Tips of surfing a crowded lineup

How to handle the crowds when surfing – tips from the pros


The Gold Coast, known as the Surfing Mecca of Australia, holds arguably some of the best surf spots on the East Coast. With 35 beaches, including a variety of both reef, point and beach breaks, there is always somewhere that can handle the majority of wind and swell (with the exception of the northerly winds).


The west winds and easterly swells conspire to produce perfect three to four-foot swells at least once a week. While every couple of months, larger offshore storms generate better swells upwards of four foot that draw flocks of dedicated surfers. You can find hundreds of articles online as well as people happy to warn surfers about struggles of surfing on the Gold Coast saying:


“The main problem with the east coast are the crowds. Everyone surfs and everyone is good. If you are an inexperienced surfer at a popular spot you will struggle to get waves. If you want to get away from the crowds then keep clear of the Gold Coast”[1].


However it is my philosophy, that just because everyone here can surf incredibly well, this doesn’t mean that you can’t jump in and join in.


Are you ready for Burleigh
Sarah at pumping Burleigh Heads…


The Gold Coast is a special surf destination as it boasts 57 kilometers of pristine coastline, from the Super Bank in Coolangatta to Stradbroke Island and all the beaches in between (my personal favourite being Palm Beach). One Gold Coast beach includes the infamous Burleigh Point, one of the world’s best right-hand point breaks… and it just so happens to be right in my back garden!

(Read more about Snapper Rocks and The Superbank in our previous article on The Top 5 Waves on Australia’s East Coast).


When my job in Sydney was made redundant, Billabong moved me to their Head Office in Burleigh Heads to start up their Ecommerce website (you can read more about my job in the surf industry here!) Filled with excitement about my new role while knowing the GC was a surfing mecca, I was eager to get up there. As I am originally from the UK, the idea of leaving all the friends I had made in Sydney and starting over again was daunting. My first week on the Gold Coast challenged me with head high, super heavy surf. Even though the water was as warm as a sauna, I was immediately out of my depth. I instantly started to regret the move. Paddling out next to pro surfers and determined groms where half the line up had sponsorship stickers on their nose, forced me to adapt quickly and learn to position myself amongst the crowd. I had to fight hard for waves. The girl : guy ratio was intimidating and the majority of the time I was the only girl in the line-up… Not saying that this is all bad, I mean the amount of extremely good-looking men paddling around me… wait, what was the problem again?


Oh yeah… I love to surf every day and I know that paddling out at Burleigh for a pre-work session isn’t going to be a walk in the park. Dealing with a scary rock jump, followed by a tricky paddle out, then a hundred local men screaming down the fast wave. There are drop ins and don’t forget the sweep that pushes you away from the perfect spot. It can be almost too daunting to muster up the nerve to even paddle out… but here a few tricks I have learned along the way to get that wave and make your day…


Sarah O'Brien surfing Burleigh POint
Sarah Obrien being a babe and surfing before work, Burleigh Point



1. At one point we were all beginners:

Yes OK, a vast heap of these people started surfing when they were just little groms. They have the knowledge and strength to surf with ease, but if you throw someone a smile, even ask for advice from Big Bad Al you will see a noticeable improvement and gain respect from them. It really is OK to be friendly in the water and soon they will be calling you into waves and wanting you to succeed.


2. Have patience:

While it’s all well and good to talk to locals and be part of the crew, it is also vital that you understand whose turn it is. Don’t push in, no snaking and never drop in. Being patient shows respect to everyone in the water and in turn they will pass that same respect on to you. You will end up getting more of the big bomb sets rather than the small inside waves.


3. Keep Moving:

You know that one guy who always seems to be on every good wave? It is not just luck, he is hunting for it. He  has identified the patterns of how and where the waves are breaking while also taking advantage of the waves that are not as obvious and therefore not popular in demand. So keep moving, be a hunter and try not to be too picky. When the wave is there and it’s your turn, don’t back down. Paddle hard and give it 100%, otherwise the groms will be on your wave before you can blink!


4. How much fun you have is up to you:

I have had my fair share of bad sessions, falling off a perfect wave, that you have waited 30 minutes for… in front of all the locals! You can’t help but feel like a kook. Allowing this negativity to engulf the rest of your session will only make matters worse and you might as well paddle in straight away. It is important to remember people want you to succeed. Every surfer wants you to do well and to have fun. No one actually cares if you fall. They will be more impressed if you try and try again.

At the end of the day, surfing is RAD… enjoy it.


5. Be grateful:

Yes you may have only got one good wave, or lost a few from being too scared to sit deeper… but just remember how lucky you are to be in the water and to call yourself a surfer. There are many people who would happily trade places with you and experience that feeling that only a surfer knows.


6. There will always be more waves:

This is something that has taken me a really long time to grasp. If I struggle to get in the right spot or do not have the energy to fight for waves, even missing a morning surf (from having one too many bubbles), I beat myself up. Just remember there will always be another day and another swell and when that swell comes, you will be even more ready than before :-)


Sarah OBrien Billabong Burleigh Heads
If in doubt… paddle out. Sarah looking for those perfect Burleigh point breaks. Photo by Naomi Niblett


Surfing is by far the most rewarding and challenging sport I have ever learnt. There is something that motivates me to come back day in day out, and surf no matter what… in some ways it is habit and in others it is simply to chase that feeling.




Editor’s note: If you are after travel insurance for your next surfing adventure, Still Stoked recommends World Nomads. Prices are really reasonable and they insure actions sports (including heliskiing!) without charging a mega premium. You can also purchase the insurance after you have left home for your trip and extend the trip online during your trip; something that is quite unique to World Nomads and really helpful if your plans change as you travel.


Passionate about all extreme sports, I am driven by adventure and find the most joy in deep powder or hectic surf. I built enough confidence to chase my own dream, and built a career where I can work from anywhere in the world. Now I split my time between optimising websites from a laptop in front of a surf break, to breaking all the rules of how one is supposed to live.


  1. Ahhh surfing is so hard!!! Some good tips here thanks. I wish more experienced surfers would remember that they were a beginner once and cut us some slack… some can be so agro!

  2. That’s actually some pretty good advice for beginners. It’s so important to to stay positive out there. It can be really competitive at those crowded breaks, but with time everyone who sticks at it gets more and more waves and the addiction sets in good and proper :)


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here