Beginners Surfing Guide: How to get out the back and more
As a beginner, you may feel frustrated a lot with surfing and there isn't much advice on how to solve them. This guide, will explain the more nuanced problems like how to get out the back
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The Full Guide
Do you feel that sometimes surfing is just a struggle but you’ve fallen in love with it, just not those struggles?
Do you wish you could spend more time actually surfing and less time flailing about feeling tired, battered and bruised while other surfers make it look easy?
This week's episode is all about the beginner, those struggles and packing as much information into one guide for beginners but this will be aimed at those surfers just beyond learning to catch waves in whitewash.
Getting out the back of the lineup
Whether you say getting out or in, isn’t doesn’t matter. For a beginner, not being able to get out the back can be a depressing feeling, like you aren’t good enough.
To fix this problem and prevent being stuck inside coping all the waves on your head, it starts before you even get wet.
Start reading the ocean and waves
Start every surf by taking those five minutes to stop, watch the surf and try to figure out what's going on.
This starts with ignoring all the surfers, just imagine they aren’t there, forget them, and they will just complicate it. You want to be looking for where the waves are breaking, how they are coming into the beach, are they breaking right or left or both ways. Which way breaks better?
How are they breaking, does it peel and crumble or does it run and then stand up and suddenly break?
The first few times this will feel confusing and you’ll be none the wiser, but make a guess at what you think is going on. If you are right fantastic, if you are wrong, you’ll figure it out in the line-up.
Now that there is a rough idea of the conditions, look at the crowd, and see if the crowd is positioned in the right spot. Often you’ll find around half of the surfers out there are just sitting around splashing in the water, not paddling for waves and confused on what to do.
This moment is your chance to identify these surfers and what's going on. You may see surfers you want to be near as they seem to constantly get the right waves.
The very last thing to consider and look for is the biggest thing that will help you get out back of the surf, and that’s to identify the flow of water going back out to sea or what the easiest path out is.
This is huge, most beginners paddle out in a straight line to where they want to sit, straight through all the whitewash and take a beating getting there, using up most of their energy.
Use the currents and rips to get you out to the line-up
What you are looking for is water moving sideways and outwards. Sideways movement of water will be current and can be caused by the tide and wind. This a topic for another discussion but there is a period of slack water when the tide is very still and a period where the tide will not just rise or drop but move the water across the beach.
A rip is seen easiest by looking for where the waves are breaking and at the edge of that area you may notice a place of deep water or where the waves are not consistently breaking. As water comes into the beach, it will need to find a way back out to sea, this is what makes up part of a rip and can be used to quickly get you out the back.
If you are stuck in a rip trying to get into the beach, don’t paddle against it and don’t stay in the rip once out the back. Use it to get you out and then paddle sideways across the rip to where you want to be. Always be conscious of picking a spot on the beach to line up with prior to paddling out and any rip or current will be obvious as you move away from that marker.
Even if there isn’t an obvious rip, where the waves break the least or deep water will be your easier place to paddle.
At a pointbreak, you want to paddle wide of the break if you can but sometimes at some points, the quickest path is through whereas wide will just put you 200m down the point but out the back making you paddle up the point.
Paddling out the back after a wave
If you’ve done your time observing the ocean, after a wave you want to remember it. Note the tides will change the conditions and you want to keep an eye on how it changes.
If there was an easy path out the back, paddle back to that spot if it's close by.
The problem most beginners face is they don’t know how to get out of the inside section, can’t duck dive or can’t duck dive consistently and feel like it's one step forward and two steps backwards every time a wave comes.
This results in most beginners forcing their way through the whitewash and sets with brute force, which only gets you tired quickly.
Wait out the sets - conserve your energy
You want to surf smarter, not harder. You want to read the waves coming in and wait for a break between the sets to time your paddle out. Don’t fight it out against it, wait for them to step and then paddle quickly through the smaller waves or lull.
If during this stage of waiting, you can stand on the sand bank, do this, keep your board next to you and guide it over or under the waves (depending on your board size).
What this does is help you keep your place. If you lay on your board and don’t paddle, you will just get pushed back, but if you stand on the bank, you can walk forwards, gaining ground and then jump over or under a wave and pull your board with you. This helps conserve so much energy and time. Your legs don’t get that tired so it gives your arms a break.
If there is a big current, be aware you may be being pushed off the bank or to somewhere down the beach.
What boards to ride
For most beginners, even those who are sitting out the back, generally it's best to still stick to a foamie. These surfboards aren’t just for riding whitewash and will catch a wave easily, giving good stability and balance, while also taking some of that fear away.
If you have a longboard or another board, that’s fine, work with what you have but if you do struggle, don’t be afraid to go back to a soft surfboard.
Most longboards eight feet or longer is great but you can still use a lot of boards in the mid to high seven feet.
What you are mainly looking for is a board that has a decent length, while also being wide and thick. The wider and thicker it is, the more balance and stability it will give you to nail that pop-up and get into waves.
Foamies will still turn and there will be an upcoming episode all about foamies and changing up your board as you progress.
There’s a whole other guide on etiquette here that covers the majority of what you need to know. However, there are still some things a beginner can add to that list.
Understand who you are surfing with, what they are doing, how they are surfing and what level they are roughly at.
If you are surfing with mostly only beginners, it’s great and easy for everyone. When it’s a mix of abilities that’s when you have to be a bit more away and the above-mentioned guide will apply. Look to your inside, and check if you will be dropping in on another surfer before you decide to take the wave. Just remember - nothing wrong with having a look at the menu, have a paddle and see if the other person wants it before not even trying.
Things change when it’s just beginners, and all this needs to be is that if everyone around you or riding the same waves as you as a beginner, the rules become more like a party wave.
What this means is that if everyone or the surfer on your inside is only surfing straight, you can’t exactly drop in on them. If they can’t turn, you can’t turn etc, no one is upset.
But you must have observed them and seen what everyone is doing, but if you do this, just apologise with a wave, smile and sorry. Most beginners won’t mind and like surfing with others similar in their ability. Strike up a chat and ask to party wave.
The other change in rules is if all you are doing is going straight and not riding along the face of the wave, expect that the odd surfer may drop in on you, noting that you are mainly in the whitewash. If you don’t want someone to do that and you were trying to go down the line, just give ‘em the eyes to say oi, or say “yeah” about 100 times while on the wave.
What your body language says about you and others in the surf
Linking back to the etiquette and observing other surfers, their body language will say a lot about that surfer. If they are lying down on their board, looking exhausted and struggling, it’s unlikely they will paddle to catch a wave, go for it, just keep an eye to see if they go for it if they are on your inside.
However, this works both ways. Advanced surfers will notice people who look lost, look out of place, stressed etc and quickly write them off when the set waves come. You’ve maybe felt this and been frustrated like they don’t give you a chance.
It’s not your fault but it’s like being at a skatepark, if you are standing off to the side, on the grass and not at the top of the ramp waiting for your turn, looking like you want to roll in, no one will assume you want to. Be aware of it but don’t be hard on yourself. Just look the part, look like you want the wave and others will take note.
Body language can be a very subtle way people bully others to catch lots of waves as people just let them do it and don’t fight back by applying similar body language.
Again, link this back to who you are surrounded by and you start to learn a bit more about etiquette, who wants to catch a wave and how they behave when the sets come in.
If every time sets come in they paddle out to the horizon, ignore them and assume they probably won’t go for it. Just keep your eyes on the inside to make sure you don’t drop in on them.
Stop pulling out of waves because the other person is better
This next one really frustrates me with beginners. Too often beginners don’t catch a wave because some other surfer was there and they felt they didn’t belong or they were a better surfer and they should give it up.
For most breaks you surf this will not be the case, unless it's a reef break and a matter of safety, just stop this.
If you have the inside, closer to the peak, you have priority. You are most likely surfing with other beginners and they feel similar. Take it, it's your wave. Even if that other surfer
What you’ll be surprised by is if you are surfing with another learner or other beginners, they are mostly feeling the same thing and same thoughts. Just get out of your head of not belonging or not deserving a wave etc. These are just bad excuses you make to not catch that wave - it has nothing to do with being a “nice person”.
Dealing with Localism
Localism is tough, not much you can do about it, be aware of localised spots that are famous but to be honest, unless it’s a big tourist spot, localism isn’t so obvious when every break is crowded.
If you know a spot is localised, maybe skip it but otherwise just don’t rock up in a big group.
An angry local will always make themselves known or seen, either vocally, in body language or by taking a lot of waves and calling people off them.
If you are ever worried, just smile, strike up a conversation and bring positive and welcoming energy.
Learn to fall and relax on the wipeout
It’s all about expanding your comfort zone and this begins with more and more exposure. Again this is a whole other topic for a future podcast.
The more you do it, the more time you spend in conditions that make you feel uneasy, the sooner they will feel like the new normal.
Spend the time to observe the surf, read how the waves are breaking, who is surfing them, where the peak is and if half of that crowd is even trying to catch the waves.
After that, look for the easiest paths out to the back. Currents will create a sweep sideways across the beach and a rip going out will help you get out the back faster, just then remember to paddle out of the rip to the take-off spot.
Conserve your energy when paddling back out, wait for sets to settle and then paddle to get out. While waiting it out, if your feet can touch, you will hold your position on the bank better, just pull your board over or under the waves as you try to wait for a gap.
Remember etiquette but if everyone else is a beginner and only going straight and not across the wave, the rules will change.
If you are surfing with more advanced surfers, remember what your body language says about you and them. Other surfers will use everyone else's body language to see who is doing what, who they can drop in on, who will even bother to go for a set etc. It’s annoying but it always happens.
And lastly stop making excuses to not catch a wave because someone else paddled for it but they were on your outside, or you thought they were better or you thought you didn’t deserve it and they did. Just take the wave if you have priority based on position. Standard rules apply to everyone.
Does this help get over some of the more nuanced struggles as a beginner, other than just the pop up and catching a wave?
Has it helped make parts of surfing easier for you?
I’d love to know, you can reach out anytime, message me in the app or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org anytime.
Next week I will be covering everything regarding angling the take-off.