The Three Circles of Power
During a recent trip to El Salvador I had the good fortune of meeting Marcelo Castellanos. It was during a video analysis of someone’s surfing that he explained his formula of “The Three Circles of Power” and how it was the template he and his team used to teach and evaluate everyone’s surfing to help them improve.
I was so impressed by Marcelo’s ability to take a complex topic and break it down into a simple three part formula, I had to ask him to be on KookCast: Surf Education. It’s so simple and easy to understand that anyone can take his formula and apply it to their own surfing.
It really resonated with me because this is exactly our goal at The Surf Continuum. To take the complexities of learning to surf and make it simple by learning the fundamentals of surfing and focusing on them until you become fluent in them.
*If you’re not sure you know surfing fundamentals, or the proper technique of doing them you can always learn them through our detailed online video surf lessons.
In the recording at the top of the page, Marcelo is a guest on KookCast and explains in detail his formula for evaluating and improving your performance and technique for riding waves. You’ll find a written summary of the recording below.
If you’re interested in surfing with Marcelo you should have no hesitations about booking your trip to El Salvador and staying at his epic hotel, Puro Surf Hotel & Academy. A beautiful place, complete with restaurant, surf gym, concrete wave, yoga and meditation area, and incredible rooms, all over looking the Pacific and the El Zonte point break.
Visit Marcelo and his team in El Salvador. You will not regret it!
Circle One: Body Movements
In circle one we have 4 basic movements or mechanics you must teach your body in order to create the ability to turn left or right with proper technique. Those movements are:
- Compact aka Compression
For surfing, good posture is the beginning and foundation of learning to turn. In its most basic explanation, good posture is when your back is straight, head is up and in alignment with your feet and the center of your surfboard.
Rotation starts with your eyes looking where you want to go. This will cause your head to turn, which will allow your shoulders and hips to open and rotate too. This rotation should continue down through your body, and if you’re holding good posture will transfer this power to your feet, which of course are planted on your board and allow you to surf rail to rail by using your body rotations.
Marcelo notes the importance of keeping good posture through the rotation so that you stay centered over your board and maintain balance. When you break your posture, the power of the rotation will not transfer down to your feet and board and the likely result is you falling over your toe side or heel side rail.
Being compact lowers your center of gravity. It’s also important, especially for surfers on smaller boards, because sometimes the wave doesn’t offer enough energy for you to carry speed all the way towards where you want to go. When there is a lack in external energy (wave power), you must create energy internally. This is done by compressing yourself, which in turn allows you to extend thereby creating speed and drive. Think of a skateboarder on a half pipe compressing and extending as they drop down the ramp, and climb up the other side. This is similar to what a surfer must do as they drop to the bottom of the wave (compress/compact) and extending on the way up.
Of course the timing of the compression/extension is nuanced and subtle which is why you’ll be practicing this for your entire life like the rest of us.
Lastly we have “hold position”. Which simply is a reminder that rotating and compressing with good posture is not something you complete in a second or two. Many times, for example through a bottom turn (arguably the most important turn in surfing), it is so important to hold this body position/movement for longer than what feels correct. But the next time you compress and rotate with good posture at the bottom of the wave, hold this position for a little longer as you eye up your destination (the top of the wave), and allow yourself to become more sensitive to the right time to extend your body as you climb the wave.
As mentioned before, this is the journey of surfing. Don’t expect to suddenly get it on your first try. But it’s guaranteed that if you apply these mechanics into your surfing, your turns will become better with more speed and drive.
Circle Two: Foot Placement
It’s important to realize that these three circles all must work together. Therefore, no matter how excellent your body mechanics are, without proper foot placement your turns will suffer, or cause you to bog your rail and wipeout.
Paired with good body mechanics there must be good foot placement, and Marcelo describes three positions for your back foot. He was specifically speaking to short boarders, but this applies to boards of all sizes which I will try to incorporate given his philosophy.
Keep in mind that foot placement is directly related to the trim of your board.
Where you place your feet, you place your weight.
So the further back you place your weight/feet the less stability you have and the more maneuverability you have.
On a short board the furthest position your back foot can be is just in front of your leash plug, directly over your fin cluster. If you have a tail pad, your foot would be up on the kicker or ramp of the pad.
On a longer board, you may not need to have your foot quite as far back, but near to over the fins is your guide in achieving the ability to get your weight in a position where the board will pivot around and create a tight turn.
With your weight further back on the board, you will engage the back third of your board through a turn while the forward two thirds is disengaged from the water. When you use your body mechanics to make a turn, you will rotate around this shortened rail line.
As you move your weight forward (by placing your feet further up the board from the fins), you will engage more of your rail line. This means you will loose a significant amount of maneuverability, but gain stability and speed.
Since every board is different, where you place your feet will need to be adjusted accordingly. But you should absolutely be on the quest for at least three positions that Marcelo describes in his formula. One position furthest back for maneuverability, one position more centered on the board for stability and speed, and one position between these two.
Circle Three: Dynamics of the Wave
With good body mechanics and awareness of your foot placement, you now have the ability to take advantage of the waves energy. Marcelo says, basically what we are trying to do in surfing is go up and down the wave.
The closer that you are to the pocket of the wave, the more speed you can achieve. When you have good body mechanics and good foot placement you can go up and down the wave face. The closer you can make your turn to the breaking part of the wave, the better more radical you will be surfing.
In the beginning of your journey learning to ride waves, it’s always exciting when you start to go down the line and ride the wall, or the face of the wave. However, drawing a straight line across the wave face towards the shoulder will quickly put you far away from the pocket and riding the weak, slow part of the wave. We use turns to surf the wave dynamically and to keep our position in the pocket while riding the wave.
Flow is the goal of any surfer. To move fluently, with speed and power. To look where you want to go and fly there with effortless style and grace. Flow is what you achieve when you successfully combine the three circles of power. When you see Marcelo and some of his top students surf (like local pro Bryan Perez), you know for sure that the three circles work, and they are basic principles you need to start paying attention to.