The Cross Step, Explained

by Julie Cox on January 25, 2013

It’s not easy to catch up with surfer Julie Cox, but while she was in Carmel last week, she slowed down for a face-to-face with Bev Sanders, founder of Las Olas. The subject of the day? Cross stepping on a longboard.

(No time to read? Click here for a full audio version of Julie’s interview.)

[Bev] Julie, describe your background in surfing?

[Julie] I fell in love with surfing at about age eight, but I didn’t feel like a surfer until I was about age 16, when I had my driver’s license and could get myself to the beach regularly. Since the age of sixteen, it’s just been a part of my life and what I’ve put as a priority. I’ve done surf contests and taught surfing, of course with Las Olas, worked in surf shops and designed surfboards and worked in surf museums. So surfing has been a driving force in my life, you could say, for quite a while.

Okay. Today, we’re going to talk about the cross step and I believe you’re a master at that (and it’s amazing to watch you do it). Can you remember when you first saw someone cross step?

Well, thank you for the compliments, first of all, that’s nice. I think I first noticed the cross step happening at Leo Carrillo State Beach, where I used to surf a lot. People were surfing and getting nose rides. Also down at Malibu, a lot of people were cross stepping. I noticed that it was different and a little more graceful than the shuffle step, so I started to practice that.

Do you think it’s difficult?

I don’t think cross stepping is difficult. I think it’s a little more of mind over matter, like getting over the fear of just trying the first one. Shuffling is definitely a little easier because your feet are both planted and you’re not taking too much risk. I really don’t think it’s that hard, it’s just different and takes some practice.

The first one’s the hardest.

Yeah, it’s just taking that first step.

What kind of board is best for cross step?

The more stable the board the better when it comes to cross stepping. Because the goal for the cross step is to get up toward the nose of the board. You could do a hang five or a hang ten or put your weight a little bit more forward. A nice wide and semi thick board is best because you want that plank-like feeling to be doing a cross step on.

What do you think is the best kind of wave?

If the wave has a nice little wall to it, a bit of steepness, but not too steep. It shouldn’t be too mushy or too flat, because that’s when your nose will sink into the wave, when it’s too mushy. But if the wave has a nice little curve or wall to it, that’s when you want to try your cross step.

Could you explain a little bit about what’s happening in the process, to describe how you initiate the first move?

Yeah, I think of it almost like you might want to stall the board. You caught your wave, you’re going down the line and you put some weight on your back foot to slow down a little bit. Because of the cross step, you’re going to put on the gas by going forward on the board. You’re creating some speed, so to counteract that, lean back a slight little bit which sets you up for the cross step. So, your front foot is planted while your back foot takes that first step along the stringer. And then you bring your other foot forward.
It’s kind of like walking on a balance beam, I guess. And the surfboard, the fin, and the width of the tail are what is keeping the board from nose diving. The back part of the board is what holds into the wave and lifts you up to create more of a surface area for you to cross step on- if that makes sense.

It does. How long did it take you to actually learn how to do it, where you felt confident?

I think that once I did the first one and realized it wasn’t so bad, my learning curve was much faster. I just got the hang of it, but it’s so easy to want to shuffle step because it feels safer. I don’t remember how long it took me. I think it was just taking that first step was what took me awhile and to realize that it was an actual functional move. It was functional and it also felt cool. It felt like it was something new to accomplish. That’s when it was like, okay, this is what I’m going to tackle now. I think it happened fairly quickly. I think going forward sometimes isn’t the hard part; but it’s almost going backwards- that’s where you’re cross stepping towards the nose, then you’ve got to get back. And if you can get back doing the cross step, that’s like Phase Two.

How do you know when it’s time to retreat?

That’s a good question, too. Say, you’re up on the nose, or you’ve done your one cross step up, at least to get some weight up toward the front. If the wave is going to close out, then I decide that that’s when it’s time to go back. You’ll see the lip coming down or the foam start to come in front of you. That’s when it’s like, okay, I want to get back to my stance in the middle of the board where I’ll be able to turn from. You just want to get back to that spot.
Let me rephrase that. I know when it’s time to get back to the middle of my board- when I want to turn. So then I’ll cross step back, get to the area of my surfboard where I have the most control. That’s when I know it’s time to get back because you don’t have a ton of control once you’ve cross stepped forward, at least as far as turning goes. You can’t really turn from the front of the board.

Can we practice at home or on the beach? Is that something you recommend?

[Julie] Absolutely. It’s kind of fun, because you want to get your muscle memory feeling that cross step motion. So you can practice on a curb or on a parking block in a parking lot and just stand on that to balance. Taking your front foot keeping it there and just tapping your back foot, going over your front foot. Even just doing that a few times without even moving your front foot, that’s good way to start practicing the cross step.

So all in all, the first step is the hardest?

Absolutely. Once you take that first step, you’re on your way.

Julie Cox is a professional surfer who lives, works, and designs surfboards up and down the California Coast when not teaching at Las Olas in Mexico. Currently, she’s manager of Mollusk Surf Shop in San Francisco, but prior to that she was director of the California Surf Museum in Oceanside, California.

Surf images by Lori Adamski Peek.

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