you know how to get barreled!

Patrick Thomas is a Coast Guard veteran who grew up surfing and fishing in southwest Florida. Having lived in Puerto Rico and the Outer Banks, NC, he now works as a full-time photographer and author in Austin, TX. More of his work and photography is available at pkthomas.com.

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