Is Surfing Hard?
Spoiler Alert: Yes surfing is hard. If you're just starting to learn it can seem almost impossible. But does it have to be that way? How could you make your surfing experience less difficult and more enjoyable?
If you dream of going in search of the perfect wave or just want something to do at your local beach, there are definitely right and wrong ways to learn to surf. So, if you want learning to surf to be a fun and rewarding experience, read my top tips before you grab that surfboard and head for the ocean.
What Makes Surfing Harder Than Most Sports?
There are several factors to this but the main one is that most sports take place on a static playing field. However, when you learn to surf, you'll quickly notice that not only is the ocean surface moving, but every wave is slightly different from the last.
Surf conditions are constantly changing along with wind, weather, and tides. Experienced surfers spend a lot of their time reading waves and reacting to their movements, having to surf differently as each ride unfolds, rather than having a completely pre-planned strategy.
They can do this because their muscle memory has been trained by thousands of rides so they can react to the shape and texture of the wave face almost automatically.
When first learning to surf, you don't have the advantage of those years of conditioned response honed in on a range of wave and weather conditions. Beginner surfers have to look at what's going on in front of them and make a conscious cognitive decision about how they will try to react. This is the single biggest reason why surfing has such a steep learning curve.
The other issue is that surfing is an inherently complex sport, with several phases that lead to a successful ride. First, you must paddle out into position for the wave, often duck diving under breaking waves on the way. Then you need to choose a wave and start paddling hard in just the right place to catch it, before standing up (the hardest part for learner surfers) and getting your balance set well enough to ride the wave.
Thrown into the mix, there are usually other surfers around so you need to avoid collisions, most importantly by not taking someone else's wave by knowing surf etiquette. This is called "dropping-in" and is a huge no-no in terms of both safety and etiquette.
All of this can also make surfing dangerous.
3 Helpful Tips For Beginners Learning To Surf
#1 - Go Big
I am of course referring to your first beginner surfboard, not your first wave. A big board with plenty of buoyancy will help you learn how to catch a wave and give enough stability for a beginner to start learning to balance while in motion.
The best type of surfboard to start with is a foam surfboard, as these have a softer deck surface than traditional surfboards and are great for reducing the chances of injury when you fall (and you will fall in the beginning, a lot!)
#2 - Go Slow
One mistake many beginners make is rushing, whether it be rushing into trying to surf unbroken waves instead of whitewater, or rushing to stand up on the board. If you want to learn surfing and have an enjoyable learning process, then finding your balance early and while still in your comfort zone is really valuable.
Take your time surfing broken, whitewater waves. The forward motion over flat water makes it much easier to practice the pop-up onto the board compared to the slope of a wave face. Paddle to catch the wave, then pause with your hands in position (under your chest) to get yourself settled before pushing up and moving to a standing position. Performing this vital skill at speed on the crest of a wave will come with time and practice.
#3 - Go Pro
Although paddling around at the beach with your mates and taking advice from the more experienced surfers in the group is fun (and cheap), there's simply no substitute for taking a few surf lessons from a qualified professional.
As with many sports, even the best surfers do not necessarily make necessarily the best surf instructors.
Surf instructors have trained specifically in how to teach beginner surfers, explaining and modeling all the beginner surf tips and key skills clearly, and in an accessible way. They know exactly how to give you a safe, fun, and rewarding surf training right from the start of your surfing journey. Learn to surf with a proper surf coach first, then go show off your newfound wave riding skills to your friends.
4 Helpful Tips For Improving Surfers
#1 - Pick Your Board
Knowing how to choose a surfboard for your riding ability, surfing goals, and choice of surf spot is key to maximizing progress. One of the most common mistakes in the choice of board is trying to go too small too soon.
When you move on from a beginner foam board, resist the temptation to go straight for a high-performance shortboard surfboard. This next stage of learning to surf will go much faster if you can still catch waves and pop up relatively easily, and the more waves you ride the more opportunity you'll have to practice on the wave face. A funboard surfboard in the 6'6" to 7'0" range is usually a wise investment for an adult making the initial transition from a learner board.
#2 - Pick Your Surf Spot
Some surf spots are easier for intermediate surfers than others. If the take-off is too steep or the wave breaks fast, improving riders will find it hard to access. Also, avoid reef or rocky surf spots at least until you reach the stage where you rarely fall on take-off.
The best beginner beaches for surfing will ideally be a beach where the waves break over clearly defined sand bars so there is some level of predictability to the shape. Surf spots that tend to have smaller waves are also preferable, as this stage of surfing is about building confidence as much as it is about developing skills.
#3 - Pick Your Wave
Now that you're learning to surf on the open face of the wave, you'll need to be more selective than before.
Rather than paddling for every single wave you see, start looking at the shape and where it's going to break in relation to your position.
The right wave is one you can catch just as it's "feathering" (when the peak starts to show a little froth of whitewater prior to fully breaking).
It should also have a defined peak area and taper off gradually to the side, indicating that it will peel without immediately closing out.
#4 - Pick Your Practice
You can't predict exactly what the next wave has to offer before you start surfing it. This makes it hard to plan exactly what you're going to do during the ride, unlike other sports with a static playing field. However, improving as a surfer should be a conscious process, and you should at least have an idea of what aspect of the ride you're planning to focus on.
Whether you're looking to generate more speed, make deeper bottom turns, or just pop up faster, having a clear goal for each surf session helps you move up the learning curve much faster. If you're unsure what aspect of your wave riding to work on next, it's well worth investing in a few sessions of surf coaching. A good surf coach will diagnose how you're currently surfing and advise you on what adjustments to make.
Many people start surfing with surf instructors but then go it alone as soon as their riding starts to improve. This is often a mistake, as quality surf coaching provides benefits at all stages of the learning curve.
Surfing is a hard sport to learn but doing so can be an immensely rewarding experience. There really is no feeling quite like catching waves in the ocean.
Following the advice above will help you learn to surf more easily. Plus, your introduction to the world of surfing will be much more enjoyable if you're doing it right.