Surfing for Beginners
You’re new to surfing and want to know everything there is to know? Our ultimate guide for beginners answers all of your questions about surfing.
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The Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent quarantines affected everyone differently, but if there's something common to all, it's that we understood how vital being outdoors is. And what is the best way of being outdoors? Well, we might be biased because we're surfers, but we think that it's surfing.
Apparently, there are others who think like us as well since we see a rise in how many beginner surfers dream of traveling the world, catching waves that are even bigger than their dreams, and riding barrels like a rogue raccoon in an underground tube full of gastronomic wonders.
But before you develop skills that'll enable you to catch unbroken waves, there are lots of aspects you need to cover. First, you need to learn how to catch waves that are smaller than those you'd like, hone your pop up technique and basic board-riding skills, study all kinds of wave breaks, maybe even spend some time in surf coaching retreats, and understand what surf etiquette means.
Only after mastering those can you really claim to be a surfer. Now, let's get into more detail on what you should do to become a surfer. Let us warn you, though—after reading this article, you'll want to enroll in our Surf Start program, so better get ready!
The amount of time you need to dedicate to become a decent surfer depends on a plethora of variables. Even the simple act of popping up requires a certain level of spinal flexibility and back strength. In addition, to be able to compress and decompress efficiently, your knees and hips should be dependable. So, your fitness and flexibility level plays a definitive role in your learning process.
More importantly, though, a good surf coach expects their pupils to have the right mental attitude. If your mental attitude is off, you'll either spend too much time mastering surfing skills unsuitable for your stage of progression (which will complicate transitioning to the latter stages of surfing) or bail out before even busting an air.
What is the right mental attitude? Well, it's the flexibility to adapt to conditions you're given by none other than mother nature herself. See, in surfing, you have little or no control over the external elements such as the weather conditions, water temperature, or the kinds of waves your beach break receives. You need to accept whatever comes as it comes and be still in the moment when it comes.
Moreover, progressing through the stages of surfing means that you need to forget what you've learned before since you'll be riding various waves on different kinds of surfboards with diverse physical and skill-based requirements. Without the necessary mental might and flexibility, you'll find adaptation difficult.
If you're curious where you are in terms of physicality and mentality, our free Surfer Assessment program can help you. It also has a surf lesson called "Waves of Progression," which informs you of the learning curve of a surfer in great detail.
Start on Beginner Surf Spots
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So, we assume that now you've assessed yourself on the criteria we mentioned above, and you're ready to test yourself on water. But the question is, where do you go? Will the closest beach break just do? The answer is no. On the contrary, if you start surfing in a spot that's not exactly suitable for novice surfers (like reef breaks), you'll have a difficult time learning the fundamentals, and it'll cause you to lose your confidence in your abilities.
A good beginner surf spot is one that has small, flat, and mellow waves. You'll learn how to catch waves, how to pop up to a proper surfing stance, how to maintain balance, and how to generate speed on such waves. You'll also get a better feel of what your surfboard is good for if the waves aren't too challenging.
There are a couple of ways to identify beginner-friendly surf spots. One is to pick a beach break with surf schools. As these schools mostly offer surf lessons for beginners, they'll be located around beginner-friendly waves.
Progressing through stages of surfing inevitably necessitates you to have wave knowledge. Knowing how and why waves break, following surf forecasts, and developing an understanding of the ocean will all be parts of your learning process. Our programs, Waterman and Surf Science, will help you with that.
Watch? What kind of a tip is that? What should I watch? The Winter Olympics?
You can watch that, too, but we suspect that it won't help you begin your surfing journey or help you improve as a surfer. What you need to watch is what other surfers are doing.
When you arrive at a particular surf spot, you can take your time before paddling into the water and watch your fellow surfers as well as the waves. When there are a couple more experienced surfers in the vicinity, it's all the better.
If you're a keen observer, it won't take you too much time to identify where a green wave generally breaks and which points on the ocean are preferred by others as they lie in wait for takeoff. This will minimize your paddling time and increase your wave count. But that's not all.
You should also watch how they're surfing, especially when a professional surfer or an outstanding amateur is in the lineup. See how they pop up, how subtle their movement on their surfboard is, and on what part of the wave they're taking off.
Even though you aren't ready to catch an unbroken wave yet, the way they surf will provide you with a better understanding of surfing and a better capacity to simulate rides. To that end, you can also spend some time on YouTube watching the surfing videos of masters. It's not only a fun activity; as our Mind Surfer program can inform you, visualization is a key aspect of surfing.
Know Your Equipment
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A welder doesn't just weld stuff and keep their mouth shut. They're the ones you seek advice from when you want to make an informed welding machine purchase. A professional biker knows how bikes work, which type of tires are good for dirt roads, and what helmet they need in particular weather conditions. Similarly, a good surfer is one who knows their equipment.
Of course, you don't need to dive into the deep waters of surfing apparel like wetsuits and surf hats or accessories like earplugs, but determining whether you need one still requires prior knowledge. Then, based on the weather and water conditions you're going to surf in, you can make your purchases.
However, these are really trivial pieces of equipment. The most important surfing equipment is, as you're well aware, the surfboard, and a lack of knowledge when it comes to surfboards is unacceptable for a surfer.
Before you paddle out on one, you need to learn about different surfboard shapes and what they're good for. You need to have a basic understanding of why certain boards are considered to be the most suitable ones for beginners, some for the intermediate surfers, and some can be handled by only the pros.
Moreover, you need to understand what kind of thinking goes into the designs of all these different tails, rails, and noses and how important the volume of your surfboard is.
Get the Right Surfboard
Nobody can be expected to compete in an Olympic run in flip-flops. No novice surfer can be expected to have a good first surfing experience with a shortboard with a hard deck and a high level of sensitivity. You're going to learn and master the basics of surfing on your first surfboard, so you need to get one according to those basics.
There's no riddle, no puzzle, and not even a question about which surfboard meets the criteria of surfing basics: a soft top longboard. Let's see how in detail:
- Comfort: As the name given to this particular surfboard design suggests, these boards have soft top decks. Given you need to learn how to paddle, too, you need to spend a bit of time lying down on your board. In that sense, you'll feel more comfortable on a soft top, and comfort is key when learning something.
- Stability: No matter how well-built and unshakable you are, standing on moving water isn't the same as standing on land. So, at first, you're going to struggle with your balance. A soft top longboard has more stability than its alternatives; therefore, you'll have an easier time finding your balance.
- Buoyancy: A thin and small board will not float as well as a longboard does because it has less volume, and controlling boards with less volume requires dexterity on waves. When you're only a beginner, you want to ride a board that doesn't require you to do much to float.
- Catching waves: It's easier to catch waves with a big board. The best soft top boards will help you catch small waves more easily than any other, too. That way, you can skip hours of practice trying to master your wave-catching abilities and start riding waves instead.
If you have more questions about how to get the right surfboard, you can always enroll in our program on the subject matter and learn all about surfboards in accordance with your needs and skills.
Perfect Your Pop-Up Technique on Land
When novice surfers hear that they need to practice surfing on land as well, they generally frown upon the idea, but land drills are an important aspect of surf-related exercises. We’ll even say that the best way to master your pop-ups is practicing on land rather than water and that a pop-up is the essential element of a ride since it sets the tone for the rest.
Primarily, your pop-up determines whether your surf stance will be a balanced one. If you don't end up in the proper surfing stance after your pop-up, you'll probably start moving uncomfortably on your board, trying to sort your feet. However, no matter how thick a board you have, it'll respond to big weight shifts and start to wobble. As a result, you'll have either a very shaky ride or no ride at all.
To prevent that fate, you should practice popping up on your board when it's on land. Here’s how:
- Position yourself in a way that'll land you at the back of your board. It means your hands should be on the sides of the chest of the board and your feet hanging from the tail. If you put too much weight towards the nose, you'll just nose dive.
- One of the greatest pieces of advice to give in surfing is to look where you're going. It's valid for pop-ups, too. Your eyes shouldn't be fixed on the board but where you're going. To that end, your back should be arched and your head tilted forward.
- Your feet need to face the same direction after your pop-up. Otherwise, your hips will start dancing on their own, and unstable hips are one of the main enemies of balance.
- Make sure your back is straight once you're in a standing position. Even the slightest of leans will alter your center of gravity and throw you off balance.
- Your hands should be stable and point towards the direction of your ride. Otherwise, it'll cause your board to wobble.
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There are a plethora of ways you can exercise for surfing. Of course, you can just swim, paddle, and wait for the incredible force of the ocean to make your body fitter when you're on the board as you go along, but it's better to be prepared by ample land exercises. These land exercises may include simple weight-lifting, meditative yoga courses, and exhilarating skateboard rides.
If you're going to frequent your local gym, there are specific muscles you need to focus on for a better surfing performance:
- To paddle towards a wave, you need strong deltoid muscles besides core strength.
- To maintain balance on the board, you need to employ your hips and knees.
- For accomplished turns, spinal flexibility and mobility are key.
You can head to our guide to see what exercises you need to achieve the desired fitness for surfing.
But aren't gyms boring, and doesn't lifting dumbbells crush one's soul? If you agree with us, you can always add spirituality into the mix and start doing yoga. In the end, it won't only strengthen the muscles necessary for a good ride, but it’ll also grant you better focus and a more mindful mental attitude. There are some yoga poses that'll alleviate your exhaustion after a long session in the ocean as well. Our yoga guide can help you with everything you need to know.
Furthermore, BOSU ball exercises are great for improving balance and spinal strength, skating will elevate your flow and understanding to new levels, and cardboard surfing will be very useful to hone pop-ups and generate speed. Luckily we have all the programs you need for these exercises: BOSU Surfer, Surf Skate Foundations, and Cardboard Surfer.
We love seeing and talking about surf culture. After all, no matter how lonely you are when you're riding a wave, the community is very important in surfing. Therefore, to make sure that you aren't excluded from that community, get frowned upon wherever you go, and most importantly, to make sure that you're a decent human being, you need to have surf etiquette. Surf etiquette isn't going to improve you in a physical sense, but it might as well be the most important aspect of surfing.
So, how do you have it? First, let's break down the main external elements a surfer comes into contact with during their endeavors: other surfers, non-surfers, and nature in the form of the ocean and beaches. Surf etiquette means you approach all these three with the utmost respect.
Respect Other Surfers
You need to respect other surfers both in and out of the ocean:
- On a wave lineup, never cut in front of another surfer in the ocean.
- If the ocean is not crowded and waves are for anyone's picking, make sure there's no one else who started paddling.
- Don't dump your surfboard. The beginner boards are big and thick, and the waves are fast. When you dump your board, you're risking injuries to other surfers.
Respect Locals and Non-Surfers
The search for the perfect wave is a never-ending quest for surfers. Therefore, we travel a lot around the world, visit places where the beauty of nature has a humbling effect on us, and interact with many locals and non-surfers during our travels.
Traveling also means coming into contact with different cultures and communities with different sets of rules, beliefs, and practices. So, it is crucial to learn about the place before your trip and show the utmost respect to how they go about their lives there.
That's not all either. Even when you're just out to have a brief surfing session on your local beach break, you'll come across non-surfing beach-goers. Just because you have a big surfboard under your arm, it doesn't mean that their existence is of secondary importance. Make sure that you respect their personal space and right to have a peaceful day on the shore.
Respect the Ocean
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There's no need to sugarcoat the fact that's been staring us in the eye for a couple of decades now: we're living in an age of climate crisis and industrial waste. The surfing industry isn't totally innocent in this ordeal either. For example, the wax we put on our surfboards contains petrochemicals that slowly but surely harm the ocean.
On the other hand, we love surfing because it provides us with an unmediated way to connect with nature, appreciate every wave it sends our way, and take in the beauty of the undiscovered corners of our beautiful earth. Therefore, we need to do our best to preserve that connection and that beauty. At least, we need to be respectful enough not to further damage the environment that brings us so much joy.
Kelly Slater once said: "I think when a surfer becomes a surfer, it's almost like an obligation to be an environmentalist at the same time." And he surely acts on the principle he set. You should do the same, too. If you want to become a surfer in the eyes of the GOAT, do everything in your power to keep our oceans and beaches clean.
Go On a Surf Trip
Now that you have a pretty good idea about the ethics of surfing, you're ready to go on a surf trip. Visiting different surf breaks isn't only good for sightseeing or to just test your ethical bearings. There are many other reasons why a surf trip will elevate your surfing to new heights.
The most basic reason is that your local break might not be suitable for beginners—at least, not in all seasons. When the waves are too big for you to learn the fundamentals, but you still decide to paddle in, you'll not only fail miserably and stain your self-confidence; you'll also draw pretty judgmental looks from more experienced surfers. Instead, you can just check out our guide for the best places to learn to surf, pack all the essential items for a surf trip and enjoy more welcoming waters.
What can you expect to find in a world-renowned beginner surf spot? The brief answer is: everything you need. The long answer is: a long-established surf culture that'll just pull you in and help you intuitively understand what surfing really means; a vivid surfing community that you can be a part of and with whose members you can exchange feedback, advice, and tips. Of course, different types of waves that promise a break from the usual and a better understanding and knowledge of waves are a given.
Moreover, unless you pick an extremely secluded shore, there will probably be many surf coaching retreats, camps, and schools in your destination. It means that you'll get a chance to make lots of friends, meet lots of coaches (who are mostly experienced surfers), and enroll in surf lessons in accordance with your needs.
Depending on the time and place of your visit, you might also get a chance to witness a major pro competition and have a chance to chat with your idols. Isn't that an amazing prospect to look forward to?
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The ambition to get better quickly and catch all the waves can be a driving force, but it shouldn't make you forget about safety. You've heard it a million times, and you're going to hear a million times again: safety comes first. After all, in surfing, you're at the mercy of one of the scariest forces of nature. If you're not careful, there are many dangers lurking around the corner.
Here are a few tips about how to ensure safety when surfing.
How to Handle the Surfboard Leash
Make sure you always surf with your leash on. It's what pulls you back to the surface after a wipeout, and it's what prevents your board from going rogue in the ocean. Also, don't tie your leash to your front leg. If you do that, there's a big chance that your back foot will get tangled, and that'll cause injuries.
You might think that dragging your surfboard behind by the leash would look cool, and yes, it would look cool, but only on an empty beach. When there are non-surfing beach-goers on the beach, it's actually quite silly and disrespectful. Furthermore, your surfboard will suffer damage due to friction on the sand.
Even if you don't mind what we just said and still want to drag your board, at least fight the temptation to pull the board by your finger wrapped with the leash. When you get into the water like that and you're hit by the force of the water, you might lose your finger.
The safest way to carry your surfboard is by scooping the leash up in your hand and tucking the board under your arm. Still, you need to be careful when turning around with that as you might hit somebody.
Strike Radius of Your Surfboard
Add the length of your board to the length of your leash, and you have your strike radius. In a crowded wave lineup, mind that strike radius. If the leash comes undone, your thick and long surfboard might hit other surfers, and combined with the pace of waves, it might actually turn into a bullet and cause serious injuries. Minding the strike radius will at least give other surfers enough time to dodge the bullet.
Moreover, beginner spots are inevitably full of people lacking surf etiquette. In that sense, you need to identify other beginners who're likely to dump their boards and steer clear of them. Otherwise, you might get hit by a board.
How to Fall
You're only a beginner, so you're going to fall a lot, and it's completely okay. That's how you're going to get better. However, you also need to know how to fall properly. The keys to a successful fall are as follows:
- Don't dive: When you dive, you aren't only dumping your board and risking injuries to your fellow surfers but also to yourself. See, most beginner surfing takes place in shallow waters, and when you dive, you can hit the bottom.
- Fall backward: Leaning over to a side and gently falling backward is how you make a controlled fall.
- Cover your head when surfacing: Obviously, after the fall, you're going to surface, but you don't know where your surfboard is. Cover your head so that you don't hit headbutt your board when coming out of the water.
Wrapping Up: Have Fun
One of our favorite surfing quotes is from Phil Edwards: "The best surfer out there is the one having the most fun." And we believe that it should be a part of each and every beginner's guide to surfing, surf lesson, and surf session.
Of course, along your surfing journey, you're going to fail time and time again, get washed over by waves, question your confidence, and even break a few (preferably inexpensive) surfboards. But that's how you're going to get better, so don't let these overshadow the joy of surfing.
And, of course, in life, there are always concerns about how to sustain yourself, how to interact with other people, and how to deal with the overwhelming burden of existence. However, we love surfing exactly because it allows us to forget these feelings and have fun. If surfing becomes one of these concerns, then, it might mean that you need some time off.
In short, though, surfing is and should be fun. You should never forget that, and you shouldn't let it become any less than that.