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Is Surfing Hard to Learn? 10 Things to Know Before You Start
Published: July 15, 2021
Surfing is a water sport that can develop your balance, flexibility, and endurance. It can also build up your physical and mental well-being and increase your ability to absorb oxygen. It is a great overall exercise that works out your core muscles and upper body muscles. Furthermore, it is good for the heart and very therapeutic.
Surfing is said to be the most difficult and complex sport in the world because the elements that affect every wave you surf are different every single day. Wind, tides, and swells can affect the wave conditions. And your determination and ability are what will determine your ability to overcome these elements and ride those waves.
Learning how to surf takes a lot of time, and you get to face new wave conditions and learn new tricks and techniques every day. However, learning the basics will only take you two hours to a month.
Surfing is not hard to learn, but if you are looking to develop more skills to catch waves from the peak and ride their unbroken faces down the line, it can be very challenging as you get to experience lots of wipeouts, possible injuries, and maybe even damage your board along this phase.
If you are determined to learn how to surf, you need to know a whole lot of information before you start, and we are here to help you with that.
10 Things You Need to Know
Here are 10 things you need to know before you start surfing.
- Surfing is all about the journey
Do not get discouraged for not carving turns on your first attempt. It is challenging to learn how to surf and can take years to master, so whether you are just starting out or have been doing it for years, you have to know that it’s all about fun. Set some goals along the way and celebrate the small steps you take.
- Ocean safety
Surfing is a physically demanding sport that takes place in an often unpredictable and ever-changing environment. Therefore, proper knowledge and experience are needed to have a safe surfing experience.
Here are some factors you need to take into account regarding ocean safety:
The weather is unpredictable, it can be bright and sunny one moment and suddenly turn harsh. It can also cause a sudden change in the wave conditions and current patterns and can be the cause of sudden increases in wind strength. Hence, you have to use your best judgment and determine whether or not you should be surfing in these conditions.
- Waves (sizes and shapes)
Do not put yourself at risk by entering waves that you can’t handle. Big waves, and even small ones, can be hazardous if you do not know how to deal with the conditions. Thus, it is best to surf somewhere with waves you are comfortable with.
It is crucial that you understand how rip currents work and how to easily swim out of them as they can drag you down to the beach. It is also important not to panic if you get caught in a rip current.
- Landscape features
Those include rocks, cliffs, jetties, and piers. You should ask a local experienced surfer about any boulders that are submerged into the water. Also, ask them about the surfing environment, so you can avoid accidents and injuries.
- Other surfers
The presence of other surfers is also a big hazard because crowded breaks mean that there will be boards flying around, and people who do not respect the rules will cause big problems.
- Swimming ability
Not knowing how to swim can put you in danger. Even if your surfboard acts as a flotation device, you cannot rely on it 100% for safety. Swimming in the ocean is different from swimming in a pool because there is no railing nor edge that you can grab onto, and there are currents and waves that can move you away from your direction. Therefore, it is essential to learn how to swim before learning how to surf.
- Marine life
This includes jellyfish, stingrays, sea urchins, and sharks. Ask a local experienced surfer about the local marine life and learn how to safely share the ocean with them.
- Overcome your fear of the ocean
Many elements may make you fear the ocean, but knowing how to properly and safely deal with each one will allow you to surf without worrying. In surfing, you will get wiped out and tossed around a lot, and might also get sunburns and jellyfish stings, but it is all part of the journey. What’s important is that you know how to deal with all of these, so that the next time you get out there, it will be much more comfortable.
- Learn the surfing etiquette
- Observe the right of way on the wave
1. The surfer who is furthest out or has been waiting longest has the right of way.
2. The closest surfer to the peak of the breaking wave has the right of way.
3. The first to feet or first onto the wave should have the wave.
4. You should communicate and call “Left!” or “Right!” if the wave is dual-peaking.
- Don’t drop in
Cutting in front of other surfers who are already riding the wave is the surest way of getting yourself in trouble or injured. To avoid this, observe the right of way.
- Observe the right of way on the wave
- Don’t snake
Never paddle repeatedly around someone just to get the inside position on a wave.
- Don’t snake
- Share waves
Do not hog the waves; instead, share them around. Even if you can paddle faster and furthest outside and catch a wave every time, it is not wise to do it often.
- Do apologize
If you run over or drop in on someone, or breach any of the surfing etiquette and rules, apologize. It’s just good manners and saying “sorry” goes a long way to smoothen things out.
- Respect the locals
Respect the surf spot you are visiting. Keep in mind that locals surf that spot every day, so you should keep things friendly and earn some respect for yourself. It is also best not to mob surf spots in large numbers.
- Learn the right way of paddling out
Do not ditch your board or paddle onto other surfers’ paths. Observe the waves and time your paddle out, according to the timing of sets. It is also best to ask a local surfer where the best way to paddle out is.
- Surf spots according to your ability
Pick a spot that is within your ability range because if not, you will end up upsetting other surfers by getting in the way or being a potential hazard for everyone. Always check with local surfers if you are unsure where to surf.
- Help other surfers
Surfing can be a dangerous and fatal activity, so you should look after each other and aid other surfers in trouble.
- Share waves
- Respect the beach
Do not litter, vandalize, nor do and use anything that will harm the beach or surroundings.
- Respect the beach
- Get the right surfboard
Whether it is new, used, or a rental surfboard, you need to get a good beginner’s surfboard that fits your level and can help you progress. You should start with a used board because they are much cheaper and you do not have to worry if you damage it since it is not a huge investment. Beginners tend to put a lot of wear and tear on a board, so it is best to learn with a used surfboard. You can also rent one from most shops. However, if you damage it, you may have to pay for the damages or the whole board.
- Training/conditioning and good nutrition
Strength training is also important for surfers to improve their overall performance. There exists a general exercise program designed for the relatively healthy majority of surfers, but for someone who has an injury history, there is a more specific set of exercises you can do to rehabilitate your injuries and condition your body. Furthermore, you should consult a medical professional to know what movements aggravate your injuries. In this way, you’ll know what your activity or surf limitations are.
A well-conditioned body is important to avoid injuries. Therefore, it is best that you warm up and stretch before and after your surf sessions. Additionally, stay hydrated and avoid alcoholic beverages and drugs, even prescription drugs, before surfing to avoid accidents.
- Find the right surf spot
If you are starting out, finding a good spot where you can truly learn how to surf is another key factor. Do not start your surfing journey at surf spots with waves as big as houses. Instead, look for small, gentle waves and a sandy beach.
Here are a few elements that make up a good beginner’s surf spot:
- Not too crowded
You want a surf spot with few people around for safety, as a crowd can lead to unpleasant situations.
- Sand bottom
It is best to go to surf spots that are much easier on the feet and surfboards, especially if you are a beginner.
- Calm, crumbling waves
Do not learn how to surf in spots where the waves are very steep and hollow. In certain locations, it’s hard to find crumbling waves, but it’s worth exploring.
- Big sandbar
You must be able to paddle and catch the lines of whitewater on your first try. Thus, it is best to find a nice, big sandbar with just knee-to-waist high water.
- Not too crowded
Here are a few things you should watch out for when selecting a good surf spot:
- Do not go to a surf spot where pro or more experienced surfers are, as you’ll only get in their way, create unsafe situations, and annoy everyone.
- When you’re just starting to learn how to surf, find a peak to yourself, if possible.
- If you’re very new to the spot, make sure there are at least some people around. Surf near a lifeguard if you can, but do not surf between the lifeguard’s flags.
- Watch out for surfing restrictions as some places will only let people surf during certain hours of the day.
- Do not ever surf in the shore break. Doing so is very dangerous! Shore break is when the waves break right onto the sand at the edge of the waterline at the shore. Surfing shore breaks can damage your board and cause you some serious injuries.
- Go for a surf lesson
It is always a good idea to have someone show you the basic techniques, correct you when you make a mistake, and help you progress. If you are serious about learning how to surf, you have to learn it the right way. Thus, go for a surf lesson from a reputable surf school and have an instructor teach you every basic you need to know.
Some beginners can easily stand up on their boards and ride their very first few waves. Meanwhile, for some, there is a bit of a learning curve. But do not worry because surfing is not like any other sport that you can pick up within just a few hours. It requires a lot of patience and it really takes time on the water and tons of first-hand experience to learn how to read the waves.
- Be prepared
You have to prepare yourself for a lot of falls and wipeouts. Remember that everybody, even pro surfers, regularly falls and gets wiped out. It can be scary at first and can also be a traumatic experience, which is why you must learn how to handle a wipeout. Just be calm and relaxed, and follow these tips:
- Fall butt first and away from your board.
- When you are caught under a wave, do not immediately fight for the surface as you will lose your energy.
- Familiarize yourself with the surf spot and underwater surroundings.
- Cover your head and face, then reach upwards to check if the board is above you before resurfacing to avoid bumping your head into it.
- Practice meditative breathing exercises and learn how to stay calm in unfavorable conditions.
- Take control of your board when you resurface to avoid hitting other people or their boards.
Can I teach myself to surf?
Yes, it is possible to teach yourself how to surf, provided that you have enough arm and leg strength and balance, and that you are willing to learn and follow surfing etiquette. You have to be a persistent person and know that you should learn in a safe, beginner-friendly surf spot with small waves, low currents, and good underwater surroundings.
Here are a few things you should consider when you want to learn how to surf on your own:
- Know the risks
When learning how to surf on your own, you need to inspect the surf spot and know about the tides, rips, rocks, marine life, and other elements that can put you in danger. The best way to learn about these things is to ask the locals.
- Practice paddling
When the wave conditions are flat, get on your surfboard and practice paddling. Learn the proper body position and balance on your board when lying prone, and use the right amount of pace, reach, and pull with your arms when paddling, so when it is time to surf, you’ll be ready!
- Determine your stance
Practice popping up on your board by just putting a mat on the floor. Lay down, push yourself up, and bring your legs into your surf stance. Practice this until you can successfully and comfortably get into your stance in one shot.
- Learn the rules
Know the rules and regulations in a surf spot and learn and follow surfing etiquette. Following these rules will help you get out of and avoid hostile situations and make friends that can help you progress.
- Get a beginner-friendly surfboard
If you are learning on your own, you need to purchase a surfboard that is appropriate for your size, weight, and level. Ask your local surf shop or shaper to help you find the best surfboard to learn and progress with.
Surfing is hard and one of the most complex sports in the world. That is why you have to know every factor that goes into surfing before trying it yourself. Have a good sense of observation, a good attitude, and understand the rules of surfing. Additionally, you should have the ability to build up your balance, muscles, and coordination to learn how to surf with ease.