surfboard standing vertical on a beach
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Want to Surf? Learn the Fundamentals First!

As in all aspects of life, if you want to surf, you need to learn the fundamentals first. But what are these fundamentals? Let’s find out!

We all want to do great things, and we all want to do them as soon as possible.

A writer wants to write and publish a novel even though the simplest articles they write send their editors to hell and back a couple of times. How can a writer publish a novel when they cannot even produce a coherent paragraph of three sentences? How can a class president rule the world… You know what, forget about that!

Although surfing might seem less complicated than ruling the world or writing a novel at first, the primary rule that applies to it is the same. In short, if you want to surf, learn the fundamentals first. It’s understandable that you want to go straight to busting airs in which you make 720-degree rotations (both vertically and horizontally) and ride tubes, but they’re fairly impossible without learning the basics of surfing.

So, let’s find out what you need to focus on first before dreaming big.

Tips on How to Uncover the Fundamentals of Surfing

Normally, in other blogs and guides, here you would see a direct delve into the technical aspects of surfing. However, we’re going to take a different approach.

Although you’re basically alone when you’re on the wave, surfing—like the majority of other sporting activities—is communal. It’s highly likely that you have friends around you who are into surfing as well. If not, you can seek where surfers mostly congregate and get a feel for the sport by direct interaction.

How? Let’s find out.

Tip #1: Talk to More Experienced Surfers Around You

old surfer riding a wave and smiling

We tend to take the magical nature of communication for granted and love acting like the planet is our playground, but sometimes, taking a breath and engaging in communicative action might open certain doors that you didn’t even know were there. Of course, it’s understandable that you’d be reluctant to waste the time of advanced surfers as a rookie yourself, but let us assure you that there’s no shame in trying to learn.

So, if there are more experienced surfers around you, there’s nothing preventing you from talking to them. You can ask them how they started surfing and why they wanted to surf, for example. As long as the person you’re talking to doesn’t have a specific disdain for sharing their experiences, you might be amazed how even such a basic question has the power to put things into perspective.

In the least, it might make you consider why you want to start surfing, and you might have a more tangible approach to it during your progress. Believe us, knowing why beginners want to surf and acting on that knowledge affects mental strength to a great extent. Obviously, the question of mental strength is quite a consequential one to your surfing progress.

Tip #2: Go On a Surf Trip

surfer coming out of the ocean in lombok, indonesia

Of course, you’ll go on lots of surf trips once you start a surfing career. After all, the sole purpose of surf trips isn’t traveling around. A surfer is in constant search of new challenges, new waves, and new thrills, and you’ll feel that once you’re able to catch unbroken waves. However, why shouldn’t you go on a surf trip even before you caught a green wave if you have the means to do so?

You can watch advanced surfers show off their skills and tricks on green waves, you can enroll in a surf lesson or two in a world-famous surf camp, or get in touch with the local surfers of many different places and gain access to new perspectives. More importantly, though, you can see the various waves our world has to offer and get to know them a bit better, albeit from the safe distance of a shore.

Moreover, going on a surf trip is also quite beneficial for those who are just kicking off their journey because all the best surf coaching retreats on Earth are probably located in these exotic places. You can have your first surfing lesson where waves break in the most suitable way for beginner surfers.

Tip #3: Watch and Read

two people watching surfers on the ocean in byron bay, australia

If you somehow developed an interest in surfing, you’ve probably seen your fair share of surfing competitions, spent enough time on YouTube watching highlights of legendary performances, and sat on a beach looking at the surfers in the ocean with envy. But have you ever done so with purpose? More importantly, have you ever studied the ocean and tried to understand how a wave breaks?

There are certain musts that will recontextualize and reconceptualize your approach to surfing. Understanding the ocean and simulating the movements of your surfing idols are two of these musts, and both require meaningful observation on your part.

That said, observation is not the only source of information. You need to read as well. Of course, we’re not expecting you to read oceanography books, but barring the blog posts of many surf sites, there are many other texts you can read to elevate your understanding of surfing to new heights.

Our guide on the best surf books available on the market can be a good point to start. In that guide, there are books that’ll introduce you to the communal feeling of surfing and show you what sort of mindfulness is attributed to surfing; there are books in which surfing greats share their experiences, stories, and challenges.

Once you have a more solid understanding of these aspects, your progress will surely be much smoother.

Tip #4: Learn All About Surf Etiquette

Surf etiquette is something everybody likes talking about, and when they’re talking about it, they’re mostly sticking to the drop-in rule. Although the drop-in rule is fairly an important aspect of surfing since it’s going to save you from the wrath of experienced surfers, it’s not the only thing surfing etiquette entails.

Well then, what else? Simply put, being a decent social being who cares about the environment that provides them with the joy of surfing and other people without whom the communal feeling could never be achieved.

In that sense, it’s possible to say that there are three main aspects of surf etiquette: caring about Earth, caring about non-surfers, and caring about surfers. Remeber that without the first two, the lattermost can’t count for anything.

Now, let’s see what we mean by that in more detail.

Caring About the Planet

In our guide for surfing Indonesia, we were able to inform you on what kind of waves you can expect in accordance with what time of the year you’re visiting. In our guide for surfing Costa Rica, we were able to tell you how to avoid getting caught in flats. In our guide for the Banzai Pipeline, we told you about the best time to visit if you want to watch the greatest surfing competitions of all time.

That’s mainly due to the fact that the climate regime has provided us with patterns throughout recorded history. However, recent developments indicate that these patterns can dissolve into thin air quite quickly if immediate action isn’t taken by responsible parties. And a change in these patterns means the weather, the ocean, and consequently, the waves becoming less and less predictable and even surfable.

Of course, we’re not the responsible parties whose actions can put a stop to the climate crisis and return our precious planet to its default settings, nor do we have the power to affect the pollution of Earth’s water single-handedly as surfers. Yet, none of it means that we should go on and dump our old surfboards, plastic water bottles, and petrochemical-based wetsuits into the ocean.

Nowadays, being a sustainable surfer is easier than ever before. You can apply petrochemical-free wax to your surfboard, you can opt for surfboard brands that run their own recycling programs, and you can wear eco-friendly apparel. If there’s something we can do to preserve the beauty of our planet and the surfing environment that gives us the most joy, then we should definitely do it.

Respecting Non-Surfers and Locals

crowded beach in santa monica, united states

When we go to a beach to surf, we tend to forget that there are others there trying to enjoy a tranquil day under the sun. It’s even worse when we travel in groups or when we’re on a beach break that’s full of other surfers. We start acting like we own the beach.

No matter how much we’re immersed in getting the best of waves, we should recognize the non-surfers’ right to the ocean as well. Furthermore, we should be aware of the fact that we’re carrying surfboards that might go up to 10 feet. Hitting innocent beach-goers in the head obviously won’t be humanely decent and befitting surf etiquette.

Our interactions with non-surfers aren’t limited to our local breaks either. In our local breaks, more often than not, we share the same culture with non-surfers; when we go on surf trips, on the other hand, we’ll have to engage with different cultures, belief systems, and political structures. 

So, it’s better to do some reading before arriving at a new place and suffering from culture shock, clash, and struggle. Otherwise, what could’ve been a lovely trip may turn into hell.

Respecting Other Surfers

a wave with a crowded wave lineup

Although surfing isn't really inherited from one generation to the next in a master/apprentice relationship, you can still witness the residues of that relationship in the way we approach each other. Especially in the more closed communities of body surfing, the best waves should be left to the entertainment of the most experienced surfers of the break.

Moreover, when you’re on a surf trip to a well-known surf hub, such as the North Shore, it’s impossible to deny the domination of local surfers. And who are the local surfers of North Shore, Hawaii? Mark Cunningham, John John Florence, Jamie O’Brien, and the list goes on… You can guess what might happen if you disrespect such names renowned and recognized by the whole world.

But how can you make sure you’re not disrespecting anyone? Should you just hang onto your surfboard and revere them whenever possible? Luckily, no. There’s one single rule that should be fulfilled no matter what: the drop-in rule.

On good days, there’ll be crowded wave lineups to make sure everyone gets to surf. What you should do is observe that lineup, know your place in it, and never drop in on anybody else’s wave.

Additionally, remember that you have a thick and long surfboard. Should you dump it in the ocean, it might hit another surfer. If the waves move fast, that hit might even feel like that of a bullet and cause serious injuries. 

In short, as long as you remember that there are others on the ocean with you and recognize that they have a right to the waves as much as you, you should be alright.

Tips on How to Master the Fundamentals of Surfing

Now that we have covered what sort of mental and social preparation you need for learning how to surf, we can start with the technique of surfing.

Tip #1: Mind the Learning Curve

surfer riding a wave in costa rica

The OMBE crew has prepared a free program for all those who want to learn how to surf: Surfer Assessment. That program informs you what kind of physical strength, flexibility, and mobility is expected from a person who wants to start surfing. In addition, it gives you an idea about the surfer’s mentality, be it when you’re on the waves or, well, under them, wiped out and washed over.

At the end of the program comes one of the most aptly named surf lessons you can have—Waves of Progression—in which OMBE head coach Clayton Nienaber explains in-depth how a surfer is expected to progress through stages of surfing. The gist of this particular surf lesson is this: a surfer doesn’t progress in an upward fashion; after each stage, you’ll hit the bottom.

What does that mean? Well, you might learn a lot of things as a beginner, but once you make it to the intermediate stages, you’ll need to forget everything you learned and start anew.

Why, you ask? Because everything changes in that transition. A beginner starts their learning process on flat white water with soft top longboards and, we apologize for putting it like this, an average body shape. However, once you’re an intermediate surfer, the waves you ride will become bigger and more complex, you’ll need a more performance-oriented surfboard, and all of that will require more bodily strength and flexibility.

So, if you want to progress smoothly through the surfing stages, you’ll need to be mentally ready to forget everything you learned every once in a while and keep an open mind about what comes next. Starting your journey with that knowledge will pay dividends later.

Tip #2: Get the Right Surfboard

surfer hugging their surfboard

Why this sudden interest in surfing? Did you just inherit a gold-plated surfboard from a distant aunt you never even knew existed? Did your older sibling give you their surfboard for your birthday because they couldn’t bother to buy a proper gift? Well, no matter which one of these scenarios is true, do you know whether that surfboard is the right one for you?

Sorry, we kind of asked that question like a parent disapproving of your taste in partners, but really, the right beginner surfboard should entertain certain features if you don’t want to have a painful introduction to surfing. It should be stable and buoyant, it should have the paddling power that you probably lack as a novice, it should catch waves effortlessly, and it should be comfortable.

All these attributes might translate into a certain shape of surfboards: soft top longboards, and rightly so. Wherever you go, beginner surfers train on soft tops. Yet, that’s not a must. Some of the high-performance longboards on the market feature a similar level of comfort while providing you with more flexibility and maneuverability. And sometimes, getting acquainted with flexibility and maneuverability might fasten your progress.

Regardless, there’s only one way to make sure that you’re getting the right surfboard in accordance with your needs and skills, and it’s by enrolling in our Get the Right Board program. In that program, acclaimed board shaper and surf coach Clayton Nienaber tells you all you need to know about surfboards and how to pick the right one.

Tip #3: Choose the Right Surf Spot

surfer on a small wave in kahuku, united states

Not every wave is surfable for a beginner, and consequently, not every surf spot is suitable for a beginner either. Yet, finding the right surf spot isn’t a difficult mission as long as you know that the most suitable waves for a novice are the white ones that go up to knee-high at most.

There are a couple of approaches to identifying where these waves are, and the first one is the lazier of these options: find out where surf schools are and hang around them. As these surf schools mostly teach beginners how to surf, they’ll be located around beginner-friendly breaks. 

The second approach, on the other hand, will help you a great deal in your future endeavors when you’re a better surfer as well: observe the ocean, follow surf forecasts, and learn all about waves.

Of course, if you want to have all-around knowledge of the ocean as an aspiring surfer, we have the very programs for that, too: Surf Science will introduce you to all the important aspects of waves and the ocean via a specific focus on movement (both of the surfer and of the ocean), while Waterman will throw you right into it through lessons of body surfing so that you can both feel and know.

Tip #4: Hone Your Pop Up Technique

surfer who just popped up

Popping up the right way is what sets the tone for the rest of your ride; it’s how you get into the proper surfing stance, and that’s how you establish balance in the first place. Besides stance and balance, a good pop up entails other important surfing elements such as paddling and whether you’re goofy-footed or not.

Most of surfing is actually paddling and lying in wait for the wave. So, good paddling plays a major impact on your pop up, and by good paddling, we don’t mean that you should paddle frantically. Rather, you should paddle as little as you can, and that’s only possible by knowing where the waves break and always being aware of your surroundings. In other words, look where you want to go.

Also, by practicing your stance after a pop up, you’ll get to know whether you’re a regular- or goofy-footed surfer. Although this difference is an overstated and inconsequential one, let’s cover its basic principle: if your left foot goes to the back of your board, you’re goofy-footed; if it’s the right foot, then you’re a regular.

Those being said, you can start exercising your pop up even before you have your own surfboard. How? Well, popping up starts with land drills. You just need to put your surfboard on a smooth surface and start working on perfecting your pop up technique in the way that OMBE approves.

Don’t forget that you cannot really start surfing if you can’t pop in the right way!

Tip #5: Exercise

person working out on the beach during the night

Needless to say, surfing requires a lot of muscles to work at their best. These muscles aren’t a defined set either. For instance, paddling requires core, back, and shoulder strength. To pop up properly, you’ll need a certain level of athleticism and spinal mobility as well as core and back strength. To be able to maintain balance on your board, you’ll need to ride the waves with your knees bent slightly, which necessitates the engagement of lots of lower body muscles.

In addition to strengthening these tangible, physical muscles, you’ll need to improve your mental fortitude as well. Surfing doesn’t only require a strong body but also a strong mind that’s capable of picking itself up whenever it fails. It requires the ability to be in the moment. 

Luckily, there are ample exercises that can help you reach the required levels in quite a short time. For surf fitness, we’ve prepared many guides, and here’s the one with the essential exercises. However, fitness alone won’t help you once you’re on the water.

Don’t worry, though, as we also have a guide for BOSU exercises that will improve your mobility and balance. Moreover, we have a special program that focuses on BOSU surfing. Should you enroll in that program, you’ll be acquainted with your body in better ways, see your muscle groups in a new light, and learn what kind of bodily movement is required to challenge what kinds of waves.

Lastly, either to fortify or readjust your mental attitude and to gain new levels of flexibility among other things, we can recommend you a long list of yoga poses. Add all these exercises into your daily routine, and you won’t only be taking a great step toward being a good surfer, but you’ll also have a strong and athletic body and a calm and stable mind.

Wrapping Up…

So, is surfing hard? Well, maybe a bit. Yet, the path to becoming a good surfer isn’t really tiled with thorns. Once you know what the fundamental aspects of surfing are and how to master them, there should be nothing stopping you except for yourself.

And if you are the biggest obstacle before your journey, you can be sure that the OMBE team will do their best to remove that obstacle (in a non-violent manner, obviously). Enroll in our Surf Start program and get some first-hand experience!

Written by
Nico Palacios
surf coaching