A Beginner’s Guide to Surfing

It’s summer time again and of course with the season comes the hoards of people, young and old alike, wanting to learn to surf. Not only is surfing a very fun sport, it is also great exercise and a perfect social activity for the summer. Although learning the basics can be a bit tricky, once you learn to stand I guarantee you’ll be back in the water every chance you get. I’m going to run though some of the basics to get you started and riding waves in no time.

What you’ll need

First off, let’s discuss the most important piece of equipment you will need – your surfboard. Boards come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and even materials. The average board is going to cost you between $400 – $500 dollars new. You can cut the cost almost in half by buying your board used. For a beginner I would definitely suggesting purchasing a used board. Chances are you’re going to beat it up a bit and it would be wise to get a handle on the basics and making sure you want to dedicate the time and money before buying a new board. For a used board, Craigslist is your friend. There are two main divisions in surfboards; long boards and short boards. Long boards are better suited for smaller waves and are easier to ride while short boards are better in larger surf and can turn quicker and be used for more performance. In between the two is what’s called a fun board shape. The fun board is a cross between the two offering somewhat quick turning and less mass with easy riding.

Fiberglass vs Epoxy

In your quest for the perfect board for you, you will also come across the two different types of board materials: fiberglass and epoxy. Fiberglass is the traditional material used while epoxy is relatively new. I suggest epoxy. It is a bit more expensive (usually only by about $25 dollars) but is more durable. Of course there is also the third option of a soft board which I will get to in a moment.

Board shape and size

Costco wavestorm
Wavestorm’s are the most popular foamies.

Now the question is, which board is right for you? Almost anyone will advise someone new to the sport to learn on a long board or fun board. Learning on a short board will quickly become frustrating and difficult. Larger boards will make catching waves and standing much easier. Another board to consider are soft boards or “foamies.” These boards are cheaper than typical fiber glass/epoxy boards and much more forgiving. You can expect to pay between $200 – $300 dollars for a new soft board. If you’re fortunate to live near a Costco, you can usually grab a Wavestorm for around $150. These boards will hurt less if you happen to have contact with them and are very buoyant. So my suggestion to the newbie surfer: soft with a long board shape. This design will make learning as easy for you as possible.

Wax

Now that you have your board you’re ready to get in the water! Before you can do this, however, you need to wax up your board. Waxing is a simple process and absolutely vital. Wax comes in different varieties for different temperatures so make sure you pick up the right wax for your water. Simply take your wax and rub it onto your board in a side to side and front to back pattern from the back of the board up to a bit past the halfway point. Apply a generous amount until you have some nice bumps and you can push your board in the sand with out your hand sliding.

Surfing Technique

Before you get into the water practice standing on the board in the sand. Don’t worry about looking weird, this is the first step for almost everyone. Place yourself on your stomach with your feet near but not at the back of the board. Grab the rails of the board (the sides) below your shoulders around the chest area. Push the upper half of your body up with your hands. Next, you need to hop up on the board. Get your feet underneath you and remember to avoid banging your knees against the board while standing up. This can cause damage quickly and easily and is a common mistake in learners. After getting the hang of this it is time to catch some waves.

Surf school

Start off catching white water. When you see a wave you think looks good, start paddling towards the shore. When you paddle, cup your hands tightly and reach down as far as possible. Paddle with one hand after another as if you were swimming. Do not paddle lightly. You want to give this effort. Your first few waves do not try to stand up, simply get the hang of riding the wave on your stomach. After you feel comfortable, try standing. When you feel that you have caught the wave (you will know it when you feel it) execute what you practiced on the sand. It may take a little but you will get it before long. When you feel comfortable riding the white water you can try to ride the face of a wave.

That is about all you need to know to get going. This is a brief guide, but it is enough to help you surf. The most important thing is practice. Surfing is not easy and it takes a lot of practice before you get the hang of it. You will have some falls and scary moments but if you start now and get out in the water a couple times a week I guarantee by the end of summer you will be able to hold your own.

Things to remember

Here are a few final tips I think are important to know: 

  • You will have some wipe-outs. When it happens and you feel it coming just take a deep breath before you go under and go with the flow. When you hit the water cover your face with your arms and don’t fight the wave for the first couple seconds. After you regain your situational awareness calmly swim up and immediately check the water for your board and other surfers who may be coming your way.
  • Do not bite off more than you can chew. Don’t paddle out into big hurricane swell your first day surfing thinking you can handle it, you can’t.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for advice from others. Surfers are generally very nice people and are willing to help out learners.
  • Don’t steal waves from others. This is an easy way to tick off the people around you. The general rules is as follows: the surfer who has the the inside of the wave gets it. Basically, if two people are trying to catch a wave (not white water), whoever closest to the white water gets the wave.
  • Don’t ditch your board when you are paddling out and see a wave coming. This is an easy way to hurt someone. Just hold on tight. There are methods of going under waves such as the duck dive but that is for more advanced surfers and I won’t cover it in this guide.
  • Finally, respect the ocean. Never underestimate the power of the waves. If you are not cautious you will get hurt.

Hopefully this guide will help some aspiring surfers learn the joy of sport. You will quickly learn that surfing is one of the most relaxing, fun, and beneficial activities you can participate in. See you in the water.

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