When people are first looking at getting into surfing, many ask if they really need surfing lessons or whether they can do it on their own. So can you learn to surf on your own? It’s a fair enough question, if you don’t have any surfing friends who can show you the ropes and you don’t want to spend the money on surf lessons. However this might not be the right question that budding surfers should be asking and in this article we’ll explain why.
In the end, you have to learn to surf on your own
Not many people take more than a couple of surf lessons to learn the initial surfing basics. Some people decide to go all out with an initial few weeks at a dedicated surf camp. Either way once they’ve picked up these skills, they’re on their own. Why? Because learning to actually surf well takes most people a lot of time and it’s a process that is ongoing and requires long term commitment and persistence.
Perhaps a better question to ask is; can I learn the basics of surfing on my own or should I pay for some surf lessons?
And the answer is you could do either.
Some people with experience with other board sports, strong swimming skills and a high level of fitness may find themselves standing up in the whitewater on one of their first attempts at surfing. Equally someone like this may not.
At the end of the day, taking a few surf lessons is not going to hurt. A surf school will point out some basics you really should know:
- Simple surfing rules and etiquette
- The basics of paddling and where to lie on the surfboard
- Pop up techniques
Further, they’ll take you to a learner friendly surf spot where conditions are suitable for your first couple of sessions on a surfboard and they may instill some ongoing surf techniques that potentially stop you from making mistakes and developing bad habits for the longer term.
At the same time, there’s absolutely no reason why you couldn’t spend a few sessions on your own catching white water and practising popping up to a standing position until you get the hang of it. Only you can make that call and whether you feel confident enough to give it a go without someone there to give you some direction.
There’s plenty of information available which outlines basic surfing rules and etiquette and some general pointers before you head to the water. The only other key things you need to do is find a beginner friendly surfboard with high volume and find a gentle crumbling already broken wave where you’re not going to get in the way of other surfers (admittedly, these two things are what surf lessons will do for you, so you could say they are worth the money for those things alone).
Once you’ve got the general hang of standing up on the board and maintaining your balance, you’re ready to take on the unbroken waves (the green waves), and from here, you are more or less on your own.
Avoid slow or no progress when you are learning to surf on your own
As we’ve outlined above, once you’ve mastered some initial skills you’re either going to be buzzing to keep on the upward trend and learn to surf properly or you’ll give up and maybe never really surf much again. After all, the reality is that it’s probably going to be a long journey from here which will involve regular surfing of at least once or twice a week initially to really get into a rhythm and quickly gain traction with your surfing.
Noone but yourself is going to give you that motivation to surf and surf often. It’s going to be a motivation that burns from inside of you and as a result, if you’ve caught the bug, you’ll just want to get in water and catch waves as much as possible.
There’s a danger of getting on a path of limited improvement if you don’t take the right steps to improve your surfing the right way. There are some common challenges that people struggle with and that hold them back when they are between the absolute beginner and intermediate phase so it’s important to avoid some of those key mistakes.
Check out our article ‘is surfing hard to learn’ to find out more about some of these key challenges, with the most of these important of these issues to be conscious of in order to really progress your surfing in the early stages:
Don’t limit your progress in the early stages by surfing a board unsuitable for your experience level. When trying to work out what size surfboard you should get, remember that a high volume board (longer, wider and thicker) will give you more float which means it is much more stable, easier to paddle and easier to stand up on which are all key to progressing your surf skills initially. Even when you decide to step up from a real beginner surfboard to a new board, I would recommend sticking with a mid length or longer board which will naturally have less volume and higher performance but still be easier to paddle and more stable and forgiving than a shortboard. You may feel like you want to jump straight to shorter boards but for many people this just slows down their progress overall!
Surfing the right user friendly waves
When you’re focused on improving your surfing in the early days it is much more important to surf more waves than it is to surf high quality waves. The problem with the best surf breaks is that they’re almost always really crowded even when the waves are small, so you’ll be coming up against better surfers and dealing with crowds so you’ll be lucky to catch any waves. But when you’re starting out it is hard to get your head around all the different kinds of surf breaks and variations in conditions. You’ve got to spend a bit of time learning about how waves work and getting to know local surf breaks near you to find out where is most suited to your skill level. People at beginner beaks are also more understanding and more friendly than at most popular surf breaks.
Realistic expectations and commitment
As an early stages surfer, it’s important to accept that it will take some time to master and that for at least for a while (and probably never), you’re not going to be surfing like the pro surfers we see all over the surf media. Realistic expectations also help to take the seriousness away. Sometimes we need a reminder that surfing is not about the ego, it is supposed to be fun. As they often say the best surfer out there, is the one having the most fun. Secondly, learning to surf takes ongoing commitment and persistence. If you aren’t willing to commit for the long term than you aren’t likely to improve.
My learn to surf experience
When i started learning to surf, I don’t think there was much information available online so it was pretty much a case of going at it on my own. I only started surfing in my late teens. I never took any surfing lessons and just got a surfboard and started surfing.
I can’t remember too clearly (man I sound old..) but I didn’t really seem to make much progress with my surfing for a number of years. I didn’t surf too often, but I think a lot of that sideways progression was due to limited motivation which was caused by a lack of improvement in my surfing. You see when you are really making consistent improvements in anything, you are naturally more motivated to keep improving. This is especially true in surfing, and as you get better, you’ll want to surf more and more and that fuels further improvements.
So what was holding me back? For me it wasn’t a matter of surfing the wrong type of board. The first proper surfboard that I got was a mini mal surfboard which I feel was very well suited at that stage.
I surfed most of the time in those early stages on my own and I surfed sporadically at different surf spots. A lot of the time I’d paddle out in waves that were too big or the conditions weren’t right. My understanding of where I should be surfing was clearly nonexistent and for one reason or another I didn’t think to do much about that for quite some time. Looking back it seems to be that it was a matter of mostly surfing at the wrong types of surf breaks and fundamentally not catching enough consistent waves that was the reason for very slow progression.
The time this all changed for me was when I started consistently surfing with a friend of mine who actually surfed really well, rode a variety of surfboards including short and longboards and was also very motivating in terms of pushing me to go surfing often. It was through this friend that I met a number of other guys and together we went surfing all the time. Having a group of people who I was consistently surfing with and that were better than me was the no. 1 reason that I was able to improve my surfing quickly.
We surfed at a variety of surf spots but mostly point breaks and it was a two prong effect of improving by seeing and doing and being much more motivated to surf more as I was improving fast. The trajectory that had been completely flat for years shot up over just a few months and I actually started surfing properly. Over the next few years I got better and better and it was a great experience.
Tips for learning to surf on your own
For me this was the big boost that I needed to improve my surfing. Once you’ve got the basics down pat it’s a combination of learning all the little things and by continuous repetition. The easiest way to do this without even having to think about it is having people to go surfing with.
If you can’t find people to consistently surf with, it’s not the end of the world. You just need to ensure you are able to keep learning and improving. There are so many resources these days which you can utilise when you are out of the water which you can leverage to ensure you make the best of your time in the water.
A great online program that we highly recommend is Barefoot Surf Tutorials. It is a paid service but is very affordable and in our opinion, does such a good job of presenting all aspects of surfing skills that it’s totally worth the money. There are many free resources online but I don’t know of any that are as well put together.
Check them out:
Can you learn to surf on your own? Yes! And well, you’ve got no choice my friend… you’re the only one who can make the decision to commit to the pursuit of surfing.
Learning to surf is a long journey, and to remain on path of continual improvement you need to remain motivated to keep surfing you can ensure that you are progressing by avoiding some key mistakes that many make and that slow down their progression. You can speed it up by surfing with people who are better than you or by remaining committed to continuous learning as you go.