One way I stay in the right place is to watch from the beach where the surf is (you're already doing this) then while in the water, paddle out a little deeper than usual and let a couple waves go by. You should see the white foam left on the surface in some sort of triangle shape (tip of the triangle pointing towards the ocean and getting wider towards the beach). Paddle out to the tip and if you want to take rights get on the right side... same with lefts. You'll get a better ride from depending on where the swell is coming from and beach facing direction but this technique generally works and helps you get your bearings at new locations.
I just started reading the "mid-atlantic" forums rather than the "south east" forums and it's nice to hear some opinions every once in a while.
jyeddo and souljahsky.....thanks for the input, but the topic was about reading sanbar breaks. The stretching thing is something I do. After 27+ years of surfing around the world, I think I know what works for me. Apply your "proven facts" and "readings" to your own moves and snaps.
Everybody has their own way of doing things, but I did read recently that they have found that stretching the night before is the best way to go...i don't stretch before I paddle out, but that's just me.
Everything being said is right on...more of what LB was talking about wave knowledge. it takes water time to get the hang of it...b4 you paddle out next time, stand on the beach and watch the sets roll in(you probably already do it)but visualize where you would need to be to catch that wave and try paddling out and staying on that particular peak...if you notice one way (lefts/rights) is breaking better, go that direction...timing of when to start paddling is key, but that also comes with logging hours, you need to match the speed of the wave by the time it gets to you...that's my two cents...all i know is the first ride was all it took, and i was hooked.
You guys do what you want to do before you paddle out. I don't give a crap. To each their own. Every sport I do involves streching before and after. I know guys who smoke two j's before they go out, but I don't tell them what "they" say about that. "They" can kiss my ass.
If you google "stretching before exercise" there is a lot of conflicting information. Everyone is different, do what feels right.
In my opinion, stretching cold muscles is pointless. You don't benefit much, and you stand a good chance of injuring yourself if you are REALLY stretching and not just putting on some weird sideshow for the hungover jailbait hanging out on the boardwalk.
If the waves are small, I just start slow (paddling I mean) to warm up, then go crazy about 20 minutes into the session when my muscles are loose.
If it's big, a few pushups or something else to get the blood flowing, followed by stretching, would probably help reduce the chance of muscle-related injury. It's often hard to paddle out into overhead surf and "take it easy". You want to charge out to avoid taking waves on the head, so it's good to warm up first. That being said, I hardly ever do it, aside from skating down to the beach to check the waves before getting suited up.
As for going left or right...I guess just watching waves...looking back, that's one of the very few things I didn't pick up from watching surf films. I probably took longer to stand up than anyone here, seriously. I must have paddled out at every opportunity for over six months before finally "going down the line". During that time, I got a real sense of how deep I could take off and make it to the shoulder (because I screwed it up EVERY time!). Just watching the waves and getting a feel for how the lip will hold up, whether it will pitch or crumble, if it's going to wall out or close out...I agree with everyone here that it just takes a lot of time in the water to figure it out.
It's also very difficult in the summer because the waves suck so bad. I strongly disagree with those who say it's good to learn to surf in little crumbly waves. Sure, you'll find a way to stand up in the whitewater, but what good is that? I think waist-chest, even head high is damn near perfect because you have room for small errors that you don't get in weaker surf. I guess my point is don't stress too much now. When the waves are good, paddle for the shoulders. It's very obvious whether you have a left or right if the wave is already breaking. Once you can do this well, start taking off deeper. By the time you reach the peak (possibly not for a few months, be patient), you'll be able to intuitively 'know' how the whole game works. In the meantime have fun and don't drop in.