Learning to surf can must be one of the toughest sports to learn. Why it is indeed so challenging is that there are so many variables at play. All the of these variables need to align perfectly in order for the learner to be able to stand up and ride the wave.
Generally speaking the younger one is the easier it is for them to learn to surf. This has to do not just with them perhaps being more agile and weighing less but also with their cognitive approach to surfing. They look at surfing more holistically rather than analytically breaking it down into its core components.
Older people tend to overthink every required manoeuvre in surfing – paddling, the pop up, and standing and pointing the board down the line. This results in a rather stiff and unnatural style which means learning to surf will most likely take longer than it should.
In this post we’re going to run through all the most important facets of learning to surf with the aim of making your learning experience an enjoyable and successful one. Get stoked!
Getting A Lesson
While many surfers have taught themselves to surf, getting a lesson will almost always accelerate the learning process. Even if you’re a grom. A good surf instructor will clearly outline all the key fundamentals of surfing and why each is so important.
So often we see people trying to teach themselves to surf, and one of the most common errors we notice is poor positioning in the water and not paddling hard enough. A surf instructor will tell a learner exactly where they need to be in a water in a relation to the waves.
For their first few waves it’ll be in the shallows catching the white water, and then as they progress they’ll move to a position where they can catch unbroken waves. They’ll also stress the importance of paddling as if your life depends on it, and when the right moment arises to stop paddling and pop up.
Speaking of the pop-up. There is a certain technique for popping up which you’ll be taught from an instructor. Although it may seem fairly straightforward, popping up using poor technique will only prolong the time it takes to stand up on the board.
Finally, and most importantly, a surf instructor can point out what you are doing wrong, and get you to fix those mistakes immediately. Remember, if you’re teaching yourself to surf you wont’ have this luxury, and could end up implementing some bad habits.
For example, I know a chap who taught himself to surf and when he pops up on the board he goes up on one knee before standing up fully. It’s a very disjointed movement which wouldn’t cut it in fast, hollow waves.
Choosing The Right Surf
So one you’ve taken your first lessons, you’ll probably then be looking to venture out on your own. At this stage it’s really important to choose the right surf break. If you go and try your hand at a more advanced wave, you’re probably going to get owned, and end up taking a step back in your surfing.
The other reason not to surf a more advanced wave when you are learning is that you’ll probably just end up annoying the locals for your kook-ish behaviour in the water. There is nothing worse for a local to see than a beginner wasting a good wave by falling on it.
Do your research to find waves that is well known for being a good beginner level wave. These are usually beach breaks with flatter, softer waves. Also be sure to avoid any spots where there might be rip currents.
Then make sure you check the surf forecast, and pick a day when the surf is going to be relatively small. When it comes to wind direction, remember that offshore winds are preferable. Onshore winds, unless very soft, create choppy and mushy surf.
This is critical if you want to move out of the beginners gates and become an intermediate or advanced surfer. Once you have taken that first surf lesson you have to keep surfing with a certain level of regularity. This means surfing at least once a month.
Now of course this is tricky if you live in a landlocked country or just very far away from the ocean. For so many aspiring surfers this is the case, which leads them to surf sporadically after they take that first lesson.
This is not going to cut it, and what you’ll find is that you keep going back to square one. You may pick it up faster each time, but you’re still taking backward step every time you take that hiatus from surfing. The most common skill you’ll lose is paddling, or more precisely paddle power.
Paddle fitness for surfing is unique. It doesn’t matter how much you run or even swim, paddle fitness is only really maintained or improved through paddling.
The solution is simple. If you’re truly passionate about surfing, then move to a place where you’ll be able to get in the water and practice at least once a month. Muscle memory will only get you so far. Regular practice however will stand you in good stead to quickly improve your surfing.
First and foremost we’d advise buying your own wetsuit from the get go. Rental wetsuits are usually fairly low quality and will never fit that well because they’ve been worn by so many people of different shapes and size.
These days, a good quality wetsuit is not that expensive, and by buying your own, you’ll have a wetsuit that will mould to your own body shape. We have a comprehensive wetsuit guide which will provide you with all the information need when it comes to buying a wetsuit.
When it comes to the board, if you are going to have easy access to beach to learn then we’d definitely recommend buying your own board. At Beginner Surf Gear we’re big advocates soft top boards. They’re very durable, give you a lot of buoyancy in the water, and don’t require a light touch when being handled.
Beginner surfers are always surprised by how fragile PU boards are. They’re very easy to ding, even when walking them from the beach back to the car. It’s a much better idea to get foam surfboard as your first board, and if it get’s little battered it doesn’t matter. Once you’ve got the hang of surfing and are comfortable handling your board in the water, then you can move onto a traditional hardtop board.
The other question that arises when buying your first board is around which length to go for – a longboard, a mini mal or shortboard. There is no right answer, and it really boils down to personal preference. Logically, the longer the board you start on the easier it will be to learn.
However, if you are looking to progress on to a shortboard in the future, this may then be more tricky if you’ve become accustomed to a longboard. We’ve written a detailed article about all the different types of surfboards here.
Going On A Surf Holiday
There is nothing better to take your surfing to the next level than a surf holiday. The total immersion in surfing for one or two weeks, or three if you’re lucky will undoubtably make you rip harder.
Be sure to do your research and find destinations that are well established as beginner surf spots. Countries like Morocco, Portugal, Spain, Nicaragua and Costa Rica are well renowned for being well suited to beginners. These spots all formed part of our post on the 5 Best Countries To Learn To Surf In.
Broadly speaking you’ll want to choose a surf destination that has mainly beach or point breaks. Reef break can be dangerous as the waves often break in quite shallow water. You’ll also want to avoid spots which are known for having strong currents. Experiences surfers can usually navigate their way out of a current, but beginner surfers often panic and can quickly end up in a pickle.
Finally, you’ll want to choose a spot where the waves roll gently down the face. Some might say they crumble with grace. This will be a nice forgiving wave, which will also be easier take off on and to duck dive under. The opposite of this would be a fast and hollow break, where you’ll have almost no time to stand up, and when you fall you’ll most likely take a real beating from the wave.