Picture yourself relaxing on a beach. The day is coming to an end, and the sun is starting to set. In the distance, you see some surfers paddling out to catch an evening wave. You watch them for a minute and then think to yourself, I should try that.
You’re right, you should try that. Surfing is one of the most trying sports in the world, but the benefits are sure to pay off. The first step in getting involved is a desire to do it, which, if you’re reading this, you probably already have. So, what’s next?
The most common question that we get asked is, how long does it take to learn to surf? There is no short, simple answer to this question, and it’s relative to the person learning. That doesn’t mean, however, that we can’t help you find the answer.
How Hard is it to Learn to Surf?
The short answer is it isn’t easy. But nothing worth doing comes easy, right? Surfing is a sport that will always pose new and interesting challenges, no matter how experienced you may be. When it comes to surfing, you will always be learning.
But don’t worry, the right conditions and the right teacher can make things a lot easier for you. Now we say the right teacher because although you can learn by yourself, it’s probably not the best idea. We recommend taking a few beginner surf lessons to get you started, but you don’t have to. If you already know someone with experience, they can teach you just as well as any instructor in a surf lesson.
The biggest key to success when learning how to surf is patience. You’re not going to be able to catch those gnarly waves right away, and if you’re ok with that, then you are already one step ahead of a lot of new surfers.
A close second to having patience is practice and lots of it. If you plan on doing a little surfing while on vacation, then all the power to you, but it’s not going to make you a surfer. To learn how to surf, you have to spend a lot of time on the water, a commitment that many people don’t take into consideration until it’s too late and they’ve spent a bunch of money outfitting themselves. We understand that you’re probably not going to become a beach bum and spend every waking moment on the water, but. the more time you can spend there, the easier surfing is going to be to learn.
With any sport, there is a learning curve. At some point, that curve will peak, and you will have perfected just about every aspect involved. Surfing is not one of those sports. The curve is more of a steady incline, and no matter long you have been doing it or how experienced you may think you are, there will always be something new to learn.
A Surf Ready Self-Assessment
Before you hit the water, there are some characteristics that every surfer will have that are a key to being able to pick the sport up and continue enjoying it for years to come. Do you have the following characteristics, or are they something you need to work on before getting serious?
All surfers will be quick to point out that anyone, whether just starting or surfing for years, needs to be more agile than most. Agility can come with some time. But, if it’s something that you lack entirely, then learning to surf is going to be considerably more difficult.
- Strength and Endurance
Surfing is close to the top of the list of most physically demanding sports in the world. From paddling out to the next wave to getting up on the board and holding your position, surfing is going to push your strength and endurance to their limits every time on the water. Make sure that is something you are ready for. Check our article How to Train for Surfing for tips on increasing your strength and endurance.
A nervous surfer is not going to be a confident surfer, and if you’re not confident in what you are doing, learning to surf isn’t going to be easy. The sport may not be for you if that is the case. Of course, everyone learning to surf starts a little nervous, it’s completely natural, but the ability to overcome it will make things easier.
Things to Keep in Mind Before Learning to Surf
If you are confident that you have the above characteristics on lock, then you are one step closer to getting on a board and catching the next wave. Still, there are a few things you should know before diving in so to speak.
- The Right Board is Essential
You might be wondering, how do I know what board is right for me without getting on the water? The short answer is you don’t. At least not 100% anyway. Everybody is going to have their own specific needs when it comes to the right board. The thing to look for when choosing a beginner board is volume. The volume of the board takes into consideration the overall length, width, and thickness. The more volume the board has, the easier it is for a beginner to control. There is no doubt that you will outgrow your first board, and that’s ok because a beginner board will always hold its value and be easy to resell when you do. Choose something easy for you to control, then upgrade as your skills develop.
- Know Where to Surf
As crucial as the right board is the right spot. Choosing a surf spot that is not suited to your skills will not only be dangerous but will be quick to destroy any confidence you have.
The best place to learn how to surf is a beach break. Beach breaks will produce small, soft waves that are both easy to catch and easy to ride and will not only help you fine-tune some of your skills but will give you the confidence you are going to need to catch those larger waves.
- Perfect the Basics
There is a big difference between learning the basics and perfecting them. As we’ve already mentioned, we strongly recommend a quality surf instructor to help you through this part, but if it is something you chose not to do, then you should at least be aware that until you perfect the basics, the progression from beginner to the intermediate surfer is going to be a long one.
The nice thing is, you can practice a lot of these basics on dry land, with or without a surfboard. Something as simple as a piece of cardboard can go a long way in helping you practice the movements needed to paddle and get up on your board, and the right exercise ball will not only help you build strength but agility and balance as well.
- Safety First
The ocean is a powerful and potentially dangerous place that demands both understanding and respect. If you don’t respect it, it can quickly chew you up and spit you out. That isn’t meant as a deterrent. Don’t let the potential dangers of the ocean dissuade you from taking up surfing. Instead, know your limits and act accordingly. Know your skill level and surf accordingly. If you push yourself farther than you should be, not only will you be putting yourself at risk but everyone around you as well.
How Long Does it Take to Learn to Surf?
Because learning to surf means spending a good amount of time on the water, how long it takes to learn can’t be measured in days or weeks but should be measured in hours. Not everyone can consistently spend day after day learning to surf, so getting those hours under their belt could take months, where someone who can spend day after day on the water could accumulate the needed hours in a few weeks. Here is a quick rundown of how many hours it will take to learn some of the basics. Keep in mind that these numbers are estimates, and the hours needed vary based on many different things.
Paddling is going to be one of the first things you are going to have to perfect. After all, you can’t get out to those gnarly waves if you can paddle your board. An experienced surfer will make paddling look easy, but the reality is it can be quite difficult and very physically demanding.
Even the most stable surfboard is wobbly in the water, and learning to paddle without tipping it over is going to push your patience to the limit. Once you’ve mastered a balanced paddle, you have to be able to negotiate obstacles. Whether negotiating incoming waves or fellow surfers, expect to have to paddle in all kinds of directions.
Because paddling in various directions takes some practice, it will typically take a new surfer between 20 and 60 hours to be able to do it confidently.
Sitting on your surfboard is another aspect that may seem easy but is difficult to master. Balance is the key when it comes to being able to sit up on a board, and you’re going to tip over and fall off more than you expect to until you have perfected it.
Being able to sit on your board is extremely important when learning to surf, as it’s going to give you a break from the uncomfortable and tiring paddling. Paddling exerts a lot of energy, and you can recoup some of that by sitting on your board and taking a break.
Sitting also helps you assess a situation better. Being up higher on the board will help you gauge the next wave easier and determine whether or not there are any obstacles that you may have to paddle away from.
Beginner surfers can expect to take anywhere from 50 to 60 hours to learn how to properly sit up on a board and do it with confidence.
- Standing Up
Once you can confidently paddle and sit up on your board, it’s time to stand. Surfing wouldn’t be surfing without the ability to stand on the board. Standing up is, without a doubt, the single hardest thing to be able to not only learn but do well. The movement needed to stand up is unique to surfing and is an awkward thing that your body will tell you isn’t possible.
Reject what your body is telling you because it is possible, and with a bit of patience, you will be able to train your body into thinking it is perfectly natural. Practicing the different forms of standing up doesn’t have to be done on the water. You can remove the fins of your board and practice the movements on dry land. Practicing it on the water, though, not only perfects the motions of standing up but will help you gain the balance needed to stay up.
Because this is the most difficult aspect of learning to surf, it can take a bit of time. Some will pick it up quickly, while others may struggle. Expect it to take anywhere from 20 to 80 hours to get standing up down pat.
While paddling, sitting, and standing are the top three basic things, they are not everything. Here is what you can expect from other aspects of learning to surf.
- Duck Diving (a technique used to power through a wave instead of paddling over)- 60+ hours.
- Ride an Unbroken Wave– 120+ hours.
- Become a Competent and Capable Surfer– 150+ hours.
Remember that the times we have set out here are not set in stone, and everyone learning to surf will be different. The important thing is that you understand that learning to surf requires patience and commitment. If you have those two things, then you are well on your way to becoming a surfer.