getting back into surfing
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Getting back into surfing after years out or an injury

If you are getting back into surfing after years out, this guide will let you know how to get back into surfing and manage that so you can focus on having fun.

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The Full Guide

If you are coming back to surfing after a while off, maybe years or you’ve had an injury that’s kept you out of the water, it can be a tough ride back in. 

One that can sometimes not feel like riding a bike again. 

It’s not that you’ve lost the skill, you just need to blow out the cobwebs but sometimes that process can be rough.

This guide will walk you through navigating the process of getting back into the surf after time off and how to make it easier on yourself.

Don’t make this mistake

The biggest mistake most surfers make coming back to surfing is they set goals very high with things like “I want to surf just like I used to when I was 20”. 

This is a great goal, the goal isn’t the problem, it’s that the goal is going to take a lot of steps to get to. If you don’t meet that goal or the journey is slow, it will lead to frustration and negative self-talk.

No doubt the reason for getting back into surfing ties into having fun, so set your sights on that goal first. 

You need to manage your expectations and embrace the suck. 

Your expectations will make or break a surf before you’ve even paddled out. If you expect to have your pop-up dialled in on day one and don’t that surf is going to get frustrating very quickly. 

Instead, change the expectations to something reachable, set it to just trying, to working on things, or even just paddling out and having fun. Everything after that is then a bonus!

This will guarantee you will be getting back in the water again and not feeling like “I’m a failure, why do I suck at this?”.

After that, you need to embrace the suck, embrace that things have changed between now and your last surf. Embrace that you may not be as good as you were before but that you just need to get a few surfs under your belt to bring you up to speed.

Embracing the suck opens you up to be in a more positive mindset and you accept that failure is guaranteed along the way. 

Dealing with change in your ability

If it’s been years or there’s an injury involved, no doubt, things will have changed. The question is what’s changed and bringing awareness.

If it’s been years, there can be a lot of things going on. Just being aware of those changes will help you avoid negative self-talk and enjoy it more. It’s not meant to beat you down but be used to help define the goals and where you are at now to get there.

Fitness is an obvious change, maybe you are less fit or still relatively fit, however, paddle fitness can be a whole other ball game and those first few surfs will be a challenge fitness-wise. 

If you need to get fit again, accept that and incorporate any endurance training in your current fitness or start swimming laps. Here’s a whole fitness regime for you to follow. 

Don’t be afraid to go to a bigger board than before. This will help with paddling easier, stabilising the pop-up and catching more waves easier. Remember, getting back into surfing is for the fun of it. Build consistency in your surfing, blow out the cobwebs and then work on the bigger goals.

Working with your injury, not against it

Bad posture, wear and injuries can also impact how your body moves. If you are carrying an injury, work with the injury and not against it.

Talk to a specialist about your injury and understand how you should treat it but also accommodate it. 

This will go a long way to enjoying your surfing. If you have a lower back problem, either pain or a limit to your range of motion, your pop-up is going to suffer. 

If you have an issue in the hips or legs, it’s the same again. If you expect your pop-up will be a struggle, it’s an easier pill to swallow and the game becomes all about progress to a pop-up and not you must nail every pop-up.

Injuries and changes in the body are harder on the mind

Age and injuries are hard on the body, but they are harder on the mind as we tend to not notice their mental impact on our surfing.

Yes, we may not be as fit or mobile with age, but the knowledge that we used to be able to do something without an issue, but can’t now, is a very tough pill to swallow.

The problem isn’t always fitness or mobility though, sometimes it’s how we view the problem and things that have changed since we were younger. 

With aging, some surfers might be unaware that they now subconsciously have more self-preservation and this can create anxiety or stress in their surfing.

How this manifests can be sitting wider on the peak (also due to not wanting to fight it out with the crowd anymore), stiff and tense surfing affecting how you move and messing up the pop-up by looking at the bottom of the wave and not down the line. 

Without realising you could be making choices that are making your surfing harder on yourself. Things that make you feel comfortable, but that new comfort zone is holding you back, making you wonder why you can’t do this anymore.

If you feel your surfing is struggling, you don’t feel comfortable like you used to or something has drastically changed, just think about what may be the root cause of that. Try to identify it and figure out the best way to quiet your mind so you can do what you want to do.

This may be a slow process of expanding your comfort zone with exposure to the issue and solution every surf.

Coming back after a major injury

If you have been out of the water with a major injury, you need to set realistic goals that account for the injury.

Most surfers don’t want to admit they can’t do something. We all have an ego in one way or another, the best thing you can do is drop it.

As an example, if you had hip or knee replacements, you need to be very conscious and aware of what your body can and can’t do. Your specialist will advise you.

But if you can’t get up off the floor easily, how do you expect to pop up on a surfboard?

That is just setting yourself up for failure and frustration.

It sucks but you want to accept what your body can and can’t do. Work through the limitations and set goals. When you know you can easily get up off the floor without issue, loss of balance or pain, start moving on to doing a pop-up on the floor. Always ask your specialist first though.

Again, if you can’t pop up on the floor where it’s easy and there is no resistance or uneven surface, you won’t be popping up in the surf. 

Once you can do it easily and effectively, remind yourself to set the expectations and embrace the suck, moving into the surf will again be another level of difficulty as you will now move to an uneven surface.

If the injury is different and impacts your paddling, ability to move freely etc, you need to be aware of that and what your limitations are. Don’t make the injury worse by paddling for three hours at a point break with a sweep, while you have tennis elbow. That’s asking for pain for the next few days.

Think of shorter surfs and at a frequency your specialist recommends. Always revert to your specialist and how to move and adapt to the limitations. Don’t fight through them.

Don’t forget your recovery and how important it is to keep working on improving strength, mobility and range of motion for any injury or limitation. 

If you do this, when you hit the water, you’ll know what to expect of your body and how to enjoy the moment, so you can continue surfing. 


Remember, getting back into surfing is for the fun of it. Start by building consistency in your surfing, blow out the cobwebs and then work on the bigger goals.

Drop the expectations and embrace the suck, and everything after that will be a bonus. 

Things will have changed between your last surf, so work with that, not against it. Move to a bigger board if you have to and start swimming to build paddle fitness.

If things feel uncomfortable or there are changes in your ability you can’t figure out, maybe things have changed mentally and you see surfing slightly differently. That could be an increased self-preservation instinct. 

Try to identify the root cause of the tension or stress as dealing with that will drastically change how you surf and your ability to move freely and make better decisions.

If you are coming back from an injury, always talk to a specialist about it and work with that injury and the limitations in your body.

If the injury is serious, work on land first, and figure out if you can do a pop-up properly or move the way you do. This will cut out all the pain and frustration of wondering why you can’t do it. Because if you can’t do the movement on land with the injury, you won’t be doing it in the surf.

Next Week

Next week I am going to discuss if you should move to a bigger surfboard and how to manage changing boards up or down. 

Written by
Luke Hardacre
surf coaching