Granted many of our readers know how to surf. But I for one wish that somebody gave me a rundown of all the small tips and tricks. Because understanding as many of the general principals applied in surfing as possible, further improves the experience. It took me forever to learn to surf, and I must admit that the learning curve was pretty horizontal. But I am sure, that if I had truly understood some of these small tips and tricks, I would have learned how to surf much faster (and with fever critical situations under my belt). If these things are explained well, I know you will be riding waves in no time. But pay attention to them all, they may help you avoid dangerous situations or just painful experiences.
Before you go
Before even heading down to the beach, there are some key things that you should take into consideration. It’s not all fun and games, so if you are serious about trying surfing, it might be a good idea to understand all aspects of surfing, including safety, gear etc.
First and foremost we must bring you a warning. Surfing is highly addictive, and will most certainly change your life drastically. Before you know it you will be using words like “rad” and “gnarly”, you will miss out on your own wedding ceremony if the waves are pumping, and you will forever check the weather forecast 30 times a day. If you accept the risk involved, please continue reading.
Secondly, we truly believe that riding a wave is the ultimate feeling in the world (hence the addictive nature), so naturally, you want to ride many waves as fast as possible. Ultimately, you want to ride waves on your first day of surfing. This is not impossible, but bear in mind, it’s not that easy. And remember that the ocean is a dangerous place, so for the sake of your own wellbeing, and others, try to understand that there are rules to the game.Rules you must forever obey.
1. Know what you are getting in to
Even if you don’t know how to surf, you all understand the concept of surfing; riding a wave. But there is so much more to surfing than just riding the wave. There are many aspects of surfing, so please take your time understanding these. It might not only save you a lot of time and effort in the long run but most importantly, it keeps you and others out of harm’s way.
Understand that the act of surfing involves physical stamina, the right equipment and navigating in rough or even extreme weather conditions. The ocean is something that demands respect, so never underestimate the power of salty H2O. So come as prepared as possible.
2. Assess the old rig
As mentioned, surfing involves some physique. I have have seen people in the shapes of their lives puking from exhaustion. On the other hand, You don’t have to look like Brad Pitt in Fight Club in order to enjoy the sport of surfing. But I don’t think I know a surfer, who doesn’t feel like he could squeeze some more waves out of a session if just he trained a bit.
So yeah, do your self the favor and get as ready as possible for whats in store, because I can guarantee you, you are not. The better shape you are in, the better are the chances of catching waves. Start off by focusing on eating right. A good diet is the easiest way to obtaining a healthy body.
Another good thing is staying limber. So do stretching exercises regularly or go all in and do some yoga. Also, see if you can work on your upper body. Focus specifically on your back, arms, shoulders, and chest. Push ups and burpees are always good. Also, Pilates is great for surfing. Pilates will greatly benefit your core muscles, your motorics, and your balance.
3. Getting the right equipment
When learning how to surf you need a board that has a lot of volume, so size matters. Often Surf Shops will rent out big longboards, with a foam surface to beginners. This is a ideal board for the beginner for a variety of reasons. The foam protects you from damaging yourself and others, and these boards can really take a beating without breaking.
The volume of the board keeps the board floating much better than a smaller board. This lets the beginner navigate easier, paddle faster and catch more waves. It also makes the board more stable, which makes it easier for the surfer to get to their feet. The board also lets you surf the whitewater, so you can practice in almost any conditions. So concentrate on getting a foam board between 8 ft – 9 ft.
The wetsuit is important but sometimes just as important are gloves and boots. But for some reason, these things are often underrated by the beginner surfer. I have seen beginners never making it out because they turned blue, went into shock, just to return to shore dressed as an ice cube. And believe me, you only make this mistake once, it can be a really painful experience. Even if the water is warm, wetsuits can be a good idea; it protects you from the sun, but it also protects your torso, arm, and legs from the friction of the surfboard. I have seen nipples bleed from rubbing against the surfboard.
The first thing you do is to check the water temperature of the spot. But you must also consider the air temperature, wind speed, your Sensitivity to Getting Cold and your level of activity in the lineup. But a rule of thumb, if the water temperature is
- 25° over above you don’t need a wetsuit
- Between 22° – 25° you will want a “shortie” (a wetsuit with no arm or legs), especially in the chilly mornings and evenings
- Between 20° – 22° you´ll need a springsuit (3/2 mm), which is a thin and flexible neoprene suit, that covers almost the whole body
- From 15° – 20° you can still use a good springsuit, but you will be much better off with a 4/3 wetsuit. It is a little less flexible, but the extra layer of neoprene really works wonders.
- Between 12° – 15° you’ll want good 4/3 wetsuit and some booties. If its really windy, I would also prefer a 5/3 wetsuit, again choosing warmth over flexibility.
- From 9° – 12° a good wetsuit, and both gloves and shoes become critical.
- From 9° and below you will want the full survival pack. A quality 6/5/4 wetsuit, thick booties, gloves and a hoodie
The other stuff
Before jumping into the waves, you will a few extra things. A surfboard cannot function properly without fins. There are a lot of different fins in all shapes and sizes, but for now, just know you will need some. They will stabilize the board when riding on the wave. Without them, you will slide down the wave, without having full control. If you rent a foam board, it will most certainly come with fins.
You will also nee a leash. The leash is both attached to your leg and your board. This functions as a safety precaution so that you will never be completely separated from your board. If you are not used to surfing, you will most probably wipe out, sending you and your board in different directions. If you can’t get to your board, you must rely solely on your swimming skills. This makes the leash key, so don´t attempt to surf without one.
Another thing is wax for your surfboard. It is normally not necessary to put wax on a foam board, but on the classic types of boards, you will need to rub some wax on. This makes it much easier for your feet to get a strong grip on the board. So apply some wax either on the entire upper side of the board or just in the middle section on the upper side.
3. Before entering the lineup
When you find yourself on the beach, you will feel an uncontrollable desire to put on your leash and run directly into the water. But before you hit the waves, you must do a few simple things. The things are also key.
Asses the conditions at hand
When you are standing on the beach, looking towards the ocean, you will see three sections. The whitewater, the impact zone, and outback. Always take your time to identify these sections. The section can change over time, so always be aware of where the zones are placed.
Outback is the place where you will find no waves breaking. Outback is always the farthest from shore and is generally the place right before the wave breaks. This is where the other surfers are sitting, in safety from breaking waves. This place is also often described as “the line up”.
The impact zone
This is where the wave breaks, transforming from a clean swell into an explosion of water. This is where you do not want to be. Always try to avoid this place. For starters this place is filled with current and mushy waters, making it incredibly hard to paddle. Another thing is that the impact zone is pretty dangerous. You can get smashed on shallow reef, collide with other surfers, or get hit by your own board. So again, always avoid this place.
The White Water
When learning how to surf, this is where it all begins. When the waves break, they send lines of exploding white water towards the shore. Here you will feel safe and be able to practice the basics of paddling, taking off on a wave, and navigating while standing on the board.
Identify the entry and exit spots
This something I wish I had paid more attention to in the past when I learned how to surf. Stand on the shore and watch how the locals enter the lineup, and how they get on shore. Remember that they have been surfing this place for a long time, and they know all about the shape of the bottom, the current, tides etc. So watch carefully, what are the locals doing, and how do they do it.
For many years I laughed at my mates, when they stretched on the beach before a session. But now I know why this is so important. Being limber and fresh keeps you surfing longer, better, and with a much smaller risk of being injured. Besides, it doesn’t take long, and while stretching you can asses the conditions.
Practice the pup up
This is really one of the most key elements. This exercise lets you get a feel for the pop-up, in a controlled environment. It is much harder learning the pop up on a board that wiggles while trying to navigate. So learn the pop-up, so that it becomes an integrated part of your muscle memory. You will have plenty of other things to think about when you’re in the soup. If you want to learn how to surf, this is the main ingredient I would say. It is the one thing that most people struggles the most with. Learn it on land, so you don´t have to try to learn the pop up in the water.
On your first pop up, figure out what leg you put first. this determines your stance. If you have your left feet in front on your board, your stance is regular. If your right foot is in front, your stance is goofy. Put your leash, around your back ankle. So if you ride regular stance, put your leash on your right foot, and visa versa.
How to surf
Start in the white water
As mentioned above, it is a good idea to start learning how to surf in the white water. So head out in the white water and get comfortable. Stay near the shore, and always be in a safe distance of other surfers. Get yourself in position, point your board towards shore, and get ready to jump on. As soon as you see a line of white water approach, jump on the board, and paddle towards the beach. You will feel the wave grabbing the board, sending you towards the beach. When you can feel acceleration, you do a pop-up, and voila, you are surfing.
Making it out back
In order to surf the actual wave, first, you must paddle out further than the impact zone, out into safe outback zone. Here the waves don’t break, so you are relatively safe here. Once you get to this location, you can rest. But it can be a struggle.
If you are going to paddle out on a point- or reef break, then you can almost always see where to paddle out. If you followed this guide you will know where the locals paddle out, so imitate them. But if you are surfing a beach break, the waves can be a bit fickle. A good rule of thumb is to always paddle out, where there is no white water. And as mentioned, always avoid the impact zone.
Another important rule is, that when you paddle out, you must never let go of your board. If you bail and let go of your board, it might hit another surfer. And always keep a safe distance from others. And when you paddle out, never paddle directly towards the lineup. If you do this then you will be in the way of other surfers. If you are on your way out, and you see a surfer riding a wave approaching, then you must make get out the way. In fact, if your only option is to smoothly paddle over the surface of the wave, but interfering with the surfer’s ride, and paddling into the breaking part of the wave, potentially taking a wave on the head, then you must choose the latter. So never be in the way of a surfing surfer.
Another trick that I cannot stress enough is to relax while paddling. Many use all of their stamina in the first 10 minutes, but even if you are not used to paddling, it doesn’t have to be so exhausting. When you are just paddling from A to B, remember to take good and long breaths, and try to relax in your arms, so don’t give it all you got. This way you have much more stamina that you can use for the fun part; surfing.
Catching a wave
So you have finally arrived outback, ready to catch a wave. First and foremost catch your breath, let your arms rest a bit, and take the time to orientate yourself. Use the beach as a tool to pinpoint your location in the lineup. And see where other surfers are sitting. Know that the proper surf etiquette is to take turns. So if you see other surfers standing on a wave, don’t paddle.
When you are ready, and you see a good looking wave approach, turn your board around and paddle towards the beach. At a certain point you will feel the wave under your board, and at this time you must paddle hard. Really hard, and then some. Know that if you take 3-4 paddling strokes at just the right time it is enough, but until you have your timing on lock, just know that you must obtain a certain speed in order to glide down the surface of the wave. So paddling like your life depends on it.
Another good trick is to raise your head and chest as high as possible when trying to catch a wave. Believe me, this is the secret ingredient. For some reason, if you stretch your chest, neck, and head upwards, you catch the wave much easier. So if you struggle to catch the wave, remember this trick.
The most critical point of the take-off, is getting to your feet. I always was in awe of the surfers who could stand up on a wave mid-air, straight in a barrel or just when the wave shuts down. I still think it is really hard, but a local Moroccan (Indy) surfer once gave me some nice advice. He said, that the only thing you must focus on at that moment is: “feet to board, feet to board, feet to bard…..”. And in some weird way this simple advice helped me quite a lot, and from that day, I was able to really raise my late take off- game. So when you feel the speed from gliding down the wave, think one thing: FEET TO BOARD.
If you manage to get to your feet, quickly see if you can glide along the wall of the wave, and not the foam. Know that if you make it this far, there are no rules. It’s all freedom. When the wave ends, paddle back out and repeat the procedure.
We really hope we helped you catch your first wave! And if you enjoyed this article on how to surf or have any questions for us, please leave them in the comment section below!