Learn to surf
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8 things to know when you start surfing

Starting surfing can be daunting, there are so many unwritten rules and then you have to contend with the waves and crowds. We've broken down everything you need to make sure you have more fun!

Table of Contents

  1. You need to get the right surfboard
  2. Additional gear is recommended
  3. Take a few surfing classes
  4. Pick the right spot
  5. Stay to the side and just watch
  6. Get the timing down
  7. Be aware of your surroundings
  8. Be careful not to overdo it
  9. Conclusion

Surfing is a great pastime. Some choose to ride the waves and let the current take them for a ride, while others prefer taking the board far from the coast where the waters are calm and do nothing other than sit and stare at the endless blue sea and sky.

If you’re interested in seeing what this feels like, but don’t know how to surf yet, here are all the things you need to know in order to get started.

1. You need to get the right surfboard

If you’re a beginner who’s just starting out, you’’ll want to buy a foam surfboard at first. There are plenty of different types of surfboards, all of which provide different advantages and disadvantages while on the water. As you develop your skills and get better at surfing, you might want to learn a bit more about them, but for now, all you really need to know is that the most beginner-friendly boards are the ones made from foam.

Foam boards provide you with a much larger surface to lay on and paddle, making it easier to move through the water while keeping your balance. This will allow you to get the hang of the timing that’s required to catch a wave more easily. The bigger volume will also allow you to stand up and hold your balance on the board much more easily.

Foam boards are also a lot more wallet-friendly, as they usually cost around $300 – $500, while most other types of boards can go up to $1000 or above (depending on the brand and whether or not it’s brand new or second-hand). This is the main reason why the foam board is a better option than the longboard, even though those are also considered beginner-friendly because of their larger size.

If you’re not convinced and would like to start off with a board that offers more maneuverability rather than stability, then we would recommend that you go to a surfboard rental shop. Prices range from around $10$60 for the entire day. Try out the smaller boards with a different rocker and make a decision for yourself.

In our experience, the easier learning curve the foam surfboards provide for beginners is what keeps these surfers coming back to surfing, while the difficulty of the smaller boards can discourage potential surfers so much that they lose their passion for the waves altogether.

2. Additional gear is recommended

When the topic of additional surfing gear comes up, most people immediately think of wetsuits. And yes, they are as synonymous with surfing as the boards themselves. However, they’re not all that necessary.

If the weather forecast for the day calls for particularly chilly winds, then a wetsuit is a very good choice for anyone planning to go into cold waters. Additionally, nothing is stopping you from wearing a wetsuit even in hot weather as it can protect you from sunburns and surf rash. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, in essence, it’s a rash that develops from the friction that happens when the surfer repeatedly rubs their bare chest and stomach on their board.

Since it seems that the wetsuit actually provides quite a bit of protection against the elements, why isn’t it considered essential then?

Simply put, a rash guard and a pair of trunks can provide pretty much the same protection at half the cost. In general, wetsuits cost between $50 – $100, if you disregard higher-end products that can go for three times those prices or above. A rashguard from the same brand usually costs a third of the price of a standard above-the-knee wetsuit.

Again, if you’re looking for cold weather protection and a suit that can shield you from the sun from your neck to your wrists and ankles, then a wetsuit is the way to go. However, if you’re only looking for protection against sunburn and surf rash, then a rash guard can provide that at a fraction of the price.

You might also consider buying an ankle strap for your board, for reasons that we’ll go over a bit further in this article.

3. Take a few surfing classes

Many people believe that the best way to learn is to get a board and run into the first wave you see. While getting used to the waves is going to be important, any beginner will gain a great deal of insight into the sport by attending a few basic surfing lessons.

Surfing is a lot more technical than people think it is. If you have someone to teach you the essentials and help you build a strong basis, then you’ll pick it up in no time. However, if you try to tackle this particular sport on your own, it’ll take you at least twice as much time and twice as much misery.

Surf classes will teach you everything from the recommended stretches that you should do before getting into the water, to the proper body position on the board and paddling technique when you’re out on the waves. More importantly, you’ll be taught how to bring your leg up from under you while you’re paddling, so that you can pop up on the surfboard.

These lessons are demonstrated on the beach at first, and on the water afterward. Even if you find that the particular lessons that you’re attending are mostly taught to children, keep in mind that you’re a newcomer to the sport yourself.

4. Pick the right spot

After you’ve gotten used to the basics, the time will come for you to tackle your first wave. Now, at this point, we could go on explaining how the top of the wave is called the lip, how the barrel is the inside of the breaking wave, and so on and so on. But, the truth is, you really don’t need to know any specialized language. All that you’re looking for is waves that are big enough to carry you along. That’s it.

We know that everyone wants to go into the barrel of the wave as soon as they buy their first board, but realistically, you’re just going to be learning to stand up on your board for the first few days.

Find a spot where the waves are quiet but still big enough to carry you along. Your goal at this stage is to get a feel of your board and learn how to paddle out and stand up. Everything else comes later, and only after you’ve mastered the basics.

5. Stay to the side and just watch

If it’s your first time trying to catch a wave, then you might want to take a bit more time just watching how the more experienced surfers do it.

Find a line up of surfers, paddle around the area where people are riding waves in toward the beach and out to a spot where you can observe them without getting in the way. Stay there for a while and just spend some time absorbing everything you see.

See which way the waves are breaking, and watch how none of the surfers are going all at once, but one by one. Basic surfing etiquette means always letting the person that’s been waiting the longest catch the next wave.

Every now and then there are going to be people that don’t care about any sort of order and simply squeeze in wherever they can. Now, a lot of people might just be ignorant of how things work and don’t know any better, but that’s not an excuse. Cutting in line, intentionally or not, can sometimes lead to accidents and people getting hurt when boards run into each other.

As you can imagine, people who don’t know the basic etiquette aren’t exactly welcome with open arms due to the chance of them ruining everyone’s fun. So try your best to absorb as much as you can about which way the line is moving before joining in.

6. Get the timing down

Once you see that you’re not cutting anyone off and that you can catch the next wave that’s coming, you’ll want to start paddling in the direction that the wave is moving in – that is, towards the beach. Start moving before the wave gets to you, and as you’re paddling, try to also keep an eye on the speed at which the wave is moving.

As you feel it start to carry you along, make sure that the nose of your board is above the water. If it isn’t, then simply adjust your body position and move back a bit on the board. This may cause you to lose your balance or miss the wave, but that just means that you’ll be better prepared for the next one.

If you’re still on the wave and your board is still above water, then it’s time to try and stand up. From the paddling position, put both of your hands right next to your chest (which should not be on the board, but slightly lifted), but don’t grip the board by the sides. In one fluent motion try to lift yourself up with your arms and put either your left or right leg between your hands.

From this position you’re going to try and stand up, take your hands off of the board, and place your back leg on the back of the board. All of this is meant to happen quickly, within the span of a few seconds, or otherwise, you’ll lose the wave. However, that’s not all that important at that particular moment, since all you’re looking to do at this stage is simply develop your board pop up skill.

7. Be aware of your surroundings

It’s unlikely that you’ll manage to stand up and ride that wave back all the way to the beach. Meaning that at some point you’re going to fall off of your surfboard. When that happens, there are a few things that you should keep in mind.

The ankle strap that we mentioned earlier becomes crucial if you wipe out. This will allow you to hold on to your board, even when you’re not on it, and it keeps the other surfers safe. Having it attached to you means that it won’t fly off when you lose control of it and missile its way towards a fellow surfboarder and cause them harm.

If you’re close to the shore when you fall, always turtle when you fall into the water. Put your head close to your chest and curl your arms around your head. If you can, fall on your back, but try to avoid going face-first into the water unprotected at all costs. In the best-case scenario,  you’ll hit the sand near the beach, in the worse case, you’ll go face first into rocks.

When you fall in the water, try to stay there for a few seconds. When your board slips from underneath you, there’s a good chance that it’ll fly up for a second. In other words, if it hasn’t hit the surface yet, it might land on your head if you come out of the water too quickly.

And lastly, as soon as you wipe out, get out of the way of the other surfers as quickly as you can. If they’re all giving you a good amount of space, then there shouldn’t be any issues. However, you really don’t want to leave things like that to chance, and it’s always best to assume that there’s someone right behind you and you need to get out of their way.

8. Be carefule not to overdo it

After you try your hand at a few waves and you start to feel tired, it might be smart to call it a day. As with any water-based sport, surfing can really take a lot out of you, and while it does provide great exercise, it can also leave you sore for the entirety of the next day if you overexert yourself.

Surfing uses pretty much all of the basic muscle groups. The arms for peddling and pushing off of the board. The abs and core for trying to balance on the board while paddling and trying to stay upright. And even the legs will get a pretty good exercise since you’ll be trying to keep them on the board the entire time.

If you’re looking for a good intense exercise routine, while also having fun and “shredding some waves”, then there really is no better alternative to spending the entire day and going on wave after wave.

However, if you’re mostly just in it for the fun, and would like to try going out on the waves as much as possible, then it’s better to stop when you start to feel tired, in order to make sure that you’re in top shape and aren’t too worn out to come back and try again the next day.


There are plenty of other little bits and pieces of surfing advice that you can learn from talking to any more experienced surfers you know, or even by looking through other web articles and surfing forums. However, we stand by our opinion that this is really all you need to know before you decide on whether or not you’re going to pick up a surfboard yourself.

Written by
Jeremy Dean
surf coaching