breaking wave

Introduction to 10 Different Types of Surfing

When surfing first started out in the 12th century Polynesia – it was first called wave sliding. Fast forward to 2022 – there are way too many disciplines to surf the wave one could think of. Surfing is a sport and a fun recreation performed in breaking waves.

Down below we’ll explain some of the possible ways to surf a wave.

  • Surfing = Riding a breaking wave.
  • Ways to surf = Stand, kneel, or prone on a board, bodysurfing, paddle surf, or using a kite or sail.

Different types of waves

  • Open ocean – Waves are generated by swells & winds on the ocean.
  • Lake – Waves are generated by wind or incoming tides.
  • River – A wave is generated by the incoming tide aka tidal bore. / Standing river flow waves
  • Wave pool – An industrial pool where waves are generated by an industrial mechanism.
  • Watercraft – Waves generated by a passing ship (or by a motorboat for wake surfing)

Requirements to surf a breaking wave:

  • Surf the breaking wave in open water.
  • Use a surfboard or any other accessory that helps to surf the wave.
  • Lay on the board on your stomach – bodyboarding.
incoming wave
An open ocean wave is generated by a swell. The size of swells is impacted by the direction and strength of wind, storms, and seasonal water movements on the oceans.


1. Surfing


The ‘original’ surfing is performed on a typical surfboard where a surfer paddles for a wave by their hands, then stands up on a surfboard, and starts to the wave.

The main goal of surfing is to catch the wave before it starts to break toward the shore, and surf in the pocket of a wave as long as possible. There are many surfing styles and board types to perform various styles of riding.

  • Best discipline to ride all kinds of waves.
  • 16 different types of surfboards to choose from.
  • Riding styles – Performance shortboarding, nose-ride longboarding, freeriding, etc.

Surfboard materials:

While back in the ‘old days’ surfboards were made out of wood, the modern material use has evolved quite a bit over time and we are on a verge of choosing a surfboard made of various materials and technologies. Sure, most surfboards are not as environmentally friendly as a surfboard made out of wood, but hey, if all the surfboards were made out of wood we’d be lacking a large number of trees in the forest, right?

  • PUFiberglass. Foam core, wood veneer stringer, and a fiberglass resin.
  • EPEpoxy. Foam core, epoxy resin. A wooden veneer stringer is uncommon as found on all PU boards.
  • FoamSoft-top foam surfboards are widely used among beginners or funboards.
  • Wood – There are still some manufacturers and shapers who produce surfboards made out of wood.



2. Windsurfing

When talking of riding the wave – windsurfing might not be the first thing to come to your mind.

Surfing the waves with a windsurf surfboard is a completely different class, performed only by advanced and expert surfers. Although windsurfing is mainly performed where there’s a great degree of wind on the sea – its main focus is freeriding rather than the riding a breaking wave.



3. Kitesurfing

Airs & spins are the main tricks of kiteboarding.

Closely related to windsurfing – kiteboarding is another way to surf a breaking wave. As kiteboarding is performed by the power of wind and a kiteboard pulled on the water, it takes a certain set of skills to ride the breaking wave as a kiteboarder.

According to Wikipedia – there is about 1.5 million kite surfers in the world.

Kitesurfing competitions:

  • Freestyle.
  • Wave-riding.
  • Racing.



4. Skimboarding

skimboarder jumping in the air

I bet we’ve all seen those hectic skimboarders running from the shore, dropping their finless board on the water, and riding some of those shore-break waves? While the main focus of skimboarding is to ride on flat water – skimming (instead of surfing the waves) you can technically surf a wave with a skimboard.

  • Board material – Wood


5. Foil Surfing

foil surfer
Foilboard a.k.a Hydrofoil board

One of the newest disciplines in the advancing water-sport trend is foil surfing. The stand-up design allows the rider to glide with the moving wave by the kinetic energy generated by the underwater swell. This type of board has a deep fin on the bottom which allows riding on choppy waters and messy conditions with ease as once the board has built up some speed it increases the board out from the water.

  • Hydrofoil kiteboards
  • Propeller-powered hydrofoil boards


6. SUP Surfing

One of the closest disciplines to the original wave surfing is the growing trend of paddle boarding.

Although surfing is not the primary purpose of why people get a SUP, there are many surf-specific SUPs made by popular SUP brands. Paddlers are more often seen in the line-up in most surf locations for a good reason – it is easy to catch waves on a stand-up paddleboard. Paddle boarding has the advantage of staying in the water for longer periods of time as you are not halfway submerged in the water, nor do you have to duck-dive under the incoming waves.

  • Early paddle in.
  • Can surf the waves that do not break.

SUP board materials

  • Epoxy – One of the most used materials in 2022.
  • Inflatable / PVC – Another great alternative to rigid SUPs
  • Fiberglass – Less common alternative to epoxy SUP boards.




7. Bodysurfing


Bodysurfing dates back to 18th century Polynesia and it is still performed by many surfers and non-surfers alike.

A full bodysurfing gear consists of a pair of swim fins and a hand plane. This type of surfing allows to surf small to medium waves, and shore-breaks alike. Bodysurfing is a ton of fun and most likely on the cheapest (and simplest) ways to surf.

  • Swim fins are often used for increased paddle-in speed.
  • A handplane is used for increased lift and reduced drag, creating a larger surface for riding the wave.




8. Wake surfing

wake surfing
Image credit –

Wake surfing is another popular water sport outside the ocean waves.

Wakeboarding is inspired by kitesurfing without the kite, usually performed in a wakepool with moving cables and a rope to hold onto. Wake surfing, on the other hand, is performed behind a moving motorboat. A rope is used to pull the wake surfer on the wave, although a bunch of advanced surfers ditches the rope once they have started to ride the wave that’s generated by the moving boat.

Wakeboards have also fins for increased traction.

Wake Surf Disciplines

  • Skim – On flat water.
  • Surf – On a breaking wave.




9. Bodyboarding

Bodyboard a.k.a boogie board a.k.a belly board.

Bodyboarding is an alternative sight on surf breaks performed by a boogie board. Bodyboarders use swim fins/flippers to move in the water.

Although boogie boarding is probably where most kids first started out, there’s still a minority of bodyboarders who surf massive waves. Riding a bodyboard allows the surfer to ride small and barreling too fast and hollow waves easier than surfing a full-size stand-up surfboard.

  • Bodyboard materials – Mainly foam.
  • Swim fins are required to move in the water.




10. Kneeboard surfing

Knee-boarding started out as an alternative to wakeboarding and waterskiing where a kneeboarder is towed behind a motorboat by a rope. In waves, kneeboards have the advantage of sharp turns and having fun in small to medium-sized waves without standing up on the board. Kneeboard surfboards have fins for increased traction.

  • A kneeboard is wider than an average surfboard.
  • Average board length: 5′ to 6’5″ long.
  • Ideal wave size: 4′

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I created Nulltuul to share my experience, research and analysis with other surf enthusiasts out there. If I'm not surfing on my travels - I like to photograph waves, surfers, and the surf lifestyle in general.

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