So, you’ve decided to take up surfing. Maybe you decided that some time ago and have already spent a little time on the water. Either way, good for you. Surfing is a fun, engaging and exhilarating way to get out and enjoy the outdoors while getting some great exercise and connecting with nature. But if you’ve taken the time to stop and read this, you probably already know that.
As the sport continuously grows, more and more people discover just how great it can be for their bodies, minds, and souls. They also discover that it isn’t easy. It is human nature to want to be able to jump into something and be good at it. If you’re looking for something like that, surfing isn’t going to be for you. Plenty of seasoned surfers are still learning every day, and these are people who have been doing it for years and years.
That’s not meant to discourage you but to inspire. Surfing can be tough, especially when first starting, but that’s no reason to give up on it because the payoff is well worth it. There’s nothing wrong with needing a little help early on, and whether you’ve gotten on a board yet or not, we’re here to help.
Choose the Right Gear
There is nothing wrong with borrowing even renting some gear when you’re first starting. Understandably, you may not want to rush out and spend a bunch of money on a surfboard when you’re still unsure if it is for you. That borrowed or rented gear may be good at first, but chances are it isn’t suited to your exact needs. There will come a time when you’ll be ready to invest in something that better suits the surfer you are ready to become.
You’re going to outgrow your first surfboard, that’s a sure thing. Your needs are going to change as you grow as a surfer. Don’t let that discourage you from getting that first board, though, as you can usually find the right beginner surfboard for a relatively decent price, especially if you search for something used. Beginner boards are always in high demand, and hold their value well, so you will more than likely get most of your investment back when it comes time to upgrade. Local surf shops can be a great resource for anything surfing, including buying a used board. If they don’t have any used boards, they can usually direct you to someone who does.
When looking for the right surfboard to take you from a beginner surfer to an intermediate one, longer is better. A shortboard is for only the best, most capable surfers. Longer boards offer more volume, and in turn, better floatation and ease of control. The longer the board is, the easier it will be to paddle, taking fewer strokes than a shortboard. Longer boards are also easier to stand up on.
The construction of the board won’t matter as much as the length. Most boards use fiberglass, but soft top surfboards are what we recommend for beginners (we’re a little biased at Get Foamie but we think most people would agree). There’s not really much argument, if you’re starting out the extra float that a foam surfboard will provide and safety benefits are reason enough.
The first thing we all think of when it comes to surfing is the surfboard. After all, without it, there is no surfing. But, it’s important to think about your wetsuit as well. The best surfers in the world surf all year round, whether that means traveling the world looking for the next wave or surfing at home in the less desirable winter months. As a beginner just getting started to master their skills, it’s a good idea to do just that. There is nothing more frustrating than having to re-learn some of the basics you may have lost during downtime. Look for something that you can use for most of the year, which will obviously depend on your local weather and temperature range – check out our wetsuit temperature guide for more info.
Overcome the Fear
Whether or not we want to admit it, there is an aspect of fear associated with surfing. We’ve all seen the videos of the crazy wipeouts off huge waves and heard the stories of sharks cruising around beneath surfers and even sometimes attacking. If you’ve spent enough time at the beach, maybe you’ve even been witness to a rescue or two. It’s normal for those surfers who are just starting to have some amount of fear, and that’s ok. But, if you cannot overcome that fear, it’s going to hold you back from making the step from beginner to intermediate. A huge aspect of overcoming your fear is doing things safely from the start. If you push yourself too soon, you will put yourself into situations that can be potentially dangerous and very scary. Putting yourself in these situations is a sure-fire way for you to hang up the board and never touch it again. We understand how easy it can be to get caught up watching an experienced surfer make things look easy, but there are some things you should do when transitioning from a beginner surfer that is not only going to build your confidence and help overcome any fear you might have but will also keep you safe.
Whether you are brand new and have never been on a board before or are looking to take your skills to the next level, we strongly recommend taking a surf lesson. Surfing lessons don’t just teach you the basics of surfing but will help you build the confidence you need to be able to take on the big waves like a pro.
So, you’ve taken some lessons and have spent a bit of time on the board. Your confidence is growing, and that’s great, but nothing is going to shatter that confidence and re-instill some fear faster than water that you can’t handle. The key to moving on as a surfer is perfecting each step. As a beginner, you want to always be in control of the situation, which means staying in water that is typically waist-deep. Waist deep water means you can touch the bottom, and touching the bottom means you have total control over any situation you might be put in. Don’t move out into deeper water until you are confident in controlling situations in shallower water.
The buddy system is important when it comes to surfing, especially when starting. Always surf with some else. They don’t have to be a pro or even a better surfer than you. They just have to be there. You don’t even have to bring someone along, but rather surf somewhere where there are already other surfers. There are so many variables when it comes to surfing that a good situation can quickly turn bad. Surfing with others around and knowing that someone is there to help if you need it will eliminate the fear of being alone and will make you a better surfer because of it.
Know the Conditions
The conditions that you surf in as a beginner are monumentally different than what an experienced surfer faces. An experienced surfer is better able to manage different situations than you as a beginner would be. It’s something that takes time, so don’t let it discourage you. Instead, embrace some of the conditions that are better suited for those just getting started.
A surf instructor will often do their instructing at beach breaks and for good reason – it is an easy place for someone to not just learn but dial in their skills. It’s a safe place to have fun and build the confidence needed to take on more serious conditions. Practice makes perfect when it comes to surfing, and that practice comes only from surfing lots of waves. Surfing a beach break will give you those waves.
That brings us to surfing the right wave. One of the most common mistakes beginner surfers make is not surfing the right wave. You might already be familiar with the terms white water and green waves. White waves are what form after a wave has broken. These are the easiest waves to get a handle on, everything from paddling to getting up on a board. The waves are easy to paddle to and are not aggressive. They may not seem as glamorous or as exciting as the bigger green, unbroken waves, but they are the perfect place to learn the fundamentals. Only after you’ve mastered these waves, usually 20 or so surfing sessions, should you consider taking on green waves.
Wave height is important, too. When getting your bearings, the smaller the wave, the better. They shouldn’t be so small that they are impossible to do anything with, but keeping the wave between one and three feet will help fine-tune your skills and build your confidence.
Anyone who has been surfing for any significant amount of time will be quick to agree that the perfect waves are few and far between. Offshore wind blows from the land out to the ocean and is a major player in creating that perfect wave. This wind makes the face of the wave nice and clean and more perfectly shaped. The waves created from offshore wind are easier to navigate and ride. Of course, it’s not practical to wait for the right offshore wind to create the perfect wave, but if you have the chance to surf these waves, take advantage of them.
Know Your Surfing Etiquette
Surfing is a lifestyle for most of the people who get involved. The further along you progress in your journey, the more obvious this will become. Because of that, surfing comes with some unwritten rules. Of course, they’re not official, but they are certainly taken to heart by the surfing community. This community is tight-knit and more than willing to help out those new to the sport. Ignoring these rules and proper surfing etiquette will be the quickest way to be shunned by those around you.
Respect your fellow surfers, and they will show you that same respect. Surfers are a friendly group of people and certainly won’t hold anything against you for genuinely making a mistake. If you happen to make a mistake, acknowledge that you did, and apologize. One of the biggest things new surfers should take into consideration is giving experienced surfers plenty of room. Nothing will aggravate a surfer more than someone getting in the way of them riding their wave, not to mention you would be putting both yourself and them in danger.
Surfers are very conservation-minded people. As our ever-growing pollution problems grow, surfers want nothing more than to be able to leave something for the next generation. It should be obvious to everyone that we shouldn’t be tossing trash anywhere in our oceans, but the unfortunate reality is that it’s not as obvious to some. Show your respect for the world around you, and your fellow surfers will respect you.
When two surfers are paddling towards one wave, the surfer closest to the peak of that wave has the right of way and should be the first to surf it. As an example, if two of you are paddling towards a right-hand wave, the person to the left of the other has the right of way. If there is someone on your left, they go. If you are on the left of someone, you go.
Waves shouldn’t and can’t be ridden by two surfers. Dropping in is when you ignore the right of way rule and drop in front of someone to ride the wave. Don’t do this. At the very least, it will quickly garnish up some hate from your fellow surfers. Worse, it can be very dangerous and put you and the other surfer into situations that neither of you wants to be in.
Snaking is when you paddle around another surfer to get closer to the peak and gain the right of way. Doing so isn’t going to earn you any respect from your fellow surfers, and if you’ve already earned their respect, you will be quick to lose it if you pull a stunt like snaking.
Patience is Key When it Comes to Surfing
Most people don’t just want to do something; they want to do it well, and this couldn’t be more true than it is with surfing. After all, what is the point of spending time and money to get into a sport only to do that sport half-heartedly? But anything that you want to do in life takes some work, and surfing is no exception. That means you’re going to need patience. A lot of patience. Surfing isn’t something you’re going to learn overnight . You’re going to get beaten up, battered, and tossed from your board more than you can count. But be patient, one day, it will come to you, and you will make it look like a walk in the park. Every surfer has gone through it, even if they make it look easy, they had to start somewhere. The patience you use when learning will transfer to that time when you are a much better surfer, and believe it or not, it allows you to get the most out of the sport.
Learning to surf is no joke. Getting better at it isn’t easy either. We know that might come off as a little discouraging but use it as inspiration instead. Staring out isn’t going to be easy, and advancing isn’t going to be easy. Surfing is never easy, no matter how skilled you may be. But getting the basics down pat and then practicing those basics over and over until they become second nature is what’s going to differentiate you from beginner to intermediate and so on. Take some of these tips how you will, and get what you can out of them, but most important of all, don’t give up.