The green room. The tube. The tunnel. The barrel. The pit. The cavern. Slotted. Shacked. Call it what you want to call it, getting barrelled is the holy grail of surfing.
The barrel is the favourite ‘manoeuvre’ of all surfers, regardless of level and ability. Whether it’s one of the Ticket to Ride team dipping their head into a Indonesian mini tube or Kelly Slater getting a thick Tahitian tube of death, the stoke level is the same.
If you’re reading this you probably want to get barrelled so here are the three crucial things you will need to get your tube fix:
You can get tubed on any surfboard, so no excuses here. Yes there are different boards for different types of waves, and as a generalisation a pin or rounded pin will have more control in the barrel, but it’s still possible to get barrelled on the board you learnt on.
Whether it’s a beach break, reef break, shore break, point break, reef pass, the type of wave doesn’t matter, only that it is barrelling. Some waves are much easier to get barrelled on than others, and a slightly overhead wave would be your optimum size. Any bigger and you will probably lose the all important courage to ‘pull in’ and any smaller, it will be very hard to squeeze into the tube.
Courage and commitment to go for the barrel is the most defining point of difference in how long it will take in your surfing career to get shacked and then how shacked you will get in the rest of your surfing life.
To get barrelled for the first time I strongly recommend you find a wave that barrels consistently in the same place, so that you can practice it, but they aren’t always easy to find. They are usually found in popular places like Indonesia, where the swell hits the reef at the same place, every time, creating a mechanical wave. Or the beaches of SW France, where the sand banks act how an Indonesian reef would, so the swell that has traveled a long distance over the ocean, gathers speed and power then hits the sand bank, and essentially the wave folds over itself creating the barrel. What you are looking for is a part of the wave that looks like it will get really steep, and then set it up and hope for the best.
There are also three different approaches to getting shacked, be it forehand or backhand, they are either; backdooring, stalling, or dropping straight in there.
Setting up to backdoor the barrel is the easier of the two options, but requires full commitment. Your takeoff should be quick, you will need to eye out the section that is going to barrel and come from behind it as it barrels over you. To set up a backdoor barrel you can paddle yourself ‘deeper’ on the peak, so that you ride into the peak from behind the peak and get barrelled straight away.
To stall for the shack you want to slow down enough to be right in the pocket of the wave, right when the wave barrels, so timing is critical. To slow down you can put your hand in the face of the wave but if you are going way too fast you will need to do a small snap to get your board and body into the pocket of the wave and ready for the barrel after ‘shaving off’ just the right amount of speed. This will take lots of practice to get right. Check Mason Ho demonstrating this perfectly somewhere in Indonesia below.
To pull straight into the tube is difficult and involves paddling into a wave that is already barrelling and pulling straight in there. What is different with this technique is the level of commitment. You don’t have any time to take the drop and bottom turn and as you paddle in you need to already be at an angle, with risk of getting caught in the lip or free falling sideways. When done correctly though it is always easier than expected, requiring more commitment than actual skill.
Once you are in there time slows down. There is an indescribable feeling where you just feel that there is water all around you. To know you are in the barrel you need to say that lip going over in front of you above your head, the light shining through it and the change of sound as you are surrounded by water.
How long you want to stay in the barrel is sometimes your decision and other times not. If it is a slow barrel you may choose to stall with your hand/arms/body to stay in for longer as opposed to coming out. If it is a fast barrel you may need to be weaving and driving down the line to even have a chance of making it. The key ingredient to make a barrel is to go at the same speed as the wave.
Where you look, how you position your body and where you aim your board are all crucial in barrel riding. Always apply the golden rule of surfing, where you look is where you go. In order to have a chance of making the barrel you need to be looking at the exit, and looking up towards the top corner where the wave face meets the barrel will help you draw a good line and increase the chances of coming out.
What you need to remember body wise is that you are fitting within a vortex of water where the sides are constantly moving, so the tighter you fit the less likely you are to hit the walls and get knocked off. Bend your legs, don’t stick your bum in the air, and tuck that back knee in towards your front leg (on the forehand). This way you’ll be more less likely to get knocked off your board and look stylish in case anyone gets a snap of it. Lean on the front foot to speed up and back foot to slow down. But do too much of either and you’ll be going over the falls.
There are more ways to exit a barrel than one might think. The first is the way we all hope for where you are riding the barrel nice and deep, it stays wide open and you just come straight out. But if the hollow section is starting to get less hollow and you’re getting desperate to find an exit, head up towards that top corner of the wave. The way a wave barrels means that it will always barrel more at the top of the wave and the lip will start to land halfway down the face if the wave is either no longer big enough or the ocean floor no longer shallow enough.
The other most popular way is to head for the ‘doggy door’. This is your only real choice when the wave starts to close out ahead of you; there will often be a section of the wave where the lip is falling slower and you can try your luck to sneak out of there. Sometimes the barrel will just close out so I suggest you just stand on your board and hope for the best. I have been surprised more than once at how a wave will push you out the barrel and the white water so that you have ‘made it’.
Let’s say you have made your tube, now you come screaming out the barrel and you are justified in choosing any number of claims to do, just remember that you will get judged by your fellow surfers and possibly teased for years.
But for every barrel you make you will have had countless barrels which you don’t make, even though they could still be the best barrel of your life. To wipeout properly your main aim is to penetrate the water so that you don’t get sucked over the falls. You can dive over the nose, jump over the nose feet first, or shoot your board out ahead of you. Whilst going over the nose sounds scary at first, your weight is often forward on your board at the point a barrel closes out, so going over the nose works well.
A lot of the same things apply to backside barrel riding as frontside. The key difference is that it is easier to grab the rail of your board to help keep you balanced over your board. You can use the way you hold the rail to speed up, slow down, and to take late drops into the barrel.
Once you get better you will start to use most of your body to stall yourself into the barrel, helping to completely control your speed in the barrel. Rotate your shoulders so that they are facing directly towards the exit of the barrel the entire barrel ride to increase the chances of making it. For the yogis out there think warrior one, not warrior two.
– Always keep your eyes open
– Move both feet feet forward up your board, experiment with this
– Point the nose of your boards more towards the beach than you’d think
– Relax, take it all in
– Never tell anyone how barrelled you got until you have photographic evidence
– Watch GoPro footage of Namibia and put that on the barrel bucket list
Now go grab your board, throw yourself at it like it’s the last surf you’ll ever have and go and get shacked!
This article was slightly plagiarised by my colleague and barrel master Chris Bond who amongst many other things runs Ticket to Ride Indonesia. Chris and his coaching team are all highly accomplished in the magical art of getting shacked, so to get some coaching on how to ride tropical tubes, join Chris in Indonesia next season.
Rad's top 10 action sports, adventure events and music festivals in 2019