A few clients turned me on to Brad Gerlach’s Wave Ki. They were finding that their surfing felt like it was improving after embarking on Brad's surfing guidance so I wanted to check it out to see what it was like.
I must state that the following review is not influenced by any referral fee, affiliate payout, or similar. This is my own opinion of Brad’s program based on my experience. Brad and I have spoken on the phone about how important it is to spread the word of what we do with genuine passion. This was after I had begun my journey in Wave Ki and was captivated by the results I was getting.
I'm a little over a year in. This is my honest opinion and experience with Wave Ki.
What is Wave Ki?
Wave Ki is a land-based practice similar to movement practice one might experience in martial arts. Barry Green has talked about treating surfing as a practice – something to be consistently working on with persistence and focus. Brad’s Wave Ki is such a practice.
The movements are designed to instigate automatic movement when faced with a variety of scenarios in the water. There are a series of “Forms” that Brad teaches, and those Forms are meant to drive the correct unconscious movement when surfing.
The Science Behind Wave Ki
The science behind what Brad is doing is quite interesting. While I’ve researched quite a bit of motor learning, I don’t consider myself an expert in this field. Despite this, it’s obvious how Brad has inserted motor learning into his Wave Ki practice.
Waves are not the same, and the scenarios surfers face are not the same. Therefore, it is futile to teach how to move a certain way for a specific scenario because every scenario will be new. Every single one. For example, the time and space in which you find yourself on a particular wave will vary every time. This is true even on an artificial wave that most people think produces the same wave every time. Where you find yourself in time and space on a wave will be different – if you takeoff one second before the last time you took off, you will end up in a slightly different place at a different time than your last wave. I know this sounds like semantics, but it’s true that you’ll never experience the same exact time and space when you surf.
The point is, my first impression was that these moves, which are broken down by maneuver (takeoff frontside, bottom turn backside, etc.) will not work because of the above argument. One “Form” can’t possibly be used on every scenario you’ll face.
But I was incorrect.
The Forms do not train your brain for a specific scenario. Rather, they train your brain to engage specific muscle groups and physiological positions in order to enhance your “feeling” for surfing. I know that sounds pretty hippy in description but let me explain just a bit more.
Surfing has many unconscious adjustments that we are not aware of consciously. There are miniscule adjustments you make (unconsciously) to the pressure on your toes, heels, ankles, hips. This is similar to how a footballer (soccer player) improves their “touch”, a skateboarder is able to make micro adjustments while doing a kick flip, or a swimmer/paddler can “feel” the water to optimize propulsion.
When I teach my paddling Level 1 course, there is a drill in there called the Snow Angel drill. It was designed by swim coaches long ago to help elite level swimmers improve their balance control in the water. From a neurological point of view, what it really does is train the brain to engage the correct muscle groups to control balance when swimming or in the case I use it in, paddling. Watching a client attempt the Snow Angel drill is mesmerizing to me. I see the brain working in real-time.
The first try, they almost always fall off their board. On the second attempt, the brain adjusts and engages the muscle groups to stay on their board with more control. By the third and fourth attempts, their brain begins to truly figure it out and they look more stable with more control. Immediately after, I have them paddle normally and there is more control in their movement, which leads to more power and efficiency.
The science behind Wave Ki is similar to what’s happening during the Snow Angel drill. We don’t make these movements when we paddle or surf, but they lay the groundwork to engage the correct muscle groups without us having to think about it. Conscious practice leads to unconscious movement. Motor learning 101.
My Journey and Results
As stated earlier, I was skeptical. But I wanted to truly examine the Wave Ki practice with an open mind. I committed to practicing it every day for 90 days. That would get me through the Takeoff section (frontside and backside), Bottom Turn (frontside and backside) and get me started on Top Turn (frontside or backside) based on how Brad rolls the course out to students.
My interest was in the frontside Top Turn and while I wanted to jump ahead, Brad is adamant one sticks to the path. As a coach myself, with that same mindset (i.e. each step in the Level 1 checklist builds upon the previous steps), I respected this and found great value in the process.
The Takeoff section was a very interesting place to start. I lightly teach Pop Up/Takeoff in my Level 2 course as a bonus section to the course, so I was intrigued in how he taught that movement.
For myself, I merged his teaching of the Takeoff with my Reverse Pop Up exercise and saw incredible results. Let me clarify that I do not teach his Takeoff technique when I teach the Pop Up in Level 2. That is his movement. I don't teach a specific movement but a movement that is tailor made to each surfer. Both exercises (Brad's and mine) achieve the two goals we require when getting to our feet (pitch/roll control and unconscious movement).
At any rate, the two exercises worked incredibly well together so I was working on both at the same time. This is where the process I’m reviewing may have a slight variation from a normal process one might go through.
After the Takeoff, I moved on to Bottom Turn, then Top Turn, then Cutback. While other areas opened up to me (Barrel riding, Floaters, Airs), I’ve remained on these first four disciplines because of how big of an impact they have made and the feeling that I haven't mastered them well enough to move on. I'm dedicated to the process.
Brad’s explanations of how the hips, knees, ankles and feet are supposed to work together, how and when the surfer should add or remove pressure was fascinating to me. I’m a total nerd when it comes to that and for years I had been doing it all wrong.
I’m still not surfing like an expert. In my opinion, I’m still mediocre at best. But I have seen improvements on video in my general movement. What was more compelling to me is that I can “feel” the board more precisely now. Those movement have helped me tap into more speed and flow, and that has opened up more opportunities to explore the wave which is exactly what I was looking for.
In addition, between working and talking with Barry Green, and consistent practice in Wave Ki, I’ve learned to identify pressure differences occurring under my feet between the board and the water. I’ve learned to use my ankles and feet more for control, while keeping the upper body calm. My engagement of the rail for speed development has improved. I can feel all of these elements more now than I ever have before.
I’ve even gone so far as to rip off the tailpads on almost all of my surfboards so that I can have my back foot closer to the water, so I can “feel” the pressure with heightened sensitivity.
Again, these are things I can mostly feel, and I’ve also seen improvement via video. They are subtle improvements that maybe only I can sense and see, but isn’t that all that matters? My surfing is more enjoyable. I’m able to open up my peripheral vision and look around at various opportunities on where to go on the wave. This has been an incredibly fun journey.
I would say that Wave Ki was pivotal in getting me to this point. Remember, I don’t have any affiliation with Brad to say that. This is solely off my own personal experience, one in which I paid for myself, and have already renewed for another year. In addition, I have been working with Barry, and been constantly dabbling with concepts from Clayton at OMBE, Harry Knight at Surf Simply, and Dan Mori at Fulcrum. So it’s been a mixed up stew of advice and practice, but Wave Ki, over those 90 days, was the majority of my focus and practice, and the results were certainly there.
The only downside is that the practice is land-based. But having it land-based also allows for consistent repetition which is a major requirement for motor learning. My Reverse Pop Up exercise is also half land-based. However, I also see a huge benefit of water-based training because the instability of the water will not allow us to “cheat” when it comes to balance.
So I attempted Wave Ki on my SUP on the lagoon in the backyard similar to how I work on the Reverse Pop Up on water. This practice forced me to engage my brain even more with the instability of the water under my feet. I immediately knew when I was imbalanced in the Form because into the water I went. But that was the beauty of that added practice. It forced me to be more precise.
As with anything in life, schedules started to tighten. Once I hit the 90 days I started to slack in my consistency of practice. I’m onto testing a new method to increase respiratory capacity and strength, and only practice my Forms once every few weeks. But when I feel like I can’t feel the board, when I question whether my brain to foot connection has weakened, I’ll work on the Forms and I sense an improvement.
I would recommend Wave Ki to any level of surfer. The concepts and techniques will help build a solid foundation for beginner surfers, build upon current experience with intermediate surfers, and send advanced surfers back to the basics to build a strong foundation for more speed and flow in their surfing.
Hope you embark on the journey to discover Wave Ki. Keep me posted on your own progress.
In the meantime, I’ll see you in the water…
My surfing at Surf Ranch after 9 months practicing Wave Ki (video starts at my part):
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