Re: Which piece of the puzzle am I missing?
It's good you have the stoke and will brave colder temps. I really enjoy cold water, so I'm with you. Six months surfing is not a long time, especially if you don't often have someone more experienced to coach you. I think you are doing fine.
Q1. Firstly, should I continue to crack the 'pop' before anything else - is it THAT fundamental to getting to the next stage?
A1. Foremost, you must be able to catch any wave you decide to catch and be able to standup. Being able to catch any wave you choose means you have been in the water enough to be able to judge where and when waves will form, as well as, where you should be. Standing up effortlessly and every time you want to, is absolutely fundamental. This is where a lot of people give up. Don't you be one of them. Beginners easily spend a full year getting these two elements down pat.
Q2. Secondly, should I be paddling straight towards the beach and then once I'm starting to drop down the face, only then try to physically turn towards the direction that I wish to go, or should I stick with angling and then trying to stand up in that same initial direction, rather than concentrating on trying to turn?
A2. The Hawaiian word for angling across the wave face, is "la la," As in "I'm going la la." It's great when you do it because it extends your ride and, at the end of the ride, it also places you in the best of places for paddling back out. Have you noticed when you finish your ride that is straight to the beach, you have to battle out from the inside? Not the most fun, but it does build strong muscles and stamina. It is a common technique to take off at an agle than straight toward the beach. The value of this is you're better positioned to go la la. It works well for me on smaller waves. The bottom turn is something that you, as a surfer, really should learn. This opens up a lot more possibilities with the ride, what you can get out of a wave, and makes non-surfers think you really are a surfer. It takes a lot of practice, unless you are a kid. Everything seems to come easy to kids. As you learn to make bottom turns, you will fall off a whole bunch. You'll probably fall off so much that you'll wonder if you've developed any capability at all. Of course you have, so keep at it. When I was learning to do the more advanced things (la la and bottom turn), I'd do them & fall a bunch of times, then ride one wave straight to the beach for the thrill of it, then go back to falling off for awhile.
Be sure to surf this forum. You'll find a lot of info related to what you are working on now.