Want to Learn to Surf? 10 Things You Must Know Before You Start.

Want to Learn to Surf? 10 Things You Must Know Before You Start.

Here is my list of the top 10 things every beginner surfer must know before paddling out!

Before I give you my list, I’d like to say that surfing is one of the hardest sports to learn. It can take years of practice and dedication to get any good at it.  It is however one of the most exciting sports out there, and  learning can be exciting and fun! Due to safety concerns and speeding your learning time we recommend getting surfing lessons from an experienced instructor before attempting on your own. I hope these tips help you and feel free to leave any comments below.

1. Choose the right surfboard & wetsuit!

2. Go to the right spot.

3. Go surfing on the right day.

4. Know what rip currents are and how to get out of them.

5. Know about localism.

6. Know how to catch a wave.

7. Know how to stand up on your surfboard.

8. Know how to make it outside (beyond the breaking waves into the green water).

9. Know what the rules of the line up are.

10.Have fun surfing is a blast!


1. Choose the right surfboard & wetsuit.

You do not want to start on a super thin high performance short board, or any short board for that matter. When you are learning, you need to start on a surfboard that has some width and thickness to it, yes a long board. How long depends on a how big you are, the bigger the person the bigger the board should be. If you do not want to be a longboarder that’s okay, but you will get a lot better faster if you use the long board to learn on. A longer board will help you to get the basics down. From there you can scale down in size as you progress, think of it in steps. A short board is super wobbly and unstable. Starting on a bigger board will help you progress faster, ride more waves, ride the waves you do catch further, and have lots more fun! Along with choosing the right surfboard is choosing the right wetsuit. You will want to check with your local surf shop about the wetsuit thickness recommended for your area. Your average water temperature will determine what wetsuit thickness you should purchase or rent. You can also ask the local surfers what they use.

2. Go to the right spot!

You will want to go to a beginner friendly surf spot. If you do not know of one, ask your local surf shop where the best beginner spots are. I advise calling a surf shop you trust before you go. The weather conditions can make a beginner friendly spot into a dangerous place quickly. Stay away from; heavy shore break beaches, reef breaks, and point breaks. You want a mellow sandy bottom spot with slow peeling mushy waves, and a small crowd. You want to learn to surf, not get beat up, held down and thrashed around. Do your homework and this will make the difference between having a good first experience or a bad one!

3. Go surfing on the right day!

As mentioned above every day is different, you need to respect the ocean. It may be your first day off in a month, but if the current conditions are 14′ W swells @ 13 seconds, it may not be the right day. Unless you are surfing a protected cove that is blocking most of that swell and does not have rip currents. Waiting for a better day may be difficult, but you want to be safe. When the surf is big there is a lot more water moving around. Rip currents are also generally stronger under these conditions. It is also difficult to surf in poor conditions because you will be wasting most of your energy battling the current. Again check with your local surf shop, or check your local surf report. Some surf shops (like ours) have a surf report right on their websites. You want the surf to be small and clean.

4. Know what rip currents are, and how to get out of them.

A Rip Current is a strong narrow current heading from shore back out to sea. Returning the water seaward that is pushed in from the waves, wind, and the tide. If you get caught in a rip current, don’t panic, it wastes energy. Do not paddle directly against it, you will get exhausted. You want to paddle parallel to the shore where you see the waves pushing in, to get out of a rip. Most rip currents are not very wide, so by paddling parallel to shore you should be able to paddle out of it. Remain calm, you want to be able to hold your breath at any given time while out in the ocean. You never know when a wave could break on you, or in front of you. You will not be able to hold your breath long while panicking, so remember stay calm and work with the ocean not against it. Sometimes (with strong rip currents) you may have to go out with the rip into deeper water, where the balance is restored and the pulling current subsides.You then can paddle parallel to shore and work your way in. Remember do not fight the ocean, try to work with it. The ocean is bigger than all of us.

Signs of a Rip Current:

1. Waves will usually not fully break in the rip (Water is deeper in rip, because it’s a seaward channel)

2. You may see objects or other surfers being pulled out to sea rapidly, with little or no effort.

3. A change in water color within the rip. It may be murkier from sediment, or greener from depth.

4. Sometimes you will not see the signs of a rip current  and still get caught in one. Knowing what to do if you are caught in a rip current can save your life!

5. Know a little about localism.

Like with life, or even driving on the freeway, surfing has its dark side! Surfers that surf the same spots a lot start to feel like that spot is theirs. They like to take a sense of ownership of the spot. Some locals feel like they should get all, or most of the waves out there. New people who show up are considered intruders. Localism may show itself as; someone yelling at you, dropping in on you, flattening your tires, waxing your windshield, or even throwing your shoes and or back pack in the water, along with many other tactics. What can you do about it?

1. Be respectful to the locals. If you are a beginner you probably should not surf the same surf spots as the locals, until your skill level improves. You will most likely just get in their way, and give your self and the locals a bad experience.

2. When you are ready to surf with them, just try to be nice and give them respect. You will find that most of the locals are regular guys and gals who when treated nicely, and with respect will respond in the same way. (Yes, I know their are exceptions).

3. Do not show up with a big crowd of people to the local hot spot. The locals will not be happy with you, and you will most likely get a negative vibe at the least.

4.If their are 5 or 6 surfers or more on a peak and you and your friends show up to go surfing, it is usually better to paddle out down the beach and wait for the crowd to thin. Let them have the peak that they were on first, and do not invade them.

5. Get to know the locals and you may gain a friend and a surfing buddy. They are not all bad!

6. Well I could go on, but I think you get the point! Do to others as you would want them to do to you!

6. Know how to catch a wave.

Well to start with, in the white water (already broken waves) you will want to catch your first few waves in a prone position (laying down). You can point your board toward the beach and when the white water hits you jump on the board prone and ride it in toward the shore laying down practicing turning and getting the feel of gliding on top of the water. After you get that down you can practice paddling to catch the wave. To paddle you need to dig down deep and really try to stay smooth and keep the board in a planing position. Do not be positioned to far back on the board as you will push water. It’s harder to paddle to catch the wave, and this will take some practice, but stay with it and you will progress. Try to keep hold of your board at all times, as loose boards can be dangerous to you and others. If you wipe out, come to the surface with your hands surfacing first to protect your head in case your board is directly above you. After surfacing get a hold of your board quickly so it doesn’t hit you or other surfers. Also keep your board pointed either out to sea or towards the beach. If you have your board side ways to the ocean and a big enough wave hits you, you can get hurt and may not be able to hang on to your board.

7. How to stand up on your surfboard.

Before going to the beach practice doing pop ups. Lay down on the floor with your hands near your chest but not so wide, like a push up. Your board is only so wide and you want to be able to push off your board to get up to your feet in one smooth motion. Practice going from laying down to popping up to your feet and turning side ways in a surfers stance. Jump back down to a prone position and try to repeat until you can do like 20 of these pop ups without stopping. Remember it will be harder in the ocean because you will be moving and the water is moving, your board is not as stable as the floor, and things are more difficult while sliding down the face of a wave. You do not want to go to your knees this is a bad habit and makes things much more difficult. You will make your first experience surfing much better if you get this down before you ever enter the water! Remember stay off your knees

8. Know how to make it outside (beyond the breaking waves into the green water).

Look for a channel, or a spot that the waves do not seem to break in, and maybe the water is murkier and deeper. Hey that sounds like a rip current. Don’t I want to stay away from those? If they make you uncomfortable, yes by all means stay away from them. Do experienced surfers use the rips, and channels to get out into the line up? Yes surfers do work with the ocean and do use rips, and channels to get out into the line up easier, and quicker. When you work with the ocean the rip can help you to get out beyond the breaking waves easier. It is still important that you remember your limits. Did you check the surf report? Do you know how big the swell is? Are you in good enough shape to handle the current conditions and swell size? All important factors to think about. With a longboard it can be difficult to make it outside if there is a lot of white water to battle, and without a channel or a rip to help you. You can paddle straight at the white water, and before it hits you slide off your board and turn your board over while holding on to the rails, and pulling the board downward as the wave sweeps over you. You will need to turn your board back over quickly and start paddling before the next wave or white water hits you. With perseverance you can make it outside depending on how big of a day it is and how much white water you have to deal with, and how strong and determined you are. This is called turning turtle. Short boarders can duck dive, but this is a beginners article, so we are not going there.

9. Know what the rules of the line up are.

1. The #1 rule in surfing is the surfer closest to the curl has priority. If you are on the shoulder of the wave and someone else is deeper (closer to where the wave is starting to break), they have priority. Always look before you take off on the wave. Beginners are notorious for just paddling into anything unaware that someone else has the wave already, and has priority. I try to stay away from beginners for this reason. I do not want to get in a collision with anyone while I am surfing. I just figure they will learn. Sometimes that means they may get into a collision, or get yelled at, or at the worst get into a fight. I think it’s better to know the rules before any of this happens.

2. When you are paddling back out it is your responsibility to stay out of the surfers way who are riding the waves. That may mean you have to paddle wide of the take off area and then back into the take off position.You do not want be in anybody’s way. If you do find yourself in a surfers way who is riding a wave pick a direction and continue to go that way as changing directions at the last second I think makes it hard on the surfer riding the wave to steer around you. The surfer riding the wave usually  has to be the one to prevent the collision because they can turn to avoid you if they are already up and riding. That may mean you will be wrecking their wave that they may have been waiting for. Anyway they probably will not be happy. If this happens to you try to apologize, and paddle wide the next time.

3. Don’t be a wave hog! If you just caught a wave and then you paddle back outside deeper than everyone else, so you are now in position to have priority for the next wave, and you keep doing this over and over the other surfers will not be happy with you! It is better to give a wave than always take a wave. Yes I understand that sometimes beginners do not paddle into the take off spot, and therefore never really get any waves. The better surfers usually get more waves because they know where to go and have the ability to take off in the critical part of the wave. As you get better you will learn where you want to be, and catch more waves, and hopefully give a few waves to a beginner. Beginners should try to find a spot where there are not a lot of other people out. Then they can catch lots of waves, and learn to surf faster and have more fun without the negative vibe!

10.Have fun surfing is a blast!

Do not get discouraged or expect to much of yourself to early. Surfing takes a while to get any good at it, but is still fun while you are learning! Try to have fun and enjoy yourself.

There is no other sport like surfing! I hope this article helps to make your first surfing experience a great one! I was so stoked the fist time I went surfing, and I hope you too will share in that stoke!

Author: Anthony G.

Posted in Surfing Tips and tagged .