learn to surf
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How Long Does It Take to Learn to Surf?

Surfing can be hard and some new surfers might get discouraged because learning how to surf is going to take long. Here's how you can minimize the learning period.

No matter what it is we're considering learning, the question of how long immediately pops up in our minds. That's quite justified as life in the 21st-century advances at an unprecedented pace and what little free time we think we have on our hands has a tendency to just fly away in the blink of an eye.

"How long does it take to learn how to speak French fluently so I can go and try to seduce people when attending the stands of the Monaco Grand Prix?" or "How long does it take to learn how to fly a spaceship so I can get away from this social, political, and economic tangle I find myself in every hellish day (and also to shoot Mercury out of space because this retro is killing me)?" or "How long does it take to learn how to put on a mask properly so I don't pose a threat to everyone around me?"

Well, we don't know the answer to any of these questions (though they probably just depend), but we can provide an answer for how long it takes to learn to surf. And that answer is... it depends.

How Long It Takes to Learn to Surf - The Short Answer

The shortest answer might be it depends, but no matter what it depends on, it’ll take between a day and one or two months.

Where you’ll end up in that range depends on a plethora of variables:

  • whether you're under the mentorship of a good surf coach,
  • whether you have the means to travel around the world to surf where the right waves are,
  • whether you have the right beginner surfboard,
  • and whether you have the strength, agility, and endurance to cope with the waves (our Surfer Assessment program can help with this one).

If you're a beginner surfer and want to know more about these factors as well as the learning curve of a surfer, read on.

Where to Learn to Surf

The general idea is that a beach or point break provides the ideal wave for beginner surfers as they cannot be expected to just ride an unbroken wave at the beginning of their journey. More often than not, on an ideal beach break, there are going to be small and mellow waves we call the white foam. A beginner will feel more comfortable on such waves as they're more stable and don't require you to paddle too much.

However, it doesn't necessarily mean that the beach or point breaks near you are going to allow you to surf regularly. If you live in Hawaii, for example, no matter where you go, you're likely to encounter big waves even advanced surfers might find intimidating. Therefore, Hawaii might not exactly be the ideal place to learn to surf unless you grew up in a family of surfers.

Fortunately, there are many other places all around the world that will be much more suited to your skills and where it'll be much easier to catch the waves suited to your skills. If you have the means or you're really passionate about it, you can go on a surfing quest, explore beach breaks, surf schools, and waves, commune with other surfers, and eventually take a big step towards achieving your dreams.

In addition to finding the right place to learn to surf, it's also important to have an understanding of the ocean. Don't worry, you don't need to study meteorology, geography, or oceanography to learn how to surf. You just need to learn how waves are formed, what factors impact the way they break, and how to read surf reports so that you may know when and where the surf conditions will be to your liking.

In the end, picking the right spot to kick off your learning process and knowing what to expect will decrease the time you'll spend on mastering the basics.

The Physical Requirements of Surfing

bosu ball exercise for surfers

One of the most common factors that lead to self-doubt is the beginner surfer's concern about their physical inadequacy. You might blame surf movies for that, in which all the actors look like ancient Greek gods who just moved too far away from Olympus. However, having a perfect body doesn't mean that you'll become a good surfer, and just because you're slim doesn't mean that you don't have what it takes to learn to surf.

Of course, strength, endurance, agility, mobility, and flexibility are all important aspects of surfing. Sometimes you'll need to paddle for hours in the face of oncoming waves to catch the perfect one and you'll need strength and endurance for that. Popping up to a balanced stance just as you're catching a wave certainly requires agility. Performing turns and busting airs are obviously matters of mobility and flexibility.

Yet, none of this is a given for anyone no matter how strong-looking their body is. Rather, surfing calls for a more focused approach in which you don't lose your flexibility when building strength or sacrifice your balance for the sake of more agility, and vice versa.

To learn more about what you need in terms of balance (a BOSU ball might make all the difference), strength, and flexibility, you can head to our free Surfer Assessment program with a checklist at your disposal and get a clear idea of whether you have what it takes or you need to work on some parts of your body. In addition to this, you might want to consider yoga as a supplementary exercise to your surfing sessions.

Don't forget that the more physically ready you are, the less time it's going to take you to learn to surf.

Surf Coaching and Community

Being a part of your local surf community, exchanging views and feedback with others who, like you, are passionate about surfing, and even going out and socializing with them might help you learn to surf more quickly.

That way, you'll be more familiar with the jargon, which might contribute to your understanding of the technique. Their instant feedback will help you diagnose your weaknesses better and you'll know what to work on going forward. But, most importantly, your close contact with other surfers will help you develop the right mental approach to surfing.

There's something we call the surfer feeling. It not only refers to the fact that surfing is a feeling since it's all about being in the moment when you're riding waves but also highlights the importance of having fun then and there.

Of course, developing the surfer feeling is not all that easy and we have a surf psychology program that we created exactly for that purpose. But still, being in a surf community might help you gain access to this very special feeling, ease your progress in the early stages, and make you a confident surfer.

In addition to this, decent surf coaching is quite helpful when it comes to understanding your body, equipment, and the waves, and decreases the time spent learning the basics such as balance and popping up. Even if you can't pay for a surf school, you might take a couple of surf lessons from an experienced surfer, and in a matter of days or only a few weeks (depending on the criteria, of course), you'll start to surf properly on white and small waves.

Picking the Right Surfboard

picking a surfboard

You can devoutly follow surf forecasts, pick the beach break you're going to surf today quite meticulously, and become an amateur ocean scientist to be able to find all the waves you can ride more accurately. However, these are all external factors that you cannot really have control over.

Your surfboard is the only real external element that you can control, which means you need to make your choices extremely carefully and not get caught up in trends. Those who are trying to learn how to surf by themselves have a tendency to go with a surfboard that they saw their idol riding at Pipeline back in 2014.

They probably think that their dream surfboard is magical and will allow them to rock and roll, but generally, such boards are never ideal if you're yet to catch your first waves, and neither is the cool-looking asymmetrical board you saw in your friend's garage.

It's perfectly understandable that you want to pick something that stands out. Nowadays, there are lots of great surfboard shapes that can confuse you, but it only makes picking the right surfboard even more important.

The wrong surfboard will only prolong your learning process by weeks in which you would have already developed decent skills and even accomplished your first duck dive if you'd chosen the right board.

The right board for beginners should be buoyant, stable, easy to paddle, comfortable, and long. It should help you learn the basics without having to spare too much effort, get repeatedly wiped out, and lose your self-confidence along the way. Only with such a board, you'll be able to maintain your balance in a standing position and learn to surf in a straight line.

Once you master the basics with either a soft top, an epoxy longboard, or a mini mal, you can go crazy and even start surfing on a board you shaped yourself.

Understanding the Equipment

We ride cars and trains, we travel by planes and on ships, and we spend a substantial amount of time in front of our TVs, laptops, and phones, but only a select few among us know how these things actually work. The others are, well, in awe, like: "How can that huge piece of metal fly so much and not fall off from the edge of the flat earth?" or "How does that huge piece of metal float in water when I cannot even maintain my balance on a South Bay Tortuga?"

You cannot possibly force those who ask such questions to enroll in a physics or engineering school, but luckily for us, there's always a surf lesson in every surf school about how to understand your equipment. And even if you're not enrolled in one, you don't need to know about the movements of sub-atom particles to understand your surfboard.

Yes, the majority of the best beginner boards are not exactly responsive; they're quite thick and most of them have foam decks, so they won't transfer much feedback. Still, if you need to quicken your learning process, you can be more responsive to how your board reacts to your movements.

What happens when you apply more pressure to your heel side? Which move of your body varied and caused the board that was stable just a moment ago to wobble? What happens when you lean on the rail a bit? You might have caught your first wave just yesterday, but it doesn't mean that you cannot experiment and heed the board's feedback to understand it better.

In addition to this, you can surf skate on land, which will be a nice and fun practice and a great way to see how boards work and how you can improve your stance and position on them. Lucky for you that we have the very program that can help you.

The Learning Curve

The beginning stages of surfing consist of learning how to paddle out, catch a wave, pop up to a balanced stance, maintain that balance when riding in a straight line, and generate speed. All that learning understandably takes place on small and mellow white waves. And that's, like, the easy part. When you get all that we mentioned in the sections above right, it might even take only a couple of days for you to figure out the basics of the beginning stages.

Then, you'll want to move onto bigger waves that are less stable and require more work from you. So, what can you expect from the rest of your journey? Or let's just adjust our title question: how long does it take to learn to surf green, unbroken waves?

If you're afraid that we're going to give that (non-)answer once again, let's not delay your demise: it depends. However, this time, it depends on two specific factors: your ability to mentally adapt and what you learned when you were a beginner about the changes in wave quality, the equipment, and the physical requirements of bigger waves.

As waves get bigger, an inexperienced surfer may conceivably get more afraid in the wave's face because it truly is a huge force of nature. Also, for riding bigger waves, you'll need to pick shorter boards that are less stable and buoyant but more responsive and performance-oriented. You'll need to paddle more efficiently and stay in the water for longer periods. Lacking the knack to overcome that fear, handle a more responsive board, or lie in wait in the water for minutes might hinder your progress.

On the other hand, if you keep an open mind and a brave heart, if you manage to stay in the moment, and if you cultivate the mental flexibility necessary to adapt to the ocean, you'll soon be gliding (or maybe even duck diving) through the waves of progression.

Surfing Etiquette

wave lineup

Having a surfing etiquette doesn't necessarily mean that you'll progress quickly, but lacking it might see you excluded from the surfing community and halt your progress and aspirations altogether. As surfers, we have responsibilities towards the ocean, the non-surfers, and our fellow surfers. Observing these responsibilities, technically speaking, might not make you a better surfer, but it'll surely make you a better person.

The ocean is a huge treasure; its beauty and the opportunities it provides are miraculous. Yet, we pour our waste into it. As surfers, we need to do our best to preserve it. These days, sustainable equipment isn't hard to come by. In addition to not throwing our trash into the ocean, we can opt for sustainable boards that don't require wax (that has many petrochemical ingredients which pollute the water and may endanger underwater lifeforms in the long run) and wetsuits made of non-plastic materials.

Similar to the ocean, the places we visit are mostly amazingly beautiful as well. Therefore, there are lots of non-surfers in these places whether they are locals or tourists. Respecting the local culture and the peace of beach-goers is part of surfing etiquette. Just don't be a racist and don't hit a stranger in the head with your surfboard.

Lastly, we need to respect fellow surfers. Don't try cutting in front of others when you're all lined up waiting for waves, and don't dump your board after a wipeout because it might hit someone and cause serious injuries.

Wrapping Up...

As you've probably already realized, there is and there can be no definitive answer to how long it's going to take you to learn how to surf properly, but we can give you a good idea of how you can shorten your learning period, and we did just that.

In the end, it all comes down to understanding: understanding what kind of surf conditions are ideal for beginners, understanding the waves, understanding which physical aspects of your body you need to focus on, understanding the equipment you use, and most importantly, understanding the learning curve and what to expect from your journey so you can adapt more easily.

Yes, it's true that surfing can be hard, but it should be no cause for concern because with the right mental approach and competent guidance, you can learn the basics quite quickly and easily even if you're older than 40.

Written by
Jeremy Dean
surf coaching