Updated: Dec 14, 2020
So there are two main components for how to actually a catch a wave. 1. Paddling for the wave and 2. Popping up. There are proper techniques for both. I don't ride a short board, so this will be for boards that are 2+ feet taller than you. (I ride an 8'4" at the moment, moving to a 7'7" soon).
Feet placement: Your feet should be at the very back of your board. The top of your board should be coming off the water by a few inches, but the tail end should not be dipped down too much into the water. With my board, I'll occasionally have my feet dangling off the back, with my toes pressed into the tail of my board if the water is a little choppy.
Arms: When paddling, your arms should be entering and exiting the water right next to the sides of your board. Don't paddle wide with your arms, it decreases your speed. Paddle one arm at a time. Occasionally I'll do a double paddle right before I pop up, but only if I desperately need a little extra speed. This will help you maintain your energy.
Hands: Your hands should be loosely cupped, and your fingers should be entering the water first. There shouldn't be a whole lot of splashing going on.
Shoulders/Chest/Head: Your head should be up and off the board. Your shoulders should be off the board and pressed down your back, and you should be engaging your chest and upper back muscles. You will be pretty sore if you aren't used to this, so stretching your back/shoulders/ and chest before and after surfing is recommended! You should be able to move your neck and check your sides as you paddle for a wave to look at where it's breaking, but to also see if anyone else has popped up first.
Some people paddle with their feet up (one or both), but I don't really recommend that. It's best to keep your feet on the surfboard to maintain balance and reduce wind resistance. Before I got my booties, my feet were really bloody and cut up, so I would sometimes put my feet up just to reduce the friction, but now i just keep them down unless I'm just fucking around.
Every time you paddle for a wave, you need to paddle the hardest you can. Don't half ass the paddle. I see a lot of people on the beach who are newer who don't catch waves because they just aren't paddling nearly hard enough.You should be tired!
If you are paddling for a wave, and you notice the nose of your board has now dipped under water - STOP. Don't pop up. This means you are too far forward on your board, and the wave has lifted the back of your board up. If you stand up, you will be thrown off. If I happen to notice this, I just shove my both hands down into the water in a "✋ " form to slow down. I call it "braking." If I'm too far into the wave, I'll just roll off my board.
Men and women have different centers of gravity. This means that the place in your body that you balance from is different. Men balance from the center of their chest, and women balance from the center of their pelvis (I would totally tell you why this is if you ask!). This means that stances and posture will be slightly different, so keep that in mind if you are watching male surfers! As a woman, you want your weight centered in your pelvis, so any movement that happens needs to be balances around this.
Also, it is more important to pop up accurately than quickly. If you are just beginning, practice on the sand a few times, then in the water. As the motions become more natural, speed will come with it.
Before you pop up, your body should be completely centered along the surfboard. You will know it's time to pop up when the peak up the wave is under you and you can feel the momentum from the wave. You will bring your hands to the board, just under your shoulders, and press down and push your chest and stomach off of the board.
Next, you will take your back leg (right foot if you are regular, left if you are goofy) and plant your foot on the back of the board so that it is facing perpendicular to the nose of the board (pointing right if you are right footed, and pointing left if you are left footed). Then your front leg comes up and you plant that foot at a 45 degree angle up from your back foot. Your feet should be shoulder width a part with your hips facing the nose of the board.
Your arms should be out wide, to help maintain balance. You should have a bend to your knees, with them pointing inwards towards each other. If you feel like you are losing balance, don't bend your chest down towards the board, bend your knees more.
Now look at where you want to go, and then turn your shoulders, and then your hips, this will guide your board to where you want. If you want to speed up lean forward, and pump your back foot over where the fins of your board are a few times, then stand more forward on the board.
If you want to slow down, lean back and put your weight into your back foot over the fins. You will be able to maneuver the board with how you manipulate your weight on the board. Some people might be tempted to just change the weight in their toes, but this is a whole body sport, so your whole body needs to be involved. Just shifting weight in your toes won't do much, and you will probably fall off the board.
Play around with the weight manipulation, and see what different maneuvers you want to do. Stay back on the board, with your feet over the fins if you will be needing to do any turning!
And ta-da! You're surfing!